Originally published on www.twoplayblog.com January 8th, 2009
I am a gamer. And from previous posts it is obvious that I am using this medium to share my opinions on games and other aspects of the industry, as well as excerpts of my personal life. So, I am going to start running this monthly post "State of the Industry", to analyze a hot industry topic of my choosing. Obviously, I chose to fore go the frying pan and jump straight into the fire by choosing to tackle every one's favorite subject: Video Game Violence. I suppose it started with a post I read a couple of days ago on Games Radar here: http://www.gamesradar.com/f/2008-a-year-to-dismember/a-2008123111202491034. The post takes a look at video games as an expression of human fulfillment and fear, through the recent obsession that occurred in 2008 with dismembering our opponents in a video game. There seemingly being enough games to make it a trend, I took his article to heart, but felt it lacked causality. Links are made between multiple theatres in life; from the human psyche, war, global economy, and literature such as Faust or the Divine Comedy. And maybe the article is right, sure we all subconsciously exert our fears and desires through games at times, and whether or not we know it, there could be an inherent desire (or lack of) to dismember something. The article uses some 6 games as examples, I will examine the two of which emphasized the concept of dismemberment the most: Fallout 3 and Dead Space.
The Rise of the Sequel*
Now, Fallout 3 is obviously a sequel, from a long standing series of PC games by the same name, and although it has made its transition to consoles, the core elements remain the same. It takes place in a wasteland and you are the wanderer from a vault who must make decisions to help save humanity or not. But, really the change comes in the combat. What was once a kind of 3rd person, turn based, strategy combat system, had been traded for Bethesda Studio's "Oblivion" engine and was played from either 1st person or over the shoulder view, real time. Again, with Bethesda trying to stay to those core elements led to the creation of VATS, a turn based targeting system, based on the original AP system that would let you target someones body part in hopes of scoring a critical hit. But even if you crippled a body part, nothing fell off until your opponent is dead and the "Bloody Mess" perk which makes most opponents explode upon death, actually originated in the first Fallout back in 1997. I think the only reason this is getting so much attention, is because how beautiful the graphics are in this game. And by beautiful, I mean, slightly disturbing by how close to real the Wasteland is. The entire concept of "dismemberment" may only come from Bethesda's attempt to replicate the feel of past Fallout games. Which brings me to my first point, maybe the reason we see more emphasis on violence this past year has to do with the fact** that we are seeing more sequels to some of our favorite violent games. I count around 15 (depends on the definition of violence) sequels in 2007 and 30 in 2008. It would seem to me that any game that starts out violent, would only have to find ways to spice it up in the coming sequels, not only to out do themselves, but to keep up with new IP's who may be creating new ways to be violent, if only to differentiate themselves from the industry.
Shoot the Limbs*
Now Dead Space being a new IP is truly the front runner for the argument. I recall reading numerous press releases and interviews that touted "strategic dismemberment" as the defining element of this game. And it is exactly what it sounds like. A over the shoulder survival horror game that requires you to eliminate your opponents appendages to kill them. I personally found it particularly entertaining and executed skillfully. But for a game which has been accused of borrowing concepts and elements from so many other games (IE: Doom 3, Bio Shock, Resident Evil 4) it does a very good job with its atmosphere and inventory system to deserve more than just a dismemberment generalization.
In conclusion, I think it is important to note the shear number of games being released now. It seems that for every violent video game released, we see another wave of simulation and party games that have almost no violence at all. It may just be that the industry is growing rapidly and like any medium (music, movies, television) we as society will continue to push the envelope of what is acceptable. Some would say that this will desensitizes us to inhumane actions, especially since the gamer is participating in these actions. Maybe it is something in our subconscious that's creates desire for violence. But for games like Fallout 3, its design allows users to make a choice to be inhumane or not. Although you will have to kill your enemy, some violent games allow the choice of how they should be killed. And how evil the character acts is a direct result of the actions users take, and will even affect the way the NPC's in the game react to your presence. Kind of like the real world.
*All images courtesy of Google Image search, and http://www.penny-arcade.com/
**Please refer to the Wikipedia lists for Notable Games in 2007 and 2008 and realize that this is not a grounded Fact, but a gross estimation.