As you may know, I’m an avid fan of video games. I’ve been playing them since I was 6 or 7 years old. I’ve owned (at one time or another) at least 16 different video game consoles. I currently own well over 100 games. I’ve played many, many games over the years, and I would consider myself a bit of an authority on video game history and gaming culture.
One theme that crops up time and time again in the gaming world is violence. Many video games involve some sort of combat, and as there has always been a trend in gaming to make games look and/or feel as realistic as possible, this has meant that violence in video games also has become more realistic. There was a time when games like Mortal Kombat and Doom presented violence in what was then seen as a ridiculously over-the-top fashion, with blood spurting everywhere, limbs and heads being ripped off, and so forth. These games seem almost family-friendly compared to violence found in modern day video games.
Violence in video games has never bothered me all that much. I played Doom and Mortal Kombat in my early teen years, and I managed to avoid going on a killing spree at my school (or anywhere else, for that matter). As games have gotten more violent, my attitude toward that violence really hasn’t changed. Obviously I don‘t play violent video games around my children, but after my kids are in bed, I’ll happily spend time blowing aliens and mutants apart in games like Gears of War or Fallout 3. I don’t play games for the violence, but I never thought that a game could be too violent for me either. Frankly, I’ve always been somewhat indifferent to it. Until a couple of weeks ago.
There is a game franchise known as God of War. From what I know about this franchise, it’s loosely based on ancient Greek mythology, and involves an angry man named Kratos whose goal is to kill everything in sight until he wreaks vengeance on all the gods of Olympus for some wrong that they did to him. Pretty standard stuff, really. These games never really seemed like they were my cup of tea, but they’ve all gotten rave reviews from various gaming media outlets, and so when the opportunity to try one came along, I took it.
That opportunity came in the form of a downloadable demo for the newest game in the series, God of War III. I had actually, at one point, decided that I should buy God of War III, since it had gotten such good reviews. Then I happened to come across a certain article on IGN.com, my favorite source of information on video games. This article consisted of various editors giving their opinion on GOWIII. They all seemed to like it quite a bit, but one thing that struck me was how disturbed they were at the level of violence in the game. Now, these are not Christian gamers. These people are thoroughly secular, and clearly are not concerned with adhering to any sort of concept of Christian morality whatsoever. And yet, even they were expressing revulsion at the violence in this game. “I may not actually want to play this game after all,” I thought to myself.
But, I am the sort of person who likes to see things for myself. So, I downloaded the demo and I saw for myself. And for the first time in my life, I will not buy a game because it is too violent.
Now, the demo didn’t start off too badly. It was bloody, sure, but no more so than 15,000 other games I’ve played. But as I went along, it got worse and worse. By the time I got to the point where Kratos was ripping a man’s head off with his bare hands, I threw down the controller in disgust and turned it off. The thing is, aside from the violence, it’s a good game. Controls well, fun to play, visually awesome….it’s the complete package. But I can’t do it.
The first question I take away from this experience is, why does a game need to be this violent? Why do the creators of the game need to create such violence, and why do players of the game need to see it?
Unfortunately, on further reflection, it’s obvious what the answer to this question is. Humans are sinful creatures, and without God’s help and correction, we feel the need to indulge that sinful nature in the most depraved ways we can think of. Simple enough. A better question might be, why is GOWIII too violent for me and other games aren’t?
Clearly, I’m not opposed to violence in video games. I can blast the limbs off a Super Mutant in bloody slow-motion in Fallout 3 without batting an eye. And yet, GOWIII made me feel almost nauseous. Am I perhaps being hypocritical? Pointing out the speck in my brother’s eye without first removing the log from my own eye? Maybe. But maybe not.
I think the difference is that, in most games, no matter how bloody or gory, the violence is stylized enough and vague enough that I can detach myself from it. For example, when I go into slow-motion mode in Fallout 3 and blow the head off of an enemy with a shotgun, there’s lots of blood, but that’s about it. There’s no sense of realism, no thoughts of, “What if this really happened?” But in God of War III, the violence is much more detailed and specific. In the example I mentioned earlier, you can see the enemy strain as he tries to resist his head being torn from his body. You can also see clearly how much of an effort your character is exerting in order to separate said head from said body. The whole experience was deeply disturbing, and is very difficult for me to write about even now, two weeks after I witnessed it. I couldn’t help but think, “What if somebody was trying to tear my head from my body with their bare hands?” What a horrible way to die!
In the end, nothing I say will prevent such games from being made. But I can certainly vote with my wallet and not give any money to developers that make such things. And the next time IGN says that a game is almost too violent, I think I’ll take their word for it.