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Reveling in the splatterfest

November 1, 2008

Elephant in the room: Game violence. Since the arrival and passing of 1992’s Mortal Kombat, game violence has become a notorious topic and often combated with immediate aversion from gamers. If some one brings up the issue they are instantly viewed as some sort of prude. Nowadays the hot topic is sex in games, but glorified violence is still ripe with discussion especially as games reach another milestone of graphical prowess approaching the uncanny valley.


I had just finished Dead Space and though I adore the entire absent HUD aesthetic of the game, I was taken aback by how pornographic the death scenes in the game are (my favorite clip is at 3:28). I would not go so far as to say that I was offended or disturbed by having the protagonist Isaac being ripped in half or eaten. But I do have to say that the gore in combination with the rag doll animation was strangely both bothersome and visceral. There is an extremely voyeuristic quality that goes along with the splatter film that is not only disturbing but compelling. Just as with a car accident on the road we a drawn to this unseemly horror in horror games as well. But Dead Space has the luxury of escaping this sort of violence in gaming argument. Instead the game can be categorized as violence in media because the violence confronts the player as a consequence as opposed to being conducted by the player.

This glorified violence is just as gruesome in other games as well. But the reception and connotation of violence takes on a different meaning when performed by the player. In Fallout 3 using the V.A.T.S. system to finish off enemies will change the camera angle to view to third person and then jump to the enemy in slow-motion to augment the violence. This is amplified even more if the player has the Bloody Mess perk which enhances the violence to satiric degrees with heads exploding and limbs flying. It is not wrong to assert that violence is the reward to the player for using V.A.T.S. in the game. Fallout has always been an ultra-violent series, but the violence in the previous game was itself confrontational whereas the violence in Fallout 3 becomes confrontational moreso because it purposefully highlighted rather than merely violent. Personally, I gain a huge sense of accomplishment when I shoot a nail-gun at a person’s head only to have the particular anatomy nailed onto the wall behind the limp body that is feet away from the limb.

In an era where Gears of War curb stomping is acceptable and No More Heroes and Mad World can be considered the saving grace for the hardcore to the Nintendo Wii it is interesting how we intake our violence. But what is fascinating is how subjective we are in how it disturbs us in a case by case basis. David Ellis of Gamevideos.com has been particular vocal in how appalled he was with Fallout 3‘s violence. But he did not give a second thought to Gears of War whose dismemberment is just as glorified. That is not to say that he is wrong, but something in that game’s depiction of that violence was disturbing particular to him. And maybe, that is one of the successes of Fallout. Developer Bethesda intended Fallout 3 to become a game with consequences, and by accentuating the violence it reveals itself as a consequences. The world of Fallout 3 is a detrimental dystopia to live in and there is an atmosphere of desperation, sadness, and loneliness that marries itself well with the game’s explicit gore. This may be a cheap cop-out and giving Bethesda too much credit. But if a gamer can begin to confront violence as a consequence of his actions, it not only vindicates the philosphy of this game, but adds another element of player response that is underplayed and ignored in interactive media within the community.

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