Are games becoming too violent? Industry figures chime in

We noticed a definite trend of violence at this year's E3, and we weren't alone. Some industry professionals have chimed in with their thoughts on the trend, with a wide range of opinions.

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Video games tend to be violent (we do put chainsaws on our guns after all), but this year's E3 showed off even more graphic violence than before. Some have expressed discomfort with ramped up violence, not to mention the raucous reaction to some of it. Some game industry professionals have spoken up about the issue, taking some radically different stances.

Warren Spector, currently at work on the family-friendly game Epic Mickey 2, said that we are idolizing violence in games. "The ultraviolence has to stop," he warned.

"We have to stop loving it. I just don't believe in the effects argument at all, but I do believe that we are fetishizing violence, and now in some cases actually combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality. I just think it's in bad taste," he told GamesIndustry.biz.

Spector went on to say that when he's put violence in his games, he tried to contextualize it to impact the player. "You know, Deus Ex had its moments of violence, but they were designed - whether they succeeded or not I can't say - but they were designed to make you uncomfortable, and I don't see that happening now. I think we're just appealing to an adolescent mindset and calling it mature. It's time to stop."

On the other side of the issue is PlayStation software product development head Scott Rohde. "You just see that as technology continues to grow, not just in our industry, but in the film industry as well, or even on television, I think you're gonna see a more realistic depiction of what's going on," Rohde told GameSpot. "And it's a way for people to escape. I don't think it turns people violent." He says the violence is being used to "tell a story and to build tension," and calls that "extremely important."

The audience cheered at the end of a particularly gory segment in The Last of Us.

Phil Harrison, formerly of Sony Computer Entertainment but now Microsoft's IEB corporate vice-president, took a measured opinion between the two. "I was surprised, I must admit, at some of the games," Harrison told Edge. "I think it's an inevitable progression of visual reality and visceral immersion that games can get quite ultra-realistic."

At the same time, Harrison feels the number of violent games this year is "coincidental," and credits the ratings system for protecting consumers. He also noted that "so long as it's part of a balanced portfolio, it's okay." Microsoft's holiday lineup includes Gears of War: Judgment and Dance Central 3.

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From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 15, 2012 5:00 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Are games becoming too violent? Industry figures chime in.

    We noticed a definite trend of violence at this year's E3, and we weren't alone. Some industry professionals have chimed in with their thoughts on the trend, with a wide range of opinions.

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      June 15, 2012 5:01 PM

      Honestly, they aren't violent enough.

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      June 15, 2012 5:25 PM

      Relevant: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/06/05/e3-day-zero-when-game-violence-becomes-vile/

      My thoughts: I think what's happening here is that in order to make the most money, AAA game devs have to keep pushing the envelope and keep shock levels high. A game that's less violent than last year's will not sell as much or catch anyone's attention.

      But people are pretty quick to get used to things. Today's Watch Dogs or Last of Us trailers might seem disturbing in places due to the super realistic graphics used to portray the violence, but as things are going, in a year these might seem like cartoon violence in comparison to what'll be out by then.

      I applaud the incredible technical and artistic excellence and pushing the envelope, but I say "meh" to the advances in video game violence.

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      June 15, 2012 5:28 PM

      If you think a game is "too violent", don't buy it. Problem solved. Stop dragging out the whole "but what about society and our children?!??!!?" stuff that has been recycled since Mortal Kombat and Doom.

      The overwhelming majority of the millions of Americans who play videogames do so without incident. This isn't videodrome, people. The biggest areas concentrations of violence in the world are where technology is unavailable to the average citizen.

      This is even more ridiculous when you consider the blockbuster success of dancing games, the sims, and WoW, to name a few.

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        June 15, 2012 5:34 PM

        Also, I'm embarrassed that the Shack staff is buying into this self-loathing "should we censor??!?" bandwagon. Games are no longer just for kids. The average gamer is an adult. The ratings exist for a reason. If you want to claim they aren't enforced and what a big deal that is, kids watch R movies all the time that involve murder and sex yet there wasn't an outbreak of murder sprees when cable tv spread through the US.

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          June 15, 2012 5:38 PM

          "buying into"? "Too much violence in games, kumbaya!" has been the drum that Jeff Cannata and Garnett Lee have been beating for years on 1UP Yours and Weekend Confirmed.

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          June 15, 2012 5:40 PM

          The only thing that needs to change is have parents stop buying Mature games for underage children. There is voluntary rating system that works exactly the same as one used by the film industry so is there isn't any real need to censor.

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          June 15, 2012 5:41 PM

          I think it's a bit silly to totally disregard the conversations that have been taking place. Not all of them have been about how unhealthy witnessing violence in a game is unhealthy, but rather that there might be a cultural shift of a number of people wanting to see games that don't rely on mass murder, but more on story, location or characters.

          Please don't dumb it down to "I'M AN ADULT, FUCK YOUR OPINION, I'LL BUY WHAT I WANT!" Because it's never bad to have healthy debates about creative endeavours.

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            June 15, 2012 5:50 PM

            There is certainly room for all types of games without having to censor anything. If you don't like violent games then don't and let those that do play them. It isn't rocket science.

            Video games are entertainment medium no different than television/film/books just different in how the interaction occurs.

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          June 15, 2012 5:44 PM

          I don't think they want censorship as in some may think a lot of games are relying on it heavily. I understand if it's an FPS or even a survival game I guess? Some would argue it's more about seeing what the gameplay itself can offer than concentrated on how a character can dismember another. And that's all.

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          June 15, 2012 5:44 PM

          Nobody is saying games shouldn't have violence but the question of how much is appropriate or in good taste is absolutely a valid one to ask. Nobody's talking about censorship, pull your head out of your ass.

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            June 15, 2012 5:47 PM

            Do you think film review forums were blathering on about if the Departed was too violent?

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              June 15, 2012 6:28 PM

              What does that have to do with anything? Are you suggesting the question of what constitutes good taste has never been brought up about films?

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                June 15, 2012 6:40 PM

                Good luck on your campaign against all expressions of entertainment that don't match your tastes.

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                  June 15, 2012 6:44 PM

                  I don't think anyone's making that argument, like, at all.

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                    June 16, 2012 3:24 AM

                    They're saying it's too much. So what are they going to do about it? Ask the rest of the industry nicely? Stuff like this goes in phases, it feels like such a non-issue. There are still games focusing on story, indy originals, games for kids, all sorts.

                    Just because the big publishers had a hardon for gore this year at E3 it's a major issue to get all concerned-parent about? It's a show that reaches hardcore gamers and, yup, they tend to like violence. You can't tell publishers to stop delivering and promoting the sort of games people eagerly buy.

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                  June 15, 2012 7:31 PM

                  Good luck on your campaign of incredibly terrible reading comprehension!

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                  June 16, 2012 3:44 AM

                  Good luck on your campaign to censor all opinions on entertainment that don't match your tastes.

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            June 15, 2012 10:52 PM

            Maybe Michael Bloomberg can tell us how much we can have.

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          June 15, 2012 5:57 PM

          they buy into that shit BECAUSE they know the stuff is no longer for kids, but most of these games aren't violent in purely gratuitous ways, not mature or interesting ways.

          hell it's not even gratuitous in an interesting sense. compare shit by gaspar noe or lars von trier, dudes constantly taken to task or accused of being fucking disgusting and borderline exploitative -- but their works are like citizen kane (YEAH I SAID IT) compared to the constant stream of brainless gorefests gamers are treated too. fuck I don't hate gore, but if you give me gore at least let it be a bit more cerebral and genuinely disturbing or interesting with a lot more serious thematic consequences than "lol fuck that dude's head got blowed off, how rad!!!"

          it's not even that it's gross it's that it's just fucking boring... what's more gross is the response and the seemingly bottomless well adoration certain gamers have for this kind of game.

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            June 15, 2012 5:58 PM

            ^^^^ part of that first sentence should read "...most of these games ARE violent in purely gratuitous ways..."

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            June 15, 2012 6:04 PM

            So your answer is to try and decide what should be offered to people with different tastes.

            Ridiculous that "gaming journalists" are having an existential crisis because a video game henchman got shot in the head with a shotgun in Last of Us. Same exact thing happened in the movie Drive, nearly point blank on the camera and no one cared. Joe Pesci stabs a guy in the neck with a pen in Goodfellas. If even something approaching the same thing happened in a Kane and Lynch game these journalists would lose their shit.

            If you don't like violent games, don't buy them -- just like if you don't like violent movies, don't watch them. Violent video games are a private purchase that people enjoy in their own home. There are plenty of other games out there for you to write a blog about.

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              June 15, 2012 6:19 PM

              well, I admit it may be more of an E3 problem than anything, that tries to be this monolithic industry-defining event. When something distasteful shows up at it, that is a major centerpiece at, say, a conference, it tends to invite these kinds of criticisms. It's kind of hard to look away and go "hey those guys... fuck! good luck with that I guess" when it's right in your face like that.

              it's also a bit of a "you got peanut butter in my chocolate!" kind of thing, too, where it's frustrating to see a perfectly interesting concept for a game marred by the mandatory inclusion of extreme violence. So that kind of invites disappointment and frustration as well. You can say "HEY JUST DON'T BUY IT, MAN! IT'S NOT FOR YOU!" but isn't that kind of invalidating towards my own tastes, which may be, in fact, incredibly under-served? And perhaps I'm hardly the only one, and, perhaps, even, a part of an untapped majority? Wouldn't that be frustrating to you, if you felt were in that position?

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              June 15, 2012 6:30 PM

              the fact is I don't think anyone is really trying to nanny or police what game developers are doing, especially considering some of them are probably among the people that fought against game censorship. it's more like they're pointing out these glaringly obvious trends and going "hey maybe it's not such a smart idea to go all-in on this sort of thing"

              also you didn't seem to get my point about movies, which is that the violence in the movies I mentioned and the ones you mentioned were done with so much more finesse and consequence than you ever really tend to see in a freaking videogame. hell most videogames still GET their inspiration for visceral, gut-wrenching violence from film -- if they didn't, we'd still be mucking around in the silly and fantastical "freshman drawing class sketch book" style violence we saw in Mortal Kombat or Smash TV (which ironically I think actually is in some ways more expressive and unique than some of the violence we see in video games today).

              maybe it's impossible to treat violence in videogames with the same sort of gravitas most films do (I'd like to think not, though). videogames, as they are now, do a pretty fucking bad job of it, except perhaps when compared to B-grade horror films.

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            June 15, 2012 10:11 PM

            I find it funny that you are referencing the last of us. Unlike god of war in which i merrily revel in the carnage, the last of us demo actually gave me pause. That final moment actally made me think for a second, made me wonder if he really should of killed that guy. It was brutal but also had some context. I don't think you could have picked a worse example tbh

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              June 15, 2012 11:16 PM

              well, I was vague enough that perhaps I COULD have been referencing god of war, but... yeah that was kind of what I had in mind.

              I'd guess it could've been poignant moment if a bunch of nerd dudes didn't think it was totally appropriate to clap and woo at that point, was part of where I was going with that

              i earnestly hope it does prove to be a bad example.

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                June 16, 2012 8:36 AM

                the reaction of the crowd is not the game's fault. i'm sure if you screened schindler's list to a bunch a nazies you might get some high fives and whatnot, thats not the movie's fault either. people are people

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        June 15, 2012 6:16 PM

        It's amazing how no anger is ever placed on the parents who repeatedly buy these games for their children. Sorry but shooting people in a game is a good stress reliever, it doesn't make me want to murder anyone. In reality I'm pretty anti war.

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        June 15, 2012 7:21 PM

        I believe WoW was the first MMORPG to have blood spurts. WHERE IS YOUR SCIENCE NOW????

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      June 15, 2012 5:29 PM

      Holy hell, is that what is like to play on a console? Horrible textures and massive frame fluctuations? Every time the frames dropped it kind of made me nauseous.

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        June 15, 2012 6:12 PM

        These machines are based on decade-old tech, they're being pushed absolutely to their limits. Last of Us still looks better artistically than almost anything on the PC.

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          June 15, 2012 6:48 PM

          Man I loved that Last of Us teaser, but you're just so wrong.

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            June 15, 2012 6:52 PM

            he said "artistically" which is a totally fair thing to say and is probably true. the amount of artistic resources you put into something doesn't necessarily have a whole lot to do with the actual tech.

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              June 15, 2012 7:10 PM

              Yeah, I know what he said. I stand by my statement.

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                June 16, 2012 3:19 AM

                What's an example of what you feel is better right now?

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                  June 16, 2012 7:43 AM

                  For post-apocalyptic art style? Any of the STALKER games.

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        June 15, 2012 6:22 PM

        Every time I enjoy a game on my 360 there's frames raining down on the floor like spent shells and a continuous flume of vomit from my mouth. It's quite the daunting cleanup effort afterwards.

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      June 15, 2012 5:37 PM

      I'd have to say that many games aren't mature about violence. More importantly, most game TRAILERS aren't mature about violence, because they're trying to pack as much action into a 1-minute video sequence, therefore we get stuff like The Last Of Us, and The Least Stealthy Hitman Playthrough Ever.

      There's also the "bros fighting wars" violence glorification in games like Killzone, Call of Duty, etc. Some developers go for the excuse that they're trying to stay loyal to actual military situations, but I'd rather see more class, more understated characters. However, that won't turn heads at E3.

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      June 15, 2012 5:38 PM

      We've peaked our violence threshold with Soldier of Fortune 1 and 2.

      Not much has matched since.

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      June 15, 2012 5:39 PM

      I think the bigger news here is a lot of these so-called scales in violence are for games that basically equate to QTE's. At least the major ones the E3 press concentrated on. At least Dishonored will let you do the action yourself.

      I've already played Dragon's Lair you fags.

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      June 15, 2012 5:59 PM

      I had been put off from this year's E3 before the press conferences had even started, having watched GameTrailer's E3 preview the week prior. Games made for and marketed to self-identifying gamers have gone well beyond their past sins of merely being about and primarily mediating the player's experience with violence. A large portion of the games at this year's E3 reveled in a sort of brutality that I had a physical reaction to, that I would not be able to stand watching for any length of time let alone willingly engaging with.

      I fear to some extent for my industry when it uses its biggest showcase, and one of the few that garners mainstream attention, to celebrate and exploit the basest of human emotions. Is appealing to a stereotype of the adolescent, male, heterosexual demographic worth ghettoizing the entire traditional video games industry in the eyes of the mainstream public?

      We can, should, and in some corners do, do better than this. Yet for all the Journeys in the world there are a hundred, in both skus and budget, exploitative action games in which the player's only meaningful interaction is via a virtual sword or through a scope. What a depressing waste.

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      June 15, 2012 6:32 PM

      What I found for myself was that a threshold was being breached where a video game character's behavior can actually trigger an empathic reaction several times over. That car crash in Watch Dogs was far less violent than a lot of things I've seen. No blood, no guts, but to me at least much more impactful. I could go on rampages in GTA all the time, no biggie. I don't think I will in Watch Dogs. That reaction, I don't think it's about realism in terms of graphics, or setting, or physics, but rather character authenticity. I don't think it's a technical limitation that only now suddenly made it possible. It's been done before, just not very often, and now you had three games that really aimed for the players emotions all at once. There was the Lara Croft remake, with its focus on helplessness, vulnerability, Last of Us, going straight for father/daughter jugular, and Watch Dogs, in a scene that turned some random violence into tragedy for a bystander.

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      June 15, 2012 8:48 PM

      To go from Deus Ex to Mickey Mouse. This man must wake up every morning and ask himself "what the hell happened?"

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      June 15, 2012 10:28 PM

      That video's stereo mixing is backwards and completely ruins my enjoyment of it :(

      I guess I could wear my headphones backwards but surely that's too simple!!

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      June 15, 2012 11:18 PM

      I think games can be so violent that it cheapens it. Throwing more blood at something doesn't make it better, and it makes blood lose all dramatic effect.

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      June 15, 2012 11:18 PM

      i was actually wondering why there isnt a game where you play a serial killer and try to get away with it as long as possible.

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      June 16, 2012 2:47 AM

      I can not hear them over the sound of movies like SAW

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        June 16, 2012 3:50 AM

        If SAW was the gold standard of the movie industry, I'm pretty sure that would be a phenomenon that would be discussed quite widely, on movie sites, the culture pages of newspapers, and elsewhere. Of course, the common trends in the film industry do get widely discussed either way, because culture is a continuing debate where artwork, audience, and criticism interact to create an always-changing end result.
        To me, the existence of hyperviolence in games are a tiny problem in comparison to the number of gamers who do not want a conversation about the content of games at all, and treat everyone who do like they're Tipper Gore.

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          June 16, 2012 4:16 AM

          A discussion is fine, but the problem here is people often use bogus/inconclusive studies to further their agendas considering video games. It doesn't matter what event happens in the world someone will try to link it back to video games. Forget that the same or worse content exists in other entertainment forms.

          Lets not forget these "hyper-violent" games are not meant for children. The parents should do their resource and know what the game is about before they buy one. They should at the very least respect the ratings before they dare to complain about the game.

          The reason you see lot of Mature titles is because the average gaming age is increasing. Lot of people have been gaming since the 80/90's depending and the games are reflecting some of the audience shift. I wouldn't also read to much in to E3 because one a lot of the major games didn't show up to the conference or will likely show up at places like GamesCom or PAX.



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            June 16, 2012 4:23 AM

            How many of the people we're talking about here are actually talking about children, though? Again, this isn't a pack of Tipper Gores doing the critique.

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      June 16, 2012 5:58 AM

      Gratitious violence A-Ok, any kind of nudity or sex ooooooh nooooooo its from the devil!

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        June 16, 2012 7:52 AM

        Switch it for Europe and Australia. Gratuitous sex just fine and dandy, but don't you dare touch that furble! Just depends on where you live.

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          June 16, 2012 11:36 AM

          Yeah, I'd wish there was some kind of middle ground there.

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      June 16, 2012 7:52 AM

      He also noted that "so long as it's part of a balanced portfolio, it's okay." Microsoft's holiday lineup includes Gears of War: Judgment and Dance Central 3.


      ... That's not a balanced fucking lineup. That's two extremes.

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      June 16, 2012 9:20 AM

      Rome had it's gladiators and we have our games, violence appeals to a lot of people. As for me violent games don't appeal to me, I find them boring and for me they tend to degrade other aspects of the game like story. If you want to play a violent game go ahead it's your choice.

      This E3 however I did notice that almost the only times people cheered in press conferences were when they were shown something violent and that did put me off. I'm worried that there will be more violent games as they may tend to sell but less non-violent games like portal or journey because they're more risky. I also felt uneasy at how joyful some people were when seeing violence in video games.

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        June 16, 2012 10:51 AM

        I think as long as there are indy games you will be just fine.

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        June 16, 2012 5:37 PM

        It's an easy way to show off impressive tech in a short time span.

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      June 16, 2012 7:56 PM

      GTA needs gibs.

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      June 16, 2012 11:51 PM

      Its not just games, looking at the other media. UFC is mainstream, airing on Fox and Fuel TV. Bin Laden and Gaddafi deaths are YouTube sensations. On an unrelated note, I don't think people buy only violence. Companies use violence to pepper their games...did people buy GTA4 just because of the violence or b/c it was a good game.

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      June 17, 2012 4:01 AM

      If you didn't have a young girl following you around in The Last of Us, no one would give a shit about how violent it was. I mean, that guy's head didn't even explode when he got shotgunned in the face! Come on!

      The Road (mostly talking about the novel) was obviously an inspiration, and it's way more psychologically disturbing than anything I saw in that video.

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      June 17, 2012 9:43 AM

      Overly Violent..Pr0 tip, we're a race of super predators whose existence and proliferation goes hand in hand with our ability to be violent. Our society rewards those who have the most control over violent impulses. As such, a release of violent impulses is often used, whether it's controlled release through sports, training, watching fights, or as many of us here practice, video games.

      It's really not a question of what's too violent. It's the realization that the reality of violence is something people are not certain they're ready to accept in an interactive entertainment medium.

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      June 17, 2012 8:39 PM

      Somewhat along the same lines... I'm playing BF3 today and my 14yr old daughter asks me "Do these games make people violent?" I replied and said it depends on whether or not you can separate this kinda stuff from reality, but on the whole, no. She then asks me "is this what it really looks like?" I said you mean war? yah. "Don't they just march towards each other and shoot?" -- Maybe I should have her watch more video games vs what school is teaching...geezus...my kid thinks Iraq and Afghanistan and all that is the Civil War.

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        June 17, 2012 10:04 PM

        It might be time for her to see Blackhawk Down. Just skip the artery scene maybe.

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      June 18, 2012 4:58 AM

      Jesus Christ, who the fuck cares? I wouldn't even notice extra violence in a game, let alone take personal offense at it.

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      June 18, 2012 7:55 AM

      Hey game companies. How about you just make the game you want to make? Don't over think things, and especially don't let the marketers tell you things are too violent or not violent enough.

      I'll take "Keep the morality police out of my hobby" for $400 Alex.

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      June 18, 2012 2:00 PM

      This reminds me of what David Chase said about the Sporanos game: There's a point to violence narratively in The Sopranos, it serves a purpose. In games violence is for the sake of violence, in other words that is the gameplay.

      I'm with Spector.

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