Getting Exquisitely Bored with Excessive Violence
I can remember the first really violent video game I ever played; it was the original Devil May Cry for PS2. I was thirteen. (Yes my mom let me play an M-rated game when I was thirteen.) It was an incredible game and still one of my favorites. As the years went by, I continued to play violent games like Killzone, Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock, Dark Souls, Deus Ex, and many more that would take too long to list. In my mid to late teens, I was very heavily interested on story driven games. I liked dark, gritty “mature” games. The vast majority of the games I was playing fit into those categories. Now, at twenty-three, I prefer playing games like Pokemon, Kirby, Scribblenauts, and various Lego titles. What happened?
I don’t think it’s something simple like “I just got sick of ‘mature’ games.” Over the past year, as my interest in violent games has waned, I’ve played through all of Mass Effect for the third time, Devil May Cry is still my favorite series, and I play Diablo 3 and Assassin’s Creed IV to help me relax. So I still like violent games, it’s just that the number of new titles I’m interested in has drastically decreased. Lately, the only games I want to buy are all cartoony, silly, family-friendly games.
This has been coming on for awhile. While everyone else was gushing about The Last of Us being the best game ever, I was bored out of my mind and eventually gave up in favor of replaying Ratchet and Clank and old Crash Bandicoot games. I found this very strange and often thought that if The Last of Us came out a few years prior, I would of loved it. (Or at least liked it enough to finish it.) My problem with that game wasn’t just that the gameplay was generic crap done a million times already. And done better. The problem was the horrendous disconnect between gameplay and story. The developers were trying to tell a really emotional story, but oh whoops it’s been awhile since the player had something interesting to do. Shootout time! A lot of games have this problem where the gameplay consists largely of overblown, generic shootouts that don’t seem to fit in with the story they are trying to tell. More enemies to shoot or stab doesn’t make things more interesting; it makes them repetitive. And it’s really hard for me to care about a game that doesn’t grab me with its gameplay. A good story isn’t enough. I don’t care how great the plot or characters are, if the gameplay is dull, it has lost me. If all I want is a good story, I can just watch shows like Sons of Anarchy, Scandal, or House of Cards.
Games offer something no other medium does, the ability to put the player right in the thick of it. Games offer a level of interaction that no other medium can touch. And I’ve noticed a pattern across the violent games I actually really love. They are either relaxing to play (Diablo III and ACIV) or offer a complete experience with gameplay that works with rather than competes with the story. For instance:
Devil May Cry is stupid. Everything about it is stupid. The gameplay, the story, the characters, everything is over the top, cheesy stupidness. And I love it for that. It’s always enjoyable because of how shamelessly dumb it is.
Killzone is a retelling of WWI and WWII, but in outer space. The basic premise is that the lessons of the past have been forgotten and now the horrors of the twentieth century are happening again. Killzone does intensity better than any other FPS I have ever played. There have been several times through out the series where I had to stop for a moment. I literally had to put the controller down and just breathe because what was happening on screen was getting overwhelming. And that’s how a war game should feel. It shouldn’t feel like a power trip. It should leave you sweating and gripping the controller so hard it cracks.
Mass Effect is this big, giant space opera and Bioshock is a criticism of Objectivism while also commenting on player interaction and the illusion of choice as a whole. Basically, I can split the games I really love into two categories, games that make me think, and ones that are just plain fun.
Most mature games don’t really give me anything to think about and the violence is just there for the sake of being there. And the gameplay isn’t all that fun either. I much prefer shootouts in Ratchet and Clank over Uncharted, The Last of Us or Medal of Honor.
I’ve been having this same issue with books. I’ve been a fantasy/sci-fi lover ever since I was little, but I’ve become increasingly frustrated with trying to find new books to read since most of the ones I come across are rather shallow with an emphasis on violence being the solution. I’ve been steering more and more toward more personal stories where the solution is found using non-violent means, or if there is violence its use is really meaningful. Either way, the lessons learned are profound and stay with you long after you finish it. (So basically everything Ursula K Le Guinn ever wrote.)
I do wonder what it says about me as a person that I find violent stories largely boring, or at least demand the violence have some meaning behind it besides “this cutscene is getting long FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!” Perhaps it’s because I was never one for violent confrontations. I always opted to soldier through adversity and hardship rather than start swinging. Perhaps I find characters boring if they engage in activities I morally disagree with. But then why are Frank Underwood and Jax Teller some of my favorite characters not just on television, but in general?
I think it’s something deeper than that. Perhaps it’s because when I was in my teens I bought into the idea that mature rated content was actually mature. I never condoned violence, but I still always thought of myself as weak and pathetic because of how physically weak I was. As I’ve grown up, I slowly realized that physical strength might be beyond me, but I more than make up for it with resiliency. (I find long runs enjoyable, for starters.) Perhaps with this realization, I have come to look at violent stories in a new light. While I’ve always known on some level, I have come to fully understand the absurdity of hurting another living thing, and fully embraced the power that comes from things like love and understanding, even if it isn’t the popular or safe path. And so that is reflected in my literature and games preferences. It’s hard to really enjoy a story if there is nothing about that story that you can connect with. And it’s hard to relate and connect with characters who engage in activities or struggle with moral quandaries I find ridiculous to begin with. To kill is to kill is to kill after all.
(Unless you’re Frank Underwood. You just...keep doing your thing, man.)
Or maybe it’s because game graphics have become increasingly realistic, making it harder for hypersensitive people like me to stomach violent scenes, which would make sense considering the number of times I had to look away while watching violent shows. The more realistic the violence is, the more difficult it is to watch.
Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things. Regardless, I think it is worth asking the question of why do we enjoy committing violent acts in games? It’s not for the act of violence itself. There’s usually some other motivator for why violence is being used like revenge, self-defense, patriotism, etc. But why should it be enjoyable anyway? Games are meant to be fun, and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to have fun while running around shooting people.