Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint about rewiring things and punching people, I'm on a weekly gaming podcast called The Crate & Crowbar, I wrote these two short stories in the Machine of Death collections, and I used to write articles like these for PC Gamer. I'm now prototyping two new games, Heat Signature and one about grappling hooks.
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While frying a piece of fish, I wondered why the violence shown at the main conferences at E3 got to me, despite the fact that I play violent games all the time.
Correction! I am mistaken about the context for the Last of Us killing: there are fungus-controlled dudes in it, but the people you’re killing in that scene are just assholes.
The fish was good. Spring onion, chilli and soy. 7/10.
Ivan: To be honest, i'm starting to dispair about the human race... people are just become so.... -waves hands while trying to find a word i cant get-
well, am glad people like you can talk and understand things like this.
Also... -peers closely at your neck- vampire bite?
Heh, well, either your fish is frying really loud or you had that heavy rain yesterday
Seymour: The assholes in the last of us were assholes, but they weren't assholes necessarily deserving a flaming death/savage beating/begging for mercy shotgun blast to the face, IMO. No more an asshole than you for killing them, and it looked like he PC is the one who provoked it- the lack of ability to call a truce or sneak past is quite troubling. The theme of violence as desperate and brutal only works if it's the last option you have.
Nersh: Thank you for uploading this in 1080p. Watching, I felt like I was really there in the kitchen with you -- impulsively I reached out, so fooled was I by the fidelity of the image that for a moment I was convinced I could touch your face with my fingers, run them down the curve of your cheek, stroke tenderly the stubble of your chin -- but I stopped just before their tips came up painfully against the cruel hardness of the monitor... I collected myself solemnly, chiding myself, but still as I watched to the bitter end of the video I was sure I could smell -- no, /taste/ -- the fish as it cooked. And also that bin bag you need to take out.
Jenn: I remember walking into my apartment and a friend of my then-boyfriend's was on the couch (his name was Jon, he was actually living with us, and boy was it stressful, because he was always on the PS2, which I needed for work). Anyway, he had just gotten to a mission in GTA San Andreas called "Deconstruction." And -- spoilers! -- in this mission, you push a person into a ditch, then empty a cement truck into the ditch, presumably burying him alive.Which isn't so bad, I guess! You'll find more horror in a Poe story! So Jon was giggling, and he started giggling harder when I stopped in the doorway, clapped both hands over my mouth, and started repeating, "Oh, that is just horrible, just horrible."I remember how ill I felt because, first of all, it was awful to me, and second -- and this was in 2005, when San Andreas was already under some extra scrutiny because of the Hot Coffee mod -- I imagined if Jon were my kid, and if I were his parent coming home, and if this were the scene I were walking in on, WHAT WOULD I THINK. And to what conclusion might I jump about all video games! Or worse, what if I were some sort of legislator.And I remember saying to Jon, "Yeah, gee, I wonder why mothers everywhere do not want their kids to play this," and then my moment of horror had passed, and I sat down next to Jon on the couch.All I mean to do is support your point about context, or maybe I mean something else about the difference between doing something in-game versus seeing it being done, the effects of which are very different. Hmm.
Jenn: P.S. Ah! I see that I could have used actual line breaks now.
Jason L: Yep, context is king. It's not the particle systems, it's the editorial position of showing them instead of other systems, and the spectacle of the bros hooting at it that assaults us. See also, women and male gaze.
Patrick: You're spot on, I've been (vaguely) struggling to understand this dichotomy for years - how violence is so glorified in our culture in general, and then games as an even more extreme subset of this. Did anyone ever "play" Beautiful Escape or Norrland? They made me stop and seriously think about the kinds of things we do in games.
Sam: You have vocalised my thoughts and feelings on this area better than I ever could. I will be showing this video to friends whenever the subject of video game violence comes up.
Fish: You kind of circled this in your video, but I think you're missing a crucial element of why The Last of Us' violence felt so real- the voice AI. When the people are talking to each other, they lose some of their "Oh, It's Just a Bot" quality, and start to become people in our minds. It made killing people an unattractive option- one of desperation rather than "fun." It reminded me of what you wrote a while ago, when you first started developing Gunpoint. You said that you wanted the pull of a trigger to be a significant act. The Last of Us appears to do this, which is why we feel shocked and repulsed, and why the game seems so effective.
verendus: To be fair, in the beginning you hear two of the jerks discussing how they just murdered their fifth tourist in a week. Which is kind of nasty of them. As for why this particular instance of violence seemed worse than usual, for me it was because there was a 10 or 12 year old girl watching. Killing a marauding band of killers is one thing, but when a small, impressionable child is watching, it becomes significantly worse - even if they did deserve to die, you're setting a terrible example just by doing it.
Gwathdring: I don't know that I like the "but they were OBVIOUSLY bastards" thing. I have lots of games in which I can kill cartoon villains but not very many where killing is discouraged by being made real. Context does matter, and as such I'd like more games to use context to make killing seem important and horrifying rather than just use it to allow even graphic violence to be no more emotionally important or psychopathic than paint-ball. I recognize the difference and that some gamers really are still able to utterly isolate game violence in their minds even when the game in question is simply too graphic and visually real for me to do the same.
But especially in a game that presents a front about gritty, real, impact-filled post-apocalyptia ... it rings hollow to have such in-game or out-of-game excuses for violence. You can't just keep presenting the same attitudes and emotional contexts over and over and hope to add new meaning with a bucket of brown paint and a sprinkling of sympathetic children.
Gwathdring: P.S. As a corollary to my first sentence I've also encountered games that make the context of the killing more disturbing (and sometimes real) while ALSO encouraging it. But the games I encounter that discourage it tend to do so half-heartedly or with cartoonish, fake sympathies.
Plumberduck: From the trailer, I thought that part of the... Is appeal the right word?... of The Last of Us was that it felt like it was intentionally provoking a discussion like this - that the violence committed by the main character was over the top, not in an effort to titillate, but in an effort to disturb. To give a dawning realization (especially as the young girl comments on your actions) that the character has become unhinged.
If that's intentional, it's canny storytelling, although the audience reaction you described seems to indicate that it's being misinterpreted. (And the pacing of the gameplay shown, from slow, meditative exploration to increasing climaxes of violence, definitely speaks to the condescending, "Hey look at all this violence, you like that, don't you dummy?" tone of the marketing you're describing.)
Dan: Strangely I felt exactly the same. I haven't really been playing any mainstream games for a while, but I stumbled over the videos for Last of Us and Watch Dogs recently, and I was...not sickened....but disappointed by the violence. Partly because the games seem to revel in the fact that you're a bad ass that feel nothing when you shoot somebody in the face, partly because the games are trying nothing new despite being conceptually interesting.
I don't think anything has changed though, video games have been tied to violence since they were first created. As a games journalist you see games in a different way from the public, you see them critically, but the average person is sold on the violence in the game, because violence IS the game. A lot of the time the whole point of the game is to shoot people, so it makes sense that the game is sold on how well you can shoot them...how many gamers will be playing their game and thinking "wow, what an amazingly crafted world" and how many will be skipping the cut scenes so they can murder another mook?
Buying a game like Call of Duty for anything other than the violence, would be like buying a Playboy for the articles!
Crane: I think that part of the thing with the The Last Of Us demo was that the guy being shotgunned was the end of the demo, and people would have cheered then pretty much regardless; the audience as a whole wasn't going "Woo, dude's head asplode!", they were going "Woo, that demo in its entirety was awesome!"
Not that I'm saying that there isn't a problem, on the contrary I agree with you.
I'm just saying that I think people are misinterpreting that particular moment.
pendragon_y2k: 8 and a half minutes? That fish had to be rubbery as hell!!
Jim: I'm glad you brought this up. I too was watching the E3 trailers and previews and came away with an odd feeling. Usually when checking out game previews it's either a case of a game seeming exciting and worthwhile or something that's not my cup of tea - quite binary. However, after taking in several E3 previews I was grimacing at my PC, not something I remember doing before over many years of gaming.
It may have been the relentless nature and lack of variety in the games whose trailers I was checking out, but it certainly seemed at the time that whatever the game, there was a common ground of horrific violence. Perversely this is usually my kind of game (!) but I've switched much more into indie (er, cheap) gaming over the last year, and perhaps a lack of recent exposure has highlighted the over-the-top nature of the previews.
To be honest, I didn't give it much thought at the time, and I think there may be more than a grain of truth in your point about marketing violence as a selling point for the game. It may just be that due to the improvements in graphics. animation, sound etc that the violence has become a little too realistic, and when perpetually presented across a portfolio of AAA games it's too much to take in. There's also the lack of context argument - it's merely a showreel of acts that would make you squirm in real life. Maybe I'm getting old haha.
Josh: The appeal of a game such as Hitman: Blood Money rests in its subversive nature and black comedy stylings aswell as the fact that it is indeed structured as a game which is designed to be logically solved whereas gratuitous violence in E3 demos features all the spectacle of theatre but without the important ingredient of tragedy.
Essentially, mainstream gaming has entered its 'adolescent' stage.
Popeye Doyle: Hi, please help me out, what camera were you using for this video? Thanks!
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