Last week, CraveOnline's Erik Norris wrote a piece on how he felt the gaming industry needed more fun experiences, in which he spoke of how his trip to E3 2012 had made him reflect on the gaming industries focus on violence. "Most fans of video games know full well that the gaming industry is currently treated as the whipping boy for corrupting our world’s youth," Mr. Norris wrote. "I’m sure E3 2012 didn’t help. When you have thousands of attendees shouting and hollering as God of War’s Kratos rips apart an Elephant Man from head to asshole, it paints a bad picture."
The argument of whether or not underage children playing mature video games can have damaging psychological effects is one which has been debated at length, largely by political figures who have little to no knowledge of the subject matter, but who are looking to capitalise on the valuable 'aging and paranoid' demographic of voters who view any form of entertainment that they do not understand as potentially harmful.
The truth of the matter is that video games are no longer the mysterious domain of 14-year-old males, but are now enjoyed by both genders and varying age groups, thus allowing a broader spectrum of people to see that not every video game requires you to bludgeon a prostitute with a 9" sex toy, or whatever other violent imagery worried parents thought of when li'l Billy ventured into his bedroom and turned on his PlayStation.
The argument that video games are somehow "evil" is no longer relevant, as the responsibility of whether or not an underage child should be playing a mature game rests on the shoulders of the child's parents and the shop selling the game, not on the shoulders of the video game developers themselves. Unfortunately, as we have spent the past decade or so arguing over our right to have mature content in our video games, the industry itself has been negating our argument by refusing to grow out of its worryingly adolescent obsession with gore.
The recent 'Attack of the Saints' trailer for the upcoming Hitman: Absolution was a strong testament to the opinion that while video games have been evolving rapidly from a technological standpoint, their growth emotionally has been stunted over the past decade or so. The trailer depicts a group of "nuns" walking in prayer, only for said nuns to begin removing their clothing to reveal skimpy latex outfits underneath. They then reveal that they are also carrying weaponry and become embroiled in an explicitly violent confrontation with Agent 47, who mercilessly disposes of each one of them.
My issue with the trailer is not with its graphic violence, but with the unsubtle parallels it draws between sexual promiscuity and evilness – it's saying "these women are exposing their cleavages. They deserve to die."
The most worrying thing about the trailer is that, despite its clear and violent misogyny, it doesn't shock as much as it should do. The concept of a man ruthlessly murdering a group of women should strike more of an emotional chord with me but, as video games continue to find themselves unable to kick old habits such as sexism and wanton violence, I have now found myself so emotionally detached from such graphic imagery that I can watch Agent 47 stick a knife into the back of a woman's neck whilst simultaneously eating cereal.
As a white, male gamer I am, with the exception of the so-called "casual market", the target consumer for video game companies. I have found myself being pandered to ever since gaming made the leap into the third dimension, with most video game protagonists also being white and male. And what do white men like better than explosions and blood? Nothing, apparently, which is why I continuously find myself controlling said white male protagonists as they shoot, maim and kill anything foolish enough to be sharing the same oxygen as them.
Why can I not control an African-American man? Or an Hispanic man? Or a Chinese woman? There have certainly been cases where I have been allowed to follow the adventures of someone with a different ethnicity and genitalia than mine, such as Tomb Raider and the recent Prototype 2, but the industry seems to expect that if I found myself put in the shoes of someone who looked too different from myself it would challenge my worldview too much, thus putting me off the product.
This presupposition of my narrow-mindedness extends to gaming genres, where the white male is apparently so besotted with watching people's skulls explode via shotgun bullets that he is willing to watch the same thing repeated in every video game that he plays. Even The Last of Us, which has all the promise of being an emotionally engaging title, was unable to conclude its E3 on-stage demo with anything other than a grisly shotgun bullet to the face, as if it was too embarrassed to end it with anything else.
The argument against violence in video games is always the same: it's worse than what you get in movies because you can interact with the characters, thus putting you in control of the violence. And this would be true, if not for the fact that while video game graphics have improved to the point where you can control a character that looks like an accurate representation of a human, the emotional immaturity so heavily displayed in the industry ensures that through each shotgun bullet and swipe of a chainsaw, the player feels nothing. Nothing at all.