Violence still dominates the image of games in public consciousness. It's at the point where we actually have to form activist groups and hold conferences in Parliament to show people that they're not all about killing people in inventive and horrible ways.
I present Exhibit A: the list of Skillshots on the Bulletstorm wiki. Now, imagine you've not played many video games before except maybe a bit of Tetris back in the day, and someone shows you this.
"Kill an enemy by impaling him on a cactus." "Fire a Penetrator drill into an enemy's stomach, then kick it." "Kick an enemy from behind, them shoot him in the ass." "Guide a bullet into an enemy's balls." You'd think we were all completely, dangerously mental.
And that's the cartoonish, over-the-top end of the video game violence spectrum, the end that you'd think would be easiest to justify. There's a lot out there that's much less defensible.
I spend half my life, in both the professional and personal spheres, trying to persuade people that gamers aren't psychopaths. The games themselves don't do much to help me out. Even people who love this stuff feel uncomfortable when describing it out of context.
And yes, context is usually the thing that prevents games from coming across as utterly despicable. So many of them are about war, after all, and killing people during war is a culturally acceptable thing.
By their very nature, games involve a lot of death, even if you're just using up extra lives. It's an intrinsic part of gaming. Obviously. However - must we revel in it quite so delightedly?
Do I need to shoot people in Black Ops? Yes. But do I need an extreme close-up of some poor guy's terrified eyes as my avatar stabs him in the throat? No. Makes me feel all queasy.
The point is that video games are almost unique in that it's almost impossible to avoid violence while engaging with them, unless you basically stick to Nintendo.
I experience a similar nauseous incomprehension when it comes to horror movies, but at least I can choose not to watch them and still enjoy film as a medium. If I were to decide not to play excessively violent video games, it feels like I'd barely have much left to choose from.
Even when games claim to let us resolve things non-violently, they rarely do. I made it through the whole of the original Splinter Cell without killing so much as a fly, patiently piling up tranquillised bodies in hidden corners (those poor guards - when they awoke, they probably thought they'd somehow become part of a workplace orgy). Then Pandora Tomorrow came along and suddenly it was all about upside-down neck-snapping.
There is a moment in GTA IV (the first GTA game I was able to enjoy very much, largely thanks to its decreased emphasis on random and chaotic sandbox violence) where Nico has to steal some documents from a lawyer. I did this without killing anyone.
Next thing I knew the game was telling me I had to shoot the lawyer dead, for no good reason, when I could have just jumped out of the window and run away. I got so frustrated by this I nearly gave up on the whole thing.
Gaming's obsession with violence holds us back as a medium. That's the main reason I'm against it. Let's find other ways of doing things. We resort to bloodshed too easily, and aside from making gamers look unhinged to anyone outside of our subjective moral bubble, this is leading us down a creative cul-de-sac.
I think we can do better. I'd rather hear a developer talking about how their game pushes the boundaries of their genre than about how many rad ways we can totally shoot up a dude. I'd like to be able to show my friends examples of moral controversy in games that go beyond 'No Russian'.
I'd rather be able to ask, "What happens if I talk to this guy?" than, "What happens if I shoot him?" And yes, I'd rather be able to jump out the window than brutally, pointlessly murder that poor lawyer in GTAIV.
Violence has its place in games, as it does in any medium. But we're not teenagers any more. It's time to find other ways of making an impact.
Cast Your Vote
So there you have it. Kristan and Keza have spoken, but what's your take? Do you long for less violence in games? Do you wish developers would take a more mature approach and offer us more original, thought-provoking experiences? Or does that kind of talk make you want to shoot a Nazi space monster in the face, hack its head off and **** down its neck?
Have your say below!