Monday, May 13, 2013

30 Years in Review: My Experience With The History of Violence in Video Games

For as long as I can remember playing video games, there has always been violence, whether it be inconsequential or direct, or merely abstract. In this article I will attempt to list some of the games I have played in my lifetime which I consider to be violent and explain the difference between mild or gratuitous violence, as well as attempt to get to the real issues in violence, specifically in video games and movies and the relation between what we see on our screens and what we see in real life.

Not that I ever hold back when I write anything, but this will contain many references to violent video games, movies, and other media, as well as depictions through video and images, so you are warned!

The 1980’s: For the graphically challenged

Growing up as a kid I played a lot of video games, starting with our first computer, the commodore 64. To my recollection the Commodore wasn’t much of a gaming machine, as much as it was a computer you could do some basic programming on.

10 print “FUCK YOU!”

20 GOTO 10

We did own a few games, in those days it either came on a large 5 1/4 inch floppy diskette or on a cassette tape. In either case the sophistication of such games was lacking, and I would be surprised if in its list of games there was anything that could be remotely considered violent. Later on I would own an Atari 7200, and it would introduce me to some games that may have been considered violent for the time, but in retrospect pale in comparison to anything made today. For instance, a game I played endlessly during my youth was a game called Pitfall.

In Pitfall you are a guy named Harry who must run across the screen avoiding rolling barrels, snakes, scorpions, and alligators, all in an attempt to get to the end before the timer runs out. It’s a great game, but in fairness if you touch a scorpion or an alligator you die. Is it violent? Well the technology certainly isn’t available at this point to make it look anything as violent as today’s standards, but you certainly die, and in the example of the alligators you fall into the alligator’s mouth, presumably becoming it’s meal.


Activision’s 1982, Pitfall

Now some would say that calling this violent isn’t really fair, after all Donkey Kong picks up barrels and flings them at Mario, and if one hits you, you are killed, but is Donkey Kong violent?

Well I would ask you a simple question? If you were watching TV and saw a man getting eaten by an alligator or someone tossing something at someone else in an attempt to kill them, would you not consider these to be violent acts? Our understanding of violence is obviously determined by perception. In these two examples I have given you, it’s apparently ok in video games, but not in real life, so is it that we only consider them violent if the depiction includes gore?

If this is true, than its unlikely that any game on an 8-bit system could qualify as anything violent, even if murder were part of the game. The graphic depiction of blood in gaming was quite limited, literally to the amount of pixels that could be dedicated to one thing. Dedicating pixels to blood for example meant that in a limited space cartridge, something more important would not be included. For fun, let’s look at a really controversial example of an Atari game called Custer’s Revenge.

In Custer’s revenge, you control a naked, erect, General Custer and the objective is to cross the screen dodging arrows all in an attempt to rape a naked, Native American female tied to a pole.


Mystique’s 1982, Custer’s Revenge


Is this violent? Well the idea of raping anyone should be considered violent but it contains no actual depiction of gore. So let’s see what it looks like when you reach your target.



As you can see, Custer takes the woman doggy style, though what it looks like is anything but a porno. In terms of pixelated violence this can be considered very tame when compared to a more modern version of violence, as I will show later, but when it was released this game was banned in several countries and attacked by many parent groups. But looking at this, one wonders other than the implied violence of rape, or the picture on the box itself, where is the controversy? It’s Lego sex for a better term.


The box is so much worse than anything in the actual game. In fact, the only thing that would make you think this is anything but sex is that the girl is tied to a pole, implying the sex is anything but consensual.

As a young child I can say I never really saw games like this or played them. However, as for games where someone was murdered, or involved in a fight, or near something that exploded, I played many of these. In fact, I challenge you to find many games from the 80’s era of gaming where the objective of any game involved no violence at all. I’m sure you can, but it’s very rare. For the most part, violence is a part of gaming as much as it is a part of movies, or books.

Moving past the Atari we come to 1985, which brought for me the Nintendo Entertainment System. The NES was a vastly superior gaming console to the earlier consoles like the Atari, but it still lacked the kind of definition in graphics that would give rise to the more violent games including gore, however there are examples of violence even on the NES, which many people consider to be relatively “clean” of this sort of thing.

Duck Hunt, released in 1985 employed the use of NES Zapper, a light-based gun to shoot ducks as they fly away.


Nintendo’s 1985, Duck Hunt

This was the first game I ever played where I was given a pistol, and told to shoot as a moving target all in an attempt to kill it. It’s cartoonish graphics, and complete lack of gore hide the fact that this game is completely violent. You are a hunter whose sole objective is to fire your gun at as many helpless ducks as possible, to get a high score. I am a person who has lived in a city his whole life. I have never fired a gun at another living thing, nor would I want to. I consider it to be violent, and amoral, and an affront to civility. But each and every day people do this sort of thing all the time, with real guns, and real animals.

Yet no one considers them to be killers, with the exception of PETA, or other extremists of this sort. My own personal preference is to not kill animals unless I have to, but I enjoy meat, I enjoy fish, and enjoy poultry, as long as I do not kill it myself. But let’s be clear, it’s violent, no matter how it’s done. And despite everything I’ve said to the contrary, I enjoyed playing Duck Hunt. It still remains a memory of better days playing Nintendo as a youth. I loved the fun I had trying to get the high score, and hated the snickering Dog, every time I failed.

The NES had many fighting games, but one I remember playing a lot was called Kung Fu, and the basic premise for the game was that you were a kung fu artist who had to get through levels fighting your way, kicking and punching enemies as they appeared in front of you.


Nintendo’s 1985, Kung-Fu Master


Your score was determined by how badly you beat your enemy up through the various kicks and punches you could actually do using a two-button controller. Simple? Yes, very simple. Again, no gore whatsoever, but your objective is to beat your opponents up endlessly by kicking and punching them. If this were a television show it would certainly receive at the very least a TV-14 rating because of it’s depicted violence. But in those days, this was considered suitable for everyone.

In 1985 the NES was a gaming system that was specifically marketed towards kids, with classic games like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong. Games like these had no gore whatsoever, and so considered completely safe for children. However, even in a game like Super Mario Bros. the objective is to save the princess, but to do it, you have to kill turtles, and koopas, not to mention Bowser who is a large reptile who spits fire at you while you attempt to jump over him all to hit a switch that sends poor Bowser to his death in a fiery pit of lava below.


Nintendo’s 1985, Super Mario Bros.

How is this not violent? Of course it is, but lacking actual gore, it’s again considered tame, even then. So the question is why are some games that depict acts of violence considered tame and non-violent, however others doing the same, not considered in the same way?

Let’s consider LJN’s 1989 release of the NES game Friday the 13th, based on the film series. In Friday the 13th, like the movies, Jason Vorhees moves around Camp Crystal Lake killing off children. You play the role of a camp counselor who must stop Jason at any cost. The game is clearly a shit game in retrospect, but its totally violent. Jason actually kills children in this game if you do not stop him.


LJN’s 1989, Friday the 13th

Jason’s got a fucking clever in his hand and he swings it at you. At the top you will notice Crissy’s health, that’s you. But beside that is the amount of children left in the camp that Jason hasn’t killed. If you manage to survive this encounter and Jason does as well, that number will go down. A fucking mass-murdering psychopath is killing children with a clever. There is no blood, but death is obviously implied here. What makes this game any different than Super Mario Bros? Is it the fact that Jason is supposed to be a real person, as well as the kids?

What if Bowser were just a bad dude like Jason? Would dropping him in a pit of fire suddenly make it more violent, in-line with Friday the 13th?

Let’s look at 1986’s NES classic Rampage. Rampage is a game that depicts three humans who become mutated into large creatures that violently rampage cities by destroying buildings. The objective in this game is to kill a building’s inhabitants by knocking down the building while they are still inside. You achieve this by climbing up it’s side and hitting it repeatedly until it falls to the ground.


Midway’s 1986, Rampage

There were 709 licensed games over the NES’ nine year run, of which looking at the list more than half have some kind of violence in them. As a kid, nothing I would see on the NES would ever register with me as violent. After all, I had been watching violent movies, and especially horror flicks since I was very young, so none of that would have much of an effect on me. But as an adult I can easily recognize violence in games, and look back it becomes apparent just how violent most of these games actually were.

But the question still becomes without gore, do any of these games reach a level that would be comparative with many of the modern games that feature a Mature rating? I don’t think they would. If this were true, than the only suitable games for children featured on the NES would have been Barbie, Sesame Street 1-2-3, and Golf, and maybe a few others.

Although I would own a Master System, I never got many games for it, so I can’t really talk about it with any kind of expertise. However, later I would get a Sega Genesis, which changed everything.

The 1990’s: A decade for gore… and porn?

Technically released in 1988 and 1989, the Sega Genesis became a mainstream success with releases like Sonic the Hedgehog, Revenge of Shinobi, Ghouls’n Ghosts and Altered Beast. However, it was 1993’s Mortal Kombat that changed everything.

I was an arcade kid growing up, as much as a console kid. no matter how much fun you could have sitting at home on the Nintendo, the arcade featured games that were way better graphically than anything you could get at home, and so I would often get on my bike and take a short-cut through the local cemetery miles away from my house, across a highway into a large strip-mall area where the local arcade T’s fun center was. All because I loved playing video games, and loved arcade style games.

One of my favorite arcade games was  Capcom’s 1991 Street Fighter II, which featured a 2D style fighting game. In the game you would play one of eight characters which you could choose from, to play against AI characters all in an attempt to get to the Boss man, M. Bison. Each level featured a new character you would have to fight in order to move one step closer.

What made the game so awesome was that each character featured special moves that were different than any other character. This meant you could learn all of the special moves of a character, and chose another, and all the moves would be different. It literally meant having to learn hundreds of different moves in the game. As an adult, this sounds horrible, but as a kid, that’s all it was about. It was status, it was everything. Being able to achieve a move against a character you had just learned was awesome.

But what made Street Fighter II so fucking awesome, was it’s multi-player feature. You and a total stranger or friend, could pop in your quarter, and each one of you would choose a character, and with the moves you know attempt to whoop the shit out of the other person. As an adult I can appreciate the total violence of such a game, but as a kid, it was pure awesomeness.

I remember playing Street Fighter over and over, mastering all the moves, and beating the game with each character to secure a different ending. On one of the days I was set to play, a new game appeared behind me. I remember them carting it in, but I wasn’t really paying attention. But I could see a crowd amassing behind me so my attention was turned from Street Fighter II to the new game. I turned and stepped toward the crowd trying to get a glimpse of all the excitement, but I couldn’t actually see the screen, only hear the sounds coming from the box.

“Get over here!” I could hear, then “Ahhhh!” To say I was intrigued is an understatement. So I pushed my way through the crowd to see what everyone else was seeing. One of the adults was standing there on controller one, and one of the kids on controller two. A row of quarters lined the section which separated the screen from the joysticks themselves, which was customary when someone was queuing to play next.

Popular games were always going to have people wanting to play them, and because T’s was deep, but not very wide, games would be lined along the walls going deep, on both sides making the middle really the only place to stand. This made it difficult to actually form lines, and so a system was formed, I don’t know by whom, whereby you would put your quarter up on the game’s screen signifying your intent to play next. This game screen had quarters the entire length across. When a quarter was placed into the game, another was quickly put in its place.

The game: Midway’s Mortal Kombat. I had never seen anything like this game in my gaming life before this. Not only did it feature a fighting style similar to Street Fighter II, in that you selected your character, of which each had a bunch of different unique moves, but hitting an opponent caused them to bleed. That’s right, when you punched someone in the face, unlike in Street Fighter II, but like in real life, blood would appear. Though remembering it now, it was more like something out of Kill Bill than an actual fight.

But the real appeal was that when you had used all your special moves to defeat an opponent, unlike in Street Fighter II where the match just ends, in Mortal Kombat you would hear and see the words, “Finish Him!” at which point if you knew the move, you could end the match by murdering your opponent in one of the unique ways each character was given to kill their opponent.

The first time I saw Kano used to remove the heart of an opponent was awesome, but it was nothing compared to seeing Sub-Zero pulling the head off his opponent, leaving only the spine attached, swinging below, blood dripping profusely as the words “Fatality!” could be heard. I remember thinking this might not be a game I tell my parents about. Even then, I obviously knew there was something different about this game.

All my friends played the game, even kids who never went to the arcade would show up just to play Mortal Kombat. It was exciting, it was magical, it was violent, and fulfilling. Beyond being able to execute an opponent there was something mystical about the game. It was difficult to explain to an outside observer, who could only watch in horror at the things seen. Many a kid would be dragged from T’s kicking and screaming by a parent who saw exactly what their child was playing. The game got such a reputation that at one point the blood was turned off.

I imagine this came because of parental complaint, but as soon as it was, the game stopped being fun, could this have been a sign that violence is addictive in nature? I’m not sure if I have the answer to this, though my gut tells me it is. In any case, the bloodless version didn’t last long, and by the end of the week, it was back on, and violence ensued again, in the game at least.

For all the violence Mortal Kombat had in it’s game, kids were not running around trying to rip the heads off their brothers and sisters as Congress might have you believe. I spent a lot of time at the arcade playing Mortal Kombat, perfecting the moves, the fatalities, and plain whooping the shit out of anyone who thought they might just be better than me.

So of course it was only natural that when Acclaim decided to release Mortal Kombat for the Genesis, I was getting it. I remember I was a teenager at the time so I didn’t really need permission to get the game, so I didn’t bother even talking to my parents about it. I had worked summers doing a paper route so I asked my dad to take me up to K-Mart where I walked into the electronics department and asked for the game. The guy behind the counter said I was lucky they only had a few copies left, it was apparently very popular.

I remember the game was fairly expensive for the time, around $59 or so. Considering prices haven’t really changed much in the last 20 years, with inflation the price of games have actually gone down.

So I get the game home but immediately I realize something is off? The blood is not in the game. Not only that but it’s hard to play the game because the arcade game was designed with 5 buttons in mind, and the genesis controller only had 3 buttons. You see in those days there was no internet to fall back on, so I couldn’t run to Google and type in, “How do I turn blood on in Mortal Kombat for Genesis?” So I did the next best thing, and really the only thing available to me, I walked down to the local convenience store and looked through the rack of gaming magazines.

To my surprise a full cover ad for Mortal Kombat on GamePro, so I slapped down another $4.95 and was on my way home.


GamePro cover, September 1993

“A,B,A,C,A,B,B” and you hear, “Get over here!” And blood was enabled. But I was still having difficulty with trying to figure out the controls, so I continued to read the GamePro and found an article relating to a new 6-button controller designed for games like Mortal Kombat and the upcoming Street Fighter II: Special Edition, so it was back to the store I went. Another $30 bucks later and I was all set.

I can remember in those days that both Blockbuster and the other local video rental store allowed gaming rentals, both with various lucrative tier offers. The one I really liked, though I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the place offered you the ability to rent any game for $5 a week, but you could bring it back anytime in the week if you wanted to, and switch it for another game. So if you were like me a fanatic, you could spend day and night beating a game, returning it, and getting another. I could rent 3 or 4 games for the price of renting one game, which was fantastic.

It was how I was able to play so many games, and decide which ones were actually worth buying. One game I purchased in this way was a game called Streets of Rage. Streets of Rage was a 2D game where you chose a character and if you wanted to, bring a friend, and you both could walk through the streets kicking the crap out of street thugs. Yes, you actually walked down the street, a thug would approach and you would proceed to punch and kick him, until he disappeared.


Sega’s 1991, Streets of Rage

One of the most surprising things about consoles in general, but the genesis specifically was the amount of fighting games found on the console, of which I owned quite a lot. A lot of the games were 2D style games where the objective was to either kill someone or at the very least beat them to a bloody pulp. But in fairness, not many games, even on the genesis rivaled the blood found in a game like Mortal Kombat.

But there are a few, like Probe Entertainment’s 1995 release of Primal Rage based on the hit arcade game with the same name or Sega’s 1993 release of Eternal Champions, an alternative and clear rip-off of the mega hit Mortal Kombat. Both games featured buckets of blood, but both are very different games. Like Mortal Kombat, Eternal Champions centered around a bunch of characters competing against each other in a to-the-death competition. Much like Mortal Kombat it featured special moves and kill moves, but although I enjoyed it, Mortal Kombat was still my favorite.


Sega’s 1993, Eternal Champions

Primal Rage on the other hand while still a 2D fighter style of game, it’s characters were, well not human. Instead of killing your friendly human counterpart, you could select one of seven dinosaurs and murder the shit out of them with jumping claws, and bites, and all the shit you would expect from a dinosaur fight. And when you are done, you are given three seconds to perform… you guessed it, a fatality. What’s interesting about these games were that they were essentially clones of Mortal Kombat, but not really Mortal Kombat, at least in the case of Primal Rage.


Probe Entertainment’s 1994, Primal Rage

All three of these games followed a similar type of model which was beat the shit out of your opponent until they can no longer fight back, and then murder them in the most horrific way possible. Even looking back, although I can clearly identify such games as violent now, it would have been impossible for me to think they were anything but just a game. But I wonder than what all the nonsense about game violence is really all about?

If a kid can play games like this and know clearly they are fake, overly violent to the point of ridicule, and still have no feeling of violence toward others, then whether games are violent or not, bares no effect or whether they are violent or will be violent in the future.

I only know this because I myself played not only each one of these games, but many hundreds of other games for the genesis, all as bloody violent as these, and I never walked into a school with a gun, or armed myself with a weapon and beat someone senseless. I was no more violent than any other child growing up at the time, and like kids my age, we got in fights for much more moronic reasons than because we saw it in a movie or played it in some game.

But it seems an easy target for parents to claim their children are being turned into mindless zombies with a propensity for violence, than to believe either their child is apathetic, or violent because they have a mental problem. Many psychologists will tell you that teenagers mimic the many of the qualities of a sociopath merely because their brain isn’t fully developed, but does that mean playing violent video games leads them to do bad things?

I would think the answer to that question lies in another question: Does every child that is abused grow up to be a serial killer? Of course they do not, and so the answer should be that one does not correlate with the other. However, parents worry as parents do, and governments love to brand things, or create laws to prohibit them, and are always looking for a new target. And video games have always been a great target.

People will probably say that for every violent game there was probably three or four that were not, and that’s probably true, but how many of those games were as successful as something like Mortal Kombat? We consumers are the fuel that feeds the fire that are these game companies. Our purchasing habits directly control the types of games a company will produce, because success in a genre or particular style of gaming over time will show a clear pattern they can latch themselves to.

Midway for example whose many hits during the 80’s paled in comparison to Mortal Kombat and it’s subsequent sequels, so much so, that it’s probably what caused their eventual downfall. It’s hard to release something so controversial and amazing that changes the face of gaming forever, and then try to release anything that isn’t the same and be as successful. So they did what they needed to do, pump out more Mortal Kombat games, but in the end it would not be enough.

In 1992, Sega released their first CD-based console with the Sega-CD, which was an attachment that you added to the Sega Genesis. Now model 1 was a beast, and really expensive. I remember asking my mother to buy me one for Christmas but it was $299, which was really hard to justify. So when the model 2 came out, and the price dropped to around $189, I asked my mother to purchase it for me for Christmas again.

And to my surprise Christmas morning, there was a large box under the tree, and when I unwrapped it, my brothers and I immediately stopped what we were doing, leaving countless presents unopened to hook the system up. She had purchased a few games for the Sega-CD, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Ecco the Dolphin, but for me the only two games I wanted to play were Sewer Shark and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a game based entirely off the hit movie released in 1992 with the same name. What intrigued me was this was the first time in a game I could see cut-scenes from a movie, and it looked amazing, well as amazing as a 1x CD-ROM drive could look in those days. I had never seen anything like that before and I was dying for more. The game itself was not really all that good and didn’t really have much to do with the movie. I remembered I played it a few times, and then tossed in Sewer Shark.

Now the plot of Sewer Shark takes you, referred to as “Dogmeat” as a pilot of a ship in a post-apocalyptic world, into the sewers beneath that world flying around killing mutants whose goal it is to kill and suck out your brain. You pilot your ship through the sewers in real-time moving left and right when faced with forks ahead of you. As you encounter these mutant creatures you must blast them away. A pilot who achieves legendary status gets the chance to move to Solar City.

What I remember of this game is that it totally kicked ass. It was fast-paced, faster than any game I had previously played, and required quick fingers to prevent instant death at the end of a tunnel. There really wasn’t much to the game, but it was brutal, it was fast, and I could not stop playing. But that was normal, since it didn’t have a save feature. If you wanted to get all the way to Solar City, you were going to have to do it in a single run.

So for the next three days, none of us slept much, and when we did, we would leave the system plugged in and powered on, paused. And after three days, victory!

Another interesting thing I remember about the Sega-CD was that it was the first system I can remember that actually had foul language in it, something that is considered normal now, but very rare then. The first fuck, and shit I heard playing Sewer Shark floored me, as it wasn’t the first time I had heard it, but certainly the first time in a game I can remember.

Now although there wasn’t any blood at all in Sewer Shark its content was certainly violent, after all it was scripted like a movie, which was clearly intended for a more mature audience. Dracula on the other hand had plenty of blood in it, a lot of fighting, kicking, punching, biting, and violent cut-scenes from the movie. By this time of course, I was quite used to these types of games, and blood and violence were just normal.

It was Sega’s 1992 release of Night Trap that really changed everything. I remember playing this game as a rental first, and then having to find the game, which I did, on sale for something like $15. Night Trap was a survival horror game that featured full-motion interactive gaming where you play a Sega Control Attack Team(SCAT) member assigned to watch over some girls at a slumber party. You are told previously five girls went missing and were never found, you must figure out what happens before the next group suffers the same fate.

The game centers around these girls staying the night in a home filled with vampires , and you must capture them all before the girls are killed. Now the most interesting thing about this game isn’t its gameplay, or the fact that it has half-naked slumber party girls running around screaming. Rather, what makes it special is that this game, along with Mortal Kombat are directly sighted by Congress in 1993 as being grossly violent and shameful. These games sparked hearings that ultimately resulted in the formation of the ESRB rating system that all games now feature.

But what are we talking about? How bad is Night Trap? Well if you listen to Congress it must be the most brutally violent game ever made. So I give you below all the Death scenes available in Night Trap, you be the judge.

Nothing worse than anything you would see in a shit 50’s horror movie right? Yet, because it’s a game that was targeted toward children as most games are, than it must be the worst thing ever made. However, there is nothing to suggest this game was ever targeted toward children. In fact, a quick examination of the front of the box reveals on the right side the words, “CONTENT ADVISORY: May not be suitable for young children.”

Night Trap Cover 001

Remember, this was created even before there was an ESRB rating system, which will feature a more familiar symbol.


So if the manufacturer never intended children play this game, despite it being about as violent and sexual as the campy 60’s B-movie Barbarella, than why would there be such a stink made? The answer is simple, parents who refused to be actual parents and take some control over what their kids were doing were aghast to find out that as absentee parents, their children were playing games that might have gore, sex, and… obscene language. Oh the humanity!

The prude nature of this country, founded in-part by the Puritans still haunts all of us, as if a seeing a breast or hearing someone utter the word FUCK! somehow means the devil is upon us. The sheer ignorance of a mother who’s okay with sticking her breast into her infant son’s mouth until he is three years old but then denying the child ever see another breast until he is eighteen is utterly moronic and obnoxious. Kids are kids yes, but they are not stupid, and they were looking at boobies and vaginas long before you thought they ever would.

Not to mention your husband taught them every word they needed to learned by the age of five, and you always wondered where that language came from?

So after the ESRB rating system was formed, nothing much changed. I was able to get any game I wanted, whether it bared an M or not. The only difference it made was that some parents began checking the box when purchasing a game for their kids, however since stores had no policy on sale to children, there would be no way to actually stop the sale of any game to minors.

Much of the rest of the 90’s I spent playing various systems, but late into the 90’s my brother got a PlayStation and gaming really changed with that system. For whatever reason, playing anything prior to this console just didn’t interest me anymore, and games like Crash Bandicoot, and Madden were the wave of the future for me.

I remember that very few games released for the PlayStation were rated Mature, or my brother was just not interested in buying those kinds of games, being someone who enjoyed more sports-type gaming. It would be another four or five years before my brother would get the PlayStation two which blew the first one out of the water, but for me, I was already gaming on the PC by this time, and that will take us into a new millennium.


2001: A Gaming Odyssey

While my brother would focus his gaming on the PS2, I would move toward the PC for my gaming needs. Although I had owned a PC for many years prior and played many violent video games on the PC, the graphics to this point on the PC were still kind of shit. Games like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D were great games but compared to games of today they really looked shitty. But there was a theme with PC games of that type and it might have started with doom back in 1993, creating this kind of 3D type shooter game, now referred to as the First Person Shooter(FPS).

But it was actually around 1998 that things began to change for me, a little game called Half-Life was released, and oh FUCK was that a seriously fucked up game. Released by Valve Corporation, you play a guy by the name of Gordon Freeman who is employed as a physicist at the Black Mesa facility in New Mexico. During an experiment at the facility working on an alien artifact, a rift is opened between two worlds and aliens pour into the facility.

From this point forward it’s all “BLOW THE SHIT OUT OF EVERYTHING!”

PC half life 2 GOTY Ed._ss1

Valve Corporation’s 1998, Half-Life

To say that Half-Life changed my life is an understatement. Until this point, I had never been immersed in anything as well made as this game was. It was story driven, it was gory, it was crazy. I loved every minute of it. It was terribly violent, and I cannot imagine too many parents would have been happy with their kids playing a game like this at that time. The best example of the game would be like comparing it to the movie Aliens which was of course Rated-R.

This of course was when games were still released on disk, there was no steam and your box featured the Sierra Games logo when they were still in business. As much as I loved Half-Life, it was actually a year or so later that a small developer creating half-life mods released one that would forever change FPS gaming and create in my opinion the military-shooter genre: Counter-strike(CS).

Counter-strike is a half-life modification that uses the half-life models, and code but creates a new experience by changing the way the original game looks and feels and turning into a brand new game revolving around a Counter-Terrorism team and a group of terrorists. These terrorists attempt to plant bombs or hold hostages, all the while the CTs hunt them down, kill them and defuse the bomb or escape with the hostages alive.

It was a super-hit immediately. What made Counter-strike so popular was that here was an FPS, but it wasn’t just point and shoot, it required strategy by completing objectives. Not only was it superior to all FPS games at the time, but it featured a large multi-player experience that was really unprecedented.  Quake was really the only game I can think of that featured such an experience but it lacked the kind of objective system that could be found in CS.

My friends and I played the game endlessly, and I even joined a cs clan where I played basically every moment I was awake. Much of my time was shifted to development when I began developing scripts and modifications for CS that could make the game more enjoyable and allow for a different experience than the standard one.

For more than six years I devoted much of my free time to playing CS, and random other games like it. It would be a time in my life where I would play many, many FPS games. But this might also be because of the huge success of games like Half-Life and CS, that caused game companies to develop all these games.

Another favorite of mine would be a 2002 Electronic Arts release, Battlefield 1942. However, it became a way better game with the Desert Combat mod. Like most FPS games, violence is just part of the territory. It would be impossible to make such a game without an aspect of violence, due to the nature of the style.

You run around with a gun in hand, shooting other people. I cannot see another way that such a game could be made and not have it involve in some way some kind of violence. But it should be noted that it is around this time that there is a shift in gaming, those who grew up on the old gaming consoles are now teenagers and adults, so as more and more become older the shift toward adult style gaming would become more prevalent.

Graphics would also take a giant leap forward with the release of Valve’s hit sequel to Half-Life with Half-Life 2, which featured it’s own engine called Source in 2004.


Valve Corporation’s 2004, Half-Life 2

The familiar jagged pixilation found even in Half-life is replaced by the smooth anti-aliasing of the Source engine. This huge step forward would require a new machine for most, and I too was one of them. I remember trying to play this beast of a game on the same machine I once played CS on, and it was simply impossible. The graphics card and processor being insufficient, it was time for an upgrade.

Very few games have ever made me actually purchase new hardware but this was one of them, and I never regretted it, because shortly thereafter a whole new host of games based off the Source engine were released all dazzling gems but requiring a hell of a machine at the time to play. One game I remember that was particularly violent was a game called Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines.

Rated Mature for good reason, Bloodlines was a game full of not only violence but sex and gore. Compared to Night Trap which resembled a cheesy 60’s film, Bloodlines was the real deal. More like a modern horror classic bloodlines pushed the envelope, and challenged your thinking of what a horror game should look like. If being brutal was your thing, this game would fulfill that need and more. Whether you enjoyed snacking on the throats of homeless, or teasing and murdering hookers, this game had whatever you liked.

But I can’t talk about violent games and not refer to Rockstar Games, a leader in violent gaming for sure.  In 2001, Rockstar released a sequel to the hugely popular Grand Theft Auto series and third in line. Grand Theft Auto 3 would turn out to be one of the most violent games ever made, and I played it a few times, but it wasn’t something I become interested in until I purchased Grand Theft Auto IV in 2008 for the PS3. That game rocked my world. Unlike any other car-style racing game before it, this game was sadistic to a point.

You play a thug who can steal cars, shoot people, attack the police, even murder hookers for fun. If riding over old ladies gets you off, this game is for you. Never had I ever played a game where running over pedestrians was so much fun, and completely insane at the same time. What maybe made it so different then other games in the genre was it’s mix of racing and combat, as well as it’s “DON’T GIVE A FUCK” attitude, that really appealed to the gaming community. I myself played it for quite a while before I finally got bored with killing people and finally put it away.

When you see a game like this and see what they put into it, you have to wonder if they know some kids are going to play this game. But again, I question parents whose parental skills lack any assemblance of normality, that their kid be exposed to something as off the wall as Grand Theft Auto. After all, it’s called Grand Theft Auto, not Barbie’s Adventure Land.

In what other game do you get to drive up to a strip club, walk in, and get a lap dance in the game? And what purpose does this actual serve? I wonder this myself, as a man who likes girls, why would I want to play this kind of game instead of finding a girlfriend? But then it occurs to me that this specifically whether they care to admit it is marketed to teenage males who maybe don’t have girlfriends because this is exactly the kind of shit they like in games. And to keep it to point, the violence, when you are done with your lap dances you can murder all the strippers like a maniac if you choose to.

But I’m not quite done with Rockstar just yet, because in 2003 they also released one of the sickest games ever made called Manhunt. In the game you play a person who is forced to participate in a series of snuff films. You go through various scenes executing people in various manners, with no remorse intent on getting a good grade, which you do based on the kills. It’s one of the sickest games I’ve ever seen, and exists seemingly for no other reason than do simulate murder.

With respect to violent games in general, games like Counter-strike or Half-Life or even Bloodlines do involve an aspect of murder, however it’s not all there is. There is an objective to playing, other than murdering someone. Even in a game like Mortal Kombat which relies on you kicking the shit out of your opponent to the point you can kill them, there is still an objective that isn’t actually the murder itself. Beating down an opponent and maybe (your choice) killing them, is secondary to the primary goal of reaching the end and defeating Shang Tsung.

But in Manhunt, you cannot complete your goal without murder, because murder is the goal. Even in GTA IV, you don’t actually have to run pedestrians down or shoot hookers, that is all secondary to the goals in the game. I don’t quite understand what would possess Rockstar to make such a game, even if it is their right to do so.

In 2004, Traffic Software released one of the most offensive games ever made called JFK: reloaded. In the game you play the role of the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. You are scored by how well you can match the Warren Commission account of the events of that day. If you are able to replicate with accuracy as close as possible, your score will be higher.

Turning a tragedy into profit like this turns my stomach, and I remember it being referenced on an episode of Law and Order: SVU by Detective Munch. The game is fucking twisted, but a psychopath’s wet dream. Why anyone would want to play this game, I don’t know.

But even this game pales in comparison to the next two on my list. Illusion Soft’s 2006, RapeLay, and Danny Ledonne’s 2005, Super Columbine Massacre RPG! In RapeLay you play a man whose objective is to stalk a mother and her two daughters all in an effort to rape and torture them. I’m not kidding, this is a real game, developed in Japan.

In Super Columbine Massacre RPG! you control the actions of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; the pair who entered Columbine High School on April 20th, 1999 and killed 13 people before turning the guns on themselves. Though I am a huge proponent of the first amendment, even trash like this drives me crazy. Mr. Ledonne would like to claim that this type of game is an emerging art form and tries to describe the game as a way to turn gaming into art.

This game intended to be cultural commentary on school violence, but instead it comes off as merely a game that’s existence reinforces mass shootings as profitable. What is to stop another asshole from releasing trash like this and calling it art? Probably nothing.

I only wish I were finished, and that brings me to quite possibly the most violent video game ever made, a game released in 2003 by a company called Running with Scissors: Postal 2. In Postal you take on the role of a Postal dude who lives in a trashy trailer park in a small town in Arizona. At the beginning of each day you are given tasks to complete. You can choose to complete them peacefully or violently, but the game constantly taunts you and pushes you toward violence.

Not only are there dozens of ways to kill someone, but some are the most violent and gruesome I’ve ever seen. Pouring gasoline on someone and setting them on fire, and putting them out by pissing all over them, and then striking them in the head with a shovel or just letting them die in agony. It’s twisted, but then when you think it’s reached it’s most twisted point, no you find out, its so much fucking worse. Yeah this game is terribly violent, but I ‘m sad to say I played the shit out of this game.

Yes, twisted as fuck as this game is, I enjoyed it. It’s devilishly crazy violence is so over the top, that it borders on being too ridiculous to believe, again like watching Kill Bill.

Postal 2, The Most Violent video game of all time.

What’s clear is that there is definitely a progression of violence over the years, but what should be most clear is that violence isn’t new, it’s not something that has suddenly appeared but rather it has always existed as long as games have existed. Violence doesn’t change, only the technology. And the more advanced we make games the easier it is to make them seem realistic. And that’s really what is so different than games like Custer’s Revenge. Though the content of that game being offensive for sure, what is worse, that or a game like RapeLay, which puts you at the controls over a rapist, and not merely a pixelated example of what looks like two dogs fucking.

I have played a lot of violent, and offensive games over my life, and not one of them ever made me go out and hurt someone else. So the lesson here is that games while possibly the tools of a sadistic person to focus their sadism in the virtual world, they can also be harmless in the hands of those that do not suffer mentally. As I’ve said not all abused children grow up to be serial killers, not all gamers grow up to be Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

While I still enjoy the occasional game of Assassin’s Creed III or BioShock: Infinite, in my later years I tend to play more relaxed games like Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, or SimCity. I guess those kinds of games don’t really appeal to me like they once did, or maybe I grow weary of violence in general whether it be on the television, in the theatre or in my games. It simply doesn’t appeal to me as it once did, and that gives me some hope that maybe some of us just become more passive with age. But it’s scary to think how that works in reverse.

According to The Entertainment Software Association, 20% of video game players are boys under the age of 17 and 26% are men and women over the age of 50. The average age of a video game player is 37. And maybe that shows a trend in what I’ve already stated, that most gamers tend to be those who grew up on the old systems and have continued to just upgrade as time passes.

If this is the case, more and more games will become adult-based games, and the trend of violent video games will not stop. There will always be non-violent video games aimed toward children, but if this trend continues than those numbers will shrink because as most adults tend to dislike PG and PG-13 movies in favor of rated R movies, so too will their choice in games.

But I’ve always believed that a good game transcends gender and age preferences, it becomes something everyone can enjoy and appreciate equally. And maybe what we really need are game developers willing to push the boundaries and refrain from pushing on all of us the same old shit, repeating the mistakes of the past and resorting to a rehash. When game developers refuse to innovate we are given the same old crap in a new box: Diablo 3 being a prime example.

Every game developer before starting each day of work should ask themselves whether what they are doing has ever been done before? Whether they are being different? Whether they are challenging conventional wisdom? When a developer chooses to be different, you are gifted with a real gem, it doesn’t happen often enough, but it does happen. And it doesn’t have to be gory, or violent, it must simply be unique, because that ultimately that is what we all strive for, and in a environment of immersion, the same old, same old just won’t do.

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