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Violence in Games

by dsheinem Wed Jun 13, 2018 6:41 am

I thought I'd spin this discussion out of the E3 thread. Relevant previous posts start here.

alienjesus wrote:
As someone who feels affected by the violence in the modern incarnation and not in the older one, I will say that I am absolutely making that argument - the uptick in graphical fidelity is absolutely what makes this a problem for me. In the 2003 game it feels like looking at a comic book, or a ragdoll - it didn't affect me at all.

In The Last of Us it looks like real people, and real gore, and it affects me a lot. I mentioned Mortal Kombat before. Yes, in reality they're not doing anything much worse in terms of what is being depicted between 1993, 2003 and 2013, but I can tell you for a fact that of those 3 eras, the ONLY one that I find uncomfortable and unpleasant to view is the more recent one.



So at what point is it "too close to life" for you? If games from the PS2 era or before didn't cause this kind of repulsion, did the first HD game systems from the last gen do this? Is it something that only happened in the past few years with the arrival of 4K capable systems? Do you think that a certain game engine's way of handling resolution or lighting or textures or animations (or something else) somehow made that distinction disappear? I still see modern games as looking very comic book/ragdoll (and plastic like) in their presentation...and today's graphics still lag behind the kinds of computer generated graphics that we see in modern film (which also is typically/clearly not real people). I am curious what the "line" is for you (and perhaps others). I also know that a lot of people were repulsed by Manhunt's violence in 2003 and made the same arguments about it being too visceral and life-like...did you think that those claims were unfair?

I am not trying to be antagonistic, I am genuinely interested in the question of "When did games achieve enough graphical fidelity to ___ [realism, photorealism, or whatever term you'd like here] to accomplish repulsion?" for you (and others). On a related note, at what point does the violence depicted switch from being something you feel like you can play through (e.g. Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance) to being something that keeps you away (e.g. Mortal Kombat X)? Is it about the type of violence (e.g. a quick decapitation is ok, a slow one is not), the context for the violence (a story driven game or not a story driven game), the graphics (Unreal Engine 3 is ok, Unreal Engine 4 is not), or something else?
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Re: Violence in Games

by alienjesus Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:08 am

dsheinem wrote:I thought I'd spin this discussion out of the E3 thread. Relevant previous posts start here.

alienjesus wrote:
As someone who feels affected by the violence in the modern incarnation and not in the older one, I will say that I am absolutely making that argument - the uptick in graphical fidelity is absolutely what makes this a problem for me. In the 2003 game it feels like looking at a comic book, or a ragdoll - it didn't affect me at all.

In The Last of Us it looks like real people, and real gore, and it affects me a lot. I mentioned Mortal Kombat before. Yes, in reality they're not doing anything much worse in terms of what is being depicted between 1993, 2003 and 2013, but I can tell you for a fact that of those 3 eras, the ONLY one that I find uncomfortable and unpleasant to view is the more recent one.



So at what point is it "too close to life" for you? If games from the PS2 era or before didn't cause this kind of repulsion, did the first HD game systems from the last gen do this? Is it something that only happened in the past few years with the arrival of 4K capable systems? Do you think that a certain game engine's way of handling resolution or lighting or textures or animations (or something else) somehow made that distinction disappear? I still see modern games as looking very comic book/ragdoll (and plastic like) in their presentation...and today's graphics still lag behind the kinds of computer generated graphics that we see in modern film (which also is typically/clearly not real people). I am curious what the "line" is for you (and perhaps others). I also know that a lot of people were repulsed by Manhunt's violence in 2003 and made the same arguments about it being too visceral and life-like...did you think that those claims were unfair?

I am not trying to be antagonistic, I am genuinely interested in the question of "When did games achieve enough graphical fidelity to ___ [realism, photorealism, or whatever term you'd like here] to accomplish repulsion?" for you (and others). On a related note, at what point does the violence depicted switch from being something you feel like you can play through (e.g. Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance) to being something that keeps you away (e.g. Mortal Kombat X)? Is it about the type of violence (e.g. a quick decapitation is ok, a slow one is not), the context for the violence (a story driven game or not a story driven game), the graphics (Unreal Engine 3 is ok, Unreal Engine 4 is not), or something else?


I think I'd need more time to answer most of these questions, but I will say that I think that one of the things I can attribute the repulsion to is the fact that it feels much more dynamic and real-time.

It's hard to explain what I mean, so bear with me. Even last generation, what tended to happen with gore is that you'd shoot someone, and an arm would come off, and there would be a splurt of blood - but the character model left behind still tended to look like a model which hadn't had an arm rendered to begin with, and it still kinda felt like you were just taking model A and replacing it with model B, which had been rendered to look a bit bloody. The spurt of blood would come from the general direction of the neck or arm or whatever, but it didn't really look like it came from the body.

In the Last of Us trailer, the neck cut open, and blood came from inside it, and gore was rendered underneath it, and there was no 'replace model A instantly with model B which has a big slash on it's neck'. It felt like it would feel to watch that happen in reality, and thats why it made me uncomfortable.

Also, please don't misenterpret anything I say as 'I don't think this is right' or anything like that. I'm just explaining why I find it so offputting.

EDIT: Another random thought - I like playing games where I feel like Indiana Jones - he shoots a lot of dudes, but they just kinda go 'arghh' and wilhelm scream whilst backflipping off a lorry or something. With some of the modern gorey stuff, I feel more like I'm playing as the dude from Saw or something - I don't feel very heroic when all that gore is being flashed about, I feel like a terrible person.

And some games play that up I know. The Last of Us 2 despite starting the discussion is probably a bad example as it's intended to make you feel the terrible consequences of violence (although it's still offputting enough that I don't like it though). But it's the stuff that plays up the gore as 'fun' that I really don't like.

Also, I'm aware that not every game wants me to feel like Indiana Jones. It's just an example of my mindset perhaps.
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Re: Violence in Games

by marurun Wed Jun 13, 2018 8:39 am

I think detail, specificity, and context are really the key, here. When video games first started coming out we already had color broadcast video and movies in theaters were projected from 70mm film. 70mm film actually carries a lot of detail, some of which is mitigated by the chemistry of the film itself and both the camera and, later, projector used in conjunction with it. But games had almost no detail and were abstractions. As video games have advanced, so has their fidelity. Meanwhile, recorded and broadcast video quality has advanced as well, but not nearly as much. 3D graphics still have not achieved perfect realism, but the fact that the Uncanny Valley is a phenomenon that has become a real issue in recent films is a good indication that we're so close to realism that it's only those oh-so-important subtleties (horribly complex as they are) that are holding us back. Essentially, our ability to generate "false" reality through technology has advanced far more quickly than our casual ability to record and replay actual reality. Furthermore, the Uncanny Valley is less present in games because by and large the characters are interacting with fully synthetic environments and characters, thus minimizing the disconnect between real characters and virtual ones. So, in practical terms, our ability to create realistic violence and gore is now within spitting distance (for a very complex and subtle definition of spitting distance) of photoreality.

But of course it's not that simple. The context is also important. Some gore and violence can be extremely realistic, or even artistically exaggerated, and ultimately not be as horrifying by virtue of the context in the story. But I can see that TLoU trailer causing concern because we don't have a context for that violence. What we have is very explicit and deliberate gore, but no setting to give it meaning, which means ultimately the trailer is gratuitous and shocking. Perhaps in the context of the story of the game that scene will have a lot of emotional impact that gives additional meaning to what's happening, but as it was presented it appears to merely be indulging in it. Yes, there are hints of context to tease us, but as an incomplete picture it appears to have also incidentally pushed the game as violence porn.

The truth is, most video game violence doesn't bother me these days, whereas real world violence still does. But as video games are much closer to photorealism these days, the context is what makes me able to view it without flinching.
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Re: Violence in Games

by dsheinem Wed Jun 13, 2018 9:36 am

marurun wrote: But I can see that TLoU trailer causing concern because we don't have a context for that violence. What we have is very explicit and deliberate gore, but no setting to give it meaning, which means ultimately the trailer is gratuitous and shocking. Perhaps in the context of the story of the game that scene will have a lot of emotional impact that gives additional meaning to what's happening, but as it was presented it appears to merely be indulging in it. Yes, there are hints of context to tease us, but as an incomplete picture it appears to have also incidentally pushed the game as violence porn.


I like your post on the whole...and found an interview this morning with the game's developer (Neil Druckman) which seems to speak to this part of your post...

https://kotaku.com/the-last-of-us-part- ... 1826781044

The most relevant bit:

“We’re making a game about the cycle of violence and we’re making a statement about violent actions and the impact they have on the character that’s committing them and on the people close to them,” he said. “And our whole approach is to say, ‘We want to treat this as realistically as possible.’ When you stab someone—if you watch reference videos, which we have, it’s gross and it’s messy and it’s not sanitized like you see in most movies and games. And we wanted to get the player to feel that.”

The idea, he underscored, was “for the player to feel repulsed by some of the violence they are committing themselves. It felt like that is the most honest way to tell this story.”

[...]

Fun in video games, I suggested to Druckmann, often goes hand in hand with virtual violence. “This might be a semantic argument,” he replied, “But we don’t use the word ‘fun’ with The Last Of Us. We say ‘engaging.’ It needs to be engaging. If the stakes are real, if you are invested in the character and their relationship, you’re going to go through and commit these actions that might—and should be—at times making you feel uncomfortable to progress in the story, to see what’s happened to the character and at times to struggle with their motivation versus your moral line.


That sounds much more similar to the violence in something like Spec Ops: The Line, which is still a kind of high water mark for dealing with violence in a way that is critical, not celebratory.
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Re: Violence in Games

by Ack Wed Jun 13, 2018 9:55 am

It's unfortunate that said portions of the interview are not currently incorporated into the advertising. Knowing that is the developer's intention leads the changes in understanding of the intent and the purpose of the work.
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Re: Violence in Games

by dsheinem Wed Jun 13, 2018 10:08 am

Ack wrote:It's unfortunate that said portions of the interview are not currently incorporated into the advertising. Knowing that is the developer's intention leads the changes in understanding of the intent and the purpose of the work.


I wonder how much of the disconnect for people is based on familiarity with the developer or with the first game. Naughty Dog, in its present practices, tends to be very deliberate in how it weds gameplay and narrative. I think people who have played TLOU or its DLC are much more willing to view any released TLOU2 content through that lens than those who perhaps haven't.
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Re: Violence in Games

by Jmustang1968 Wed Jun 13, 2018 10:10 am

I think a big reason violence is so prevalent in games, is that it safely allows us to explore that side of humanity without having to partake in any actual violence. Drama and such can be had in our personal every day lives, but violence is something we typically rightfully so do not do and try to avoid (most of us anyway). It can put us in situatioms like war or conflict, and all you have do to leave is hit the power button. Fantasy escapism.

Like I said in the other post, game violence to me is just pixels on a screen, doesn't make me squeamish much at all, and even less so than movies. However, if I were to see that in person it would be different. I actuslly have a hard time seeing surgical procedures, due to the reality of it.
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Re: Violence in Games

by Ack Wed Jun 13, 2018 10:39 am

dsheinem wrote:
Ack wrote:It's unfortunate that said portions of the interview are not currently incorporated into the advertising. Knowing that is the developer's intention leads the changes in understanding of the intent and the purpose of the work.


I wonder how much of the disconnect for people is based on familiarity with the developer or with the first game. Naughty Dog, in its present practices, tends to be very deliberate in how it weds gameplay and narrative. I think people who have played TLOU or its DLC are much more willing to view any released TLOU2 content through that lens than those who perhaps haven't.


I think it's more familiarity with the first game. I'm familiar with Naughty Dog through the Uncharted series, but while those are cinematic, they're far more sanitized in how they handle their violence.
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Re: Violence in Games

by Gunstar Green Wed Jun 13, 2018 1:25 pm

Exhuminator wrote:
Gunstar Green wrote:I would argue films and novels have never moved beyond violence themselves, at least not the offerings most popular with mass audiences.

I don't believe this is true.

For the highest-grossing films adjusted for inflation as of 2016, in the top ten, six of the films are not violence-centric; Gone with the Wind, Titanic, The Sound of Music, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Ten Commandments, and Doctor Zhivago. Those six films do not constantly intermix violence into their narrative. The rest of the films Avatar, Star Wars, Jaws, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, provide far better context and meaningful impact of their violence woven into their respective plots, versus pretty much any violent game made thus far. Violence is not the point, nor is violence included just for the sake of violence... except for Jaws perhaps. I'll cede Jaws.

As for the top ten best selling novels of all time, only two could be considered consistently violent; The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. And it's pretty clear that violence is not the sole purpose of those works. Nor is it lauded via gratuitousness detail as overt spectacle the way TLOU2 is doing.


In the list of best selling video games only GTA 5 and PUBG are in the top 10 with violence, so even with games it's misleading to use the most successful works as examples of an entire medium. My point is that violence is popular with general audiences in all formats and I don't think it's something games need to grow beyond.
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Re: Violence in Games

by Key-Glyph Sat Jun 16, 2018 3:54 am

I am so interested in this discussion. I've been reading about these E3 trailers and people's reactions to them, so I'm really happy to be getting the Racketboy perspective.

First, I do have one question about the trailers as shown at the convention. I saw someone on Twitter expressing that they were bothered more by the audience's enthusiastic cheers and applause in response to gratuitous violence than any actual footage itself. Was the crowd going wild during The Last of Us, or was that happening for some other game?

And I suppose I'm also interested to hear what you guys make of crowds supposedly going wild for contextless gore, especially in light of the conversation about wanting the artistic motives of the developer to be known. Regardless of whether it was a reaction to The Last of Us or not, does an audience response like that creep out those of you who would prefer explanations to justify an extreme level of gore? Does it affect how you interpret the developer's stated motives if it seems like there's a huge market for stand-alone gratuity that they might be playing into?

I'm always interested in conversations on this topic because I am intensely affected by violence in media. In fact, it was on this very forum that I first discovered it was not a universal childhood experience to see a scene in a television show or movie that made you gag and/or puke. The more you know!
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