Game Developers are Better Than Everyone Else?

In a post over on gamasutra, Brandon Sheffield argues that the Dead Space campaign “design a kill” is a very regressive thing for our industry:

I don’t believe we should shy away from violence in games – violence is a part of life, and can make for very interesting scenarios in games. And it’s no secret that a large majority of fun video games are based on conflict, much of which is combative. But I also believe that asking fans to think as hard as they can about an innovative way to kill someone is a very regressive thing for our industry.

Just think for a second about what EA is actually asking people to do. Yes, this is what many of us do every day – there are those of us who design combat and combat scenarios for a living. But asking fans to do it is just too much.

I’m not sure what he’s trying to get at here. There is pretty much two options: either game devs are much better than everyone else, or game devs are horrible people. Neither option seems very reasonable to me.

So why can’t our fans do what we do all day? Is it because as game developers, we are much better than everyone else, and can thus stand the moral strain of thinking about how to dismember humanoid monstrosities all day, without being irreparably damaged by the ordeal?

Or is it the opposite? Are we damaged people, horribly affected by the thoughts on monstrosity dismemberment, so bad that we should take care to shield others from the horrible things we go through daily to bring the public these sinful products?

Neither option really makes sense. Sheffield argues out of the old moral high ground that game violence would somehow damage people, and should be censored. We are talking about a rated game, for adults, not a kids game — so this is not about damaging the fragile world view of children.

Honestly, do you really think that asking someone “think of ways a fictional character could attack, dismember and kill a monstrous humanoid” will have any kind of affect of them that playing the game in question wouldn’t? That is somehow an idea that using the human imagination could be bad for you.

To me, nothing could be further from the truth. The human imagination is a beautiful thing — it creates all culture and all our progress.

Get off the “games are bad for you” horse. No one on this side of the 1980s would argue that the violence in a movie causes people to go on murderous rampages. Would asking someone to design a kill for a movie be as bad? I somehow doubt it.

What about an even more imaginative media, like books? Books are highly based in the communication of imagination between author and reader. We are asked “imagine this”, when we read descriptions of events in a book. But somehow I don’t think the “write a gruesome description of a brutal murder” competition would come under any flack.

There are many things that are wrong with our society, which lead people to do nasty things to others. Taking out your aggressions on characters in a computer game instead of reality is not one of them. Imagining new ways to kill computer game monsters is certainly not one either.

I’m not much for dismemberment and blood splatter in games myself — I just don’t think it adds much. But I’ll happily let other grown up individuals make their decisions for themselves on what they’d like to play — or imagine.

And if you’re going to argue that games are bad, please do so outright, don’t try to hide it behind saying that playing games is fine, but thinking about them isn’t.

3 Comments

  • By Al King, Sunday, March 21, 2010 @ 16:22

    It’s got to do with the PR campaign being juvenile, and nothing to do with moral outrage. That game developers have to consider death animations does not make them their highest aspiration.
    The Dead Space series is by all accounts solid, atmospheric horror. The promotion, meanwhile, puts the focus on the pure spectacle of violence, which is just boorish. Brandon calls it /regressive/, not evil. He, like you, “just [doesn’t] think it adds much”, and so when it is made the centre of a high profile campaign it makes the industry look like a bunch of mouthbreathers. Nowhere did he suggest censorship.
    It’s just a fact that the actions of a few can lead the whole industry to be tarred with the same brush, and EA has just been totally tasteless recently (see the Dante’s Inferno “Sin to Win” contest as well).

  • By Chad Stewart, Thursday, March 25, 2010 @ 22:07

    I think Al hit it on the head here. I don’t think it was the idea of designing a kill. I think it was the idea that the promotion of the game is to get people thinking about creative methods of murder. This is what will be associated with the game.

    Also, I bet somewhere someone would be outraged at the “write a gruesome description of a brutal murder” contest. :p

  • By Tiago, Friday, March 26, 2010 @ 4:46

    Something about gore, blood and violence in games: In the first 10 minutes its cool, interesting maybe even impressive, but to the end of the game you will not care about it anymore, you just get used to it, so there’s actually no point in adding a complex system of dismemberment to games, it actually doesn’t add sustainable content as the game goes on, you just get bored with time. Just like a new car, one month and you don’t like it that much.

    Thats should be the reason why most of the new multiplayer games are using unlocks for guns and gadgets, it adds to the game something that will make you play more.

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