Monday, February 17, 2014

Is violence necessary to every game? Destructoid says yes. (A revisitation)

at 7:41 PM
Is violence necessary to every game? Destructoid says yes. originally ran on February 13th, 2013.

I posit that the writer of said declaration has an IQ less than 100 and/or is at least somewhat autistic.

What a smashingly adult way to start an argument!

Let me try this again. Destructoid published a piece called "David Cage is Wrong: Violence Is Essential". Based on the title alone (forget who David Cage is for a second), I immediately conclude that both the author of the article and the editor of the site are patently retarded. Wait... gay? Is that a more mature personal attack? Okay. They're fairies.

I don't give a shit who David Cage is. I don't really know, except that I just Wikipedia'd, but it doesn't matter. I've never cared for industry talking heads; if you can't say your ideas in a game (or if I can't figure out what games you ever made), you aren't succeeding as a developer. See Peter Molyneux or Warren Spector. Miyamoto too, just so you don't think I'm being racis'. People who cite lofty ideas despite being totally disconnected from the current state of the medium - and likely far past their prime (I'm certainly not saying Miyamoto isn't like, one of the most important figures in gaming history, just that I don't really give a shit what he has to say in an interview in 2013). Anyway, Cage was at some conference that I also don't give a shit about, making some speech about violence being unnecessary to the gaming medium and how there are more stories to tell beyond that. Destructoid writer Allistair Pinsof objected.

Violence in games has been a major media talking point in the last few months (even more so than it's been for the past two decades) due to outrage over violence in reality. Certain factions are pointing their guns at guns, others are pointing their guns at video games. I'm not gonna "go there" on this blog, because I don't like politics or the need to have an opinion on everything. However, the discussion typically provokes a (violently!) defensive reaction from gamers about how something something something I don't care. I'm as (violently!) opposed to censorship as the next man, but that doesn't mean I have to like gaming's obsession with murder. But it's important not to blur this line: my dissatisfaction with death-obsession in games is purely from an artistic standpoint. Nothing I say on the subject is motivated by political stances or real-world consequences.
ChexQuest was banned in over thirty-two countries for its brutally realistic portrayal of cereal-on-blob violence
I don't know why I even have to say it (I don't), but violence is not essential to making an effective game.  I like plenty of violent games and think they can be both excellent and emotionally/cognitively evocative (Dishonored). I just don't think that every game has to be violent. Mr. Pinsof makes an argument to the contrary, revolving around the notion that games derive their purpose (among artistic media) from immersion, and that immersion is enhanced to its maximum potential by violence. What I've just done I call dividing. Now allow me to conquer.

It's nice that games are immersive. Truly, genuinely nice. It's one of the nicest things about them. Pinsir's unstated definition of immersion seems to incorporate interactivity, so, okay, I'll give 'em that. And I'll even agree that games do it best (to date), although I don't think it necessarily makes them an evolution of film/literature any more so than football is an evolution of theatre. Here's what gets me. Immersion is a tool, not an end. It's a technique that can be executed to various degrees in order to convey a story. That story may be in the hands of the player or it may unfold around them; it may be dictated or emergent. But the story (or the thematic content, or the idea, if you will) is what drives the presentation and the interactivity. You don't play a game to be immersed in something stupid or that you don't like. That is to say, a successfully believable and fully interactive game can still be a complete failure if it's hollow at the core.

As for the second claim, that violence enhances immersion to a degree unreachable through any other means? That's just plain yikes. I guess maybe if you define reality by whether or not you can shoot things (Pinsof's introduction actually does imply that he uses this definition), fine. You're absurdly removed from any productive discussion of the issue if that's the stance you're going to take. It's utterly subjective. What if I define my reality by whether or not I can fuck everything? Or whether I can make it into a sandwich? There are just no bounds on this. Without jumping to the completely ridiculous conclusion that violence is the most engaging action possible, I don't even know how you can start down the road of believing it's "essential" to games. I don't have a definition or scale or test of immersion factor, nor does Pinsof present one in his article, so the argument basically swirls away down the drain at this point.
Splatterhouse, according to Destructoid, achieves a level of immersion unavailable to such paltry works as Portal and The Longest Journey
Expounding on the connection between violence and immersion, Pinsof occasionally stumbles through the same galaxy as a good idea, but immediately uses his conclusion to prove his argument. He claims that pressure, tension, and threats enhance immersion, and this can be exceptionally true (see horror games like Amnesia). He then jumps straight on through to associate these things inseparably with violence. Again I feel like I'm countering a child here because this is such a shallow and short-sighted argument. What about threats like time? Making a wrong decision? Destroying a relationship? The threat of insignificance and obscurity? The false equivalence of threat==violence simply speaks of an individual who hasn't put even the slightest amount of thought into what makes a game work - or, very likely, someone who hasn't played very many games.

The closest thing he has to an interesting point, which he never leaps on, is that the potential for violence can unequivocally contribute to interactivity. A game that lets you do anything is more immersive, right? Actually, I'm not buying that one either. Not even for a dollar. Control without limitations is liberating, but can easily destroy the fragile suspension of disbelief that allows us to enter a game world. Mario shouldn't be allowed to pick up a machine gun. I don't believe he would. If he did (or could), I'd quickly lose my investment in whichever game I was playing. To experience a work, we have to allow it to be created, and in creation inherently develop rules. In the previous sentence inherently develops a grossly unnatural grammatical formulation.

You know what was always my least favorite part of essays? Conclusions. The funniest part of the aftermath on Destructoid itself (where few-to-no readers came to Pinsof's defense) was that Pinsy claimed "duh guys it's just an opinion piece!" Someone's never heard of a thesis.

Oh, and I didn't provide a link to the article because honestly, it's too stupid for you to waste your time. The writing is vapid and there's no attempt whatsoever to provide an analytic argument. So, in short, the same as every other article published by the mainstream gaming press.

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