Warren Spector: “[T]he ultra-violence has to stop”
Warren Spector is, it would seem, repulsed by the level and depiction of violence in video games today, and said as much in a recent interview about his thoughts on the recent E3 event.
This is the year where there were two things that stood out for me…One was: The ultraviolence has to stop. We have to stop loving it. I just don’t believe in the effects argument at all, but I do believe that we are fetishizing violence, and now in some cases actually combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality. I just think it’s in bad taste. Ultimately I think it will cause us trouble.
I left Eidos in 2004 because I looked around at E3 and saw the new Hitman game where you get to kill with a meat hook, and 25 to Life, the game about kids killing cops, and Crash & Burn the racing game where the idea is to create the fieriest, most amazing explosions, not to win the race…I looked around my own booth and realized I just had one of those ‘which thing is not like the other’ moments. I thought it was bad then, and now I think it’s just beyond bad.
These are strong words, and the man seems genuinely disturbed by the trends of raw violence and sexualization that are apparent in gaming today…and then at a level deeper than that of mere principle. But at the same time, I’m sure some of you are wondering: what about Deus Ex?
You know, Deus Ex had its moments of violence, but they were designed — whether they succeeded or not I can’t say — but they were designed to make you uncomfortable, and I don’t see that happening now.
It’s an appreciable intent, but intent only counts for so much: in the end, what will matter is how the audience perceives and interprets the violence as it is depicted in a game. And I can’t speak for all of you, but I know for myself that there was nothing I found particularly disturbing about the violence in Deus Ex.
Still, I do think Spector has a point here. That’s not to say that violence doesn’t have a place in games — it does, as surely as it does in any other form of entertainment media. But there are examples where it — and, to be fair, the portrayal of sexuality — do get taken to excess. And I don’t just mean Lollipop Chainsaw. Consider the blood spatter effect in Dragon Age, or Samara’s bizarre uniform in Mass Effect 2…or the “enhancements” to Cortana that have been made with each numbered iteration in the Halo series. There is a point where these things cross the line from necessary and/or effective game mechanics to what Spector calls fetishizing.
Is there a definite line between the two? No, I don’t think that can be said…it’s something that will vary from game to game, context to context. But are there examples of “too much” to be found? Definitely.
But is Spector right when he says it has to stop? Has to stop? That’s a very particularly strong choice of words, one which implies an…ethical impetus, let’s say. Does it need to stop? Like as not, I’d argue that it doesn’t need to stop, and to say that it does treads too heavily on that persistent and often problematic human right called freedom of expression. If an argument can be made that a game is inciting the behaviours it depicts, then sure…there’s an argument to be made there for stopping that particular game.
But that’s also as much as we can argue should be stopped, not a broader category of game content.