Both of these terms are important
aspects to many video games, and have been almost since the dawn of
gaming itself. Violence, in one way or another, is ever present in
most of the games we play. Be it Mario stomping out Goombas, Link
attacking well… anything, or killing virtual people in games like
Call of Duty: Violence is an ever present part of the video game
culture that we all enjoy on various levels.
Another intricate and ever more present
aspect is story. It drives players to want to complete certain tasks,
it gives motivation, and more importantly it can touch us on a
personal level in a way that sometimes can’t be conveyed in a movie.
Neither one of these aspects is
required to create a compelling experience – as an example,
something as simple as Minecraft is technically a video game and it
doesn’t rely on violence or story in order to create a fantastic
However, both of these aspects are core
to much of the gaming experience, and lately debates have been
flaring over one game in particular: Bioshock Infinite. The choice of
the game that spurned the debates is no accident: It’s universally
considered at least a good game (often great), it recently came out,
and it is extremely violent with a mix of fantastic story telling.
All of this compels a debate to accelerate.
It’s important to note that this isn’t
about whether or not violence is pointless in a game, but if violence can actually take away from a story, and if
that’s inherently bad. In essence, it’s always possible for something
to take something else away. There is pointless violence in some
games – take any multiplayer FPS game. Sure, the point is
technically competition, but the violence part of that aspect really
is pointless. There are other ways to compete without violence
involved, but that also doesn’t mean there is anything inherently
wrong with enjoying that experience.
What does hurt a game however is when
violence truly does take away from the breadth of the game. In the
case of BioShock Infinite, it is often debated that the amount of
violence, and the way it is depicted, truly takes away from the
world, it’s characters, and all that jazz.
Of course, as Jim Sterling so
brilliantly put it, violence is actually one of the backbones of the
BioShock franchise, and is actually instrumental to the story and the
character development. The violence depicted isn’t meaningless –
it’s purposeful as part of an internal struggle with who the main
character really is and who he keeps telling people he wants to be.
It’s a character trait, one that is only truly shown off by the
violent acts committed to try and save a world that seemingly can’t
If those acts of violence disturb you a
bit – good, they should. That is an aspect of the game itself, and
BioShock Infinite is actually a brilliant example of where violence
is actually a main crux in the telling of the story itself. It’s rare
to see that these days, but it also means BioShock Infinite shouldn’t
be the poster child for this to occur.
In many cases, another well liked game
in Tomb Raider truly shows how pointless violence can take away from
the story at hand. It’s not that the brutal handling of Laura Croft,
and the many violent acts throughout, aren’t indeed partially
vindicated and enjoyable, but the discernible fact is she magically
goes from a hapless damsel into a massive killing machine with no
real background in such events. It’s actually at odds with who the
character really is.
This is where you see that violence
actually works against the character and what the story is telling.
Sure, the violence is enjoyable and fun, but that isn’t what this is
about. It doesn’t matter if you enjoy the violence or not, what
matters is the impact it has on the story.
The fact remains, violence can serve as
a great catalyst to compliment compelling story telling, but it can
also be a crux used to add entertainment value to a game at the
expense of making a compellingly reasonable statement as to why the
violence is necessitated for a character or story that in that of
itself isn’t all that violent.
I know many will say they just want the
ability to freely explore in BioShock, and that the violence itself
takes away from that, but if you remove the violence or make it so
you can shut it off, you’re actually crippling the development of
your own character’s fate, and thus altering the story in a way it
was never intended to be altered. Sure, there are lot of great things
packed into that world – but you still get to experience them in
the midst of all the violence – experience them in the way the
character himself is designed to experience it. He is a violent
character by nature, a blood thirsty warrior so to say, who is in
constant denial of what he really is. His acts vindicate what people
say about him.
In Tomb Raider, none of this is true
about Laura Croft. She isn’t, at heart, a killer. She isn’t some
expert gun shooter or bowman. She’s a simple women thrust into unheard
of circumstances and instantly becomes something she’s not. I know if
I was in a similar situation – sure I might try to use violence in
some respects, but I would fail horribly because that’s not who I am,
especially if I lacked the training to use the weapons I find.
It’s an interesting scenario, and
ultimately the answer itself isn’t cut and dry. Yes, violence can
negatively affect a story or an individual character, but rarely in
some cases it can actually be instrumental to the development of who
they really are.
Does violence truly hinder a story? Does
a story take away from violence? The answer will forever remain
yes… but not always. Thoughts?