What has sparked this piece is of course Paris Games Week’s latest trailers for The Last of Us 2 and Detroit: Become Human. In one, we have a torture scene so visually tame, it’s nothing compared to the one we got in GTA V (although that drew its share of controversy). In the other, we have a gruelling presentation of domestic abuse. Yet, there is a fundamental difference between the violence found here and that of God of War’s brutality. God of War is pure fantasy. While the same can be said of androids and zombies, the scenes depicted within are in a more “real” context. Torture really happens and so does domestic violence. Either of the two may have even happened to someone playing the game.
An insistence on controversy’s attachment to themes of violence in videogames is always found lurking around the likes of Grand Theft Auto. Especially when it’s conveniently used as a media scapegoat for whatever terrible thing is being reported in the news. Again, the criminal act of grand theft auto really happens and so does gang shootings. It’s that little bit closer to our real world. So when games like Mortal Kombat or God of War get released, they are saved from this scrutiny as a result of their high fantasy.
What I’m trying to highlight here is that The Last of Us 2 and Detroit are the latest victims of this scrutiny simply for the setting of their stories. Violence has nothing to do with it. It’s their presentation that people seem to take issue with, even if they don't know it. Unfortunately, the two offending titles presented so close to one another at Paris Games Week has only served to stoke the fires of discussion further. Even debates on feminism in gaming have sprung up as a result of the strong female presence in both trailers. So when taking these points into consideration, can we say journalists are being fair when saying Naughty Dog is going for cheap shock tactics to rake in some preoders? Are they fair to vilify Detroit’s Game Director David Cage, of “glorifying” domestic violence?
In a word – no. That last sentence is exactly why this article is labelled under “Opinons”. In no way are my views representative of KeenGamer as a whole. Of course, neither Naughty Dog or David Cage are doing either of the two things they’ve been accused of. Why would they? They want people to like their games before release. All they’re doing is showing off the setting of their upcoming titles. I’d like to outline two big points that make me believe this latest discussion on videogame violence is totally baseless and why I don’t believe you should allow yourself to get on the bandwagon of controversy this time around.
The Clickbait Problem
If you’ve not already seen it, visualise this: The iconic image of the hand holding a bloodied hammer. Underneath, you can see the headline “Did Naughty Dog Go Too Far This Time?”. Now imagine that you haven’t seen the trailer yet but you know it has been released. Perhaps you just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. The writer knows a large portion of these people have played an Uncharted title at some point. So they are at least aware of Naughty Dog. Combined with a brutal image that begs investigation, this writer is counting on the reader thinking “Oh no, I love Naughty Dog, what’s going on?!”.
If you have ever run a journalistic website, you’ll know read time and total reads are the lifeblood on which your site depends. It’s essential for the continued existence of said website. With that in mind, I don’t believe the major online publishers should be pursuing “clickbait” methods so transparently. Sure, a little tact is needed to encourage curiosity. Just bear in mind, the only reason we’re discussing this today is because one outlet went with the above headline and others followed suit… It was a good idea where clicks are concerned. Of course, the reader is about to discover actually, nothing is “going on” with Naughty Dog. So have they read any actual news?
It’s that final anticlimactic discovery that grates on me. It’s not fair on the reader and, as a veiled form of dishonesty, could it even be called trickery? Then imagine the same kind of title being used on Machine For Pigs developer, The Chinese Room. It wouldn’t work because they don’t have the same high level platform that The Last of Us 2 and Detroit have.
The Babying Problem
One of the longest and most persistent stigmas surrounding videogames is the idea that it’s a hobby for children. Admittedly, this has been chipped away at a heck of a lot in the last few years. Yet, it remains in small parts, waiting in a dark cupboard to come back out when needed. This current controversy of these two trailers is the latest example of that. When you take films into consideration, name a controversial topic that hasn’t been covered. We’ve had slavery with Django Unchained, all the way to the sheer grotesque of Hostel. No discussions on those.
The babying problem is when the wider journalistic industry forgets that a majority of us are adults and heck, we can handle this stuff. That said, I’ve seen plenty of comments online already thanking David Cage for having the guts to explore domestic violence themes in a videogame. If anyone will handle it properly, it’s the Heavy Rain mastermind.
For me, there should be no question about whether certain themes are appropriate for videogames. For those concerned, I would point them in the direction of Hellblade. Artful, violent disturbia that explores mental illness. The sheer involvement and high level of interaction in games is an opportunity to help an understanding of all sorts of things. It’s something that has hardly been tapped into. In the case of Hellblade, check out what I mean in the below video.
So yes, I know videogames are the best medium to explore such themes. It’s simply a case of getting far more people to know it too. And to ensure we get to a point where big gaming journalism doesn’t forget it either. To hinder this open minded approach to dealing with such themes is to slow this intriguing new learning process that videogames must go through. To the naysayers, I simply state “the stuff you’re worrying about is always for adults, in boxes with 18+ on them. Let them decide what they want in their games. They don’t need a big influential media company to tell them otherwise”. Whether it’s tearing Spartan zombies in half on God of War or helping characters through domestic abuse in Detroit, violence will always find its dictated place in a game’s setting.
So, to wrap up, I’ll leave you with this, from CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, Jim Ryan. The above quote is what he said in the face of violence related criticisms on The Last of Us 2.