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18-06-2012, 12:24 AM #1
Dethroning violence as the primary game mechanic
Bit of a train of thought incoming here, hope it's not too rambling.
So this topic is not new, but it is something that has been on my mind a lot as of late. It is a fact that violence is the predominant form of interaction in games. Some see this as a problem, some do not. Personally I'm somewhere in between. I don't have a problem with violence as such, but the dissonance between what some games try to convey with their story and the fact that the protagonist is mercilessly slaughtering hundreds of people is often immersion-breaking. There are also a lot of people that simply doesn't want to kill people as entertainment, even if they would enjoy the bare game mechanics of the thing.
However, reducing the amount of violence is not a trivial task, since violence - as I see it - is a natural and easily accessible source of conflict, and conflict is really the important thing here. The simple interaction of pointing a crosshair at something/someone and launching a projectile at them enables a whole host of emergent experiences with almost an infinite amount of permutations: Are you moving, is the target moving, is the projectile affected by certain rules, terrain considerations, ammunition conservation, awareness of the surroundings etc. You trying to accomplish this essentially simple task of delivering an object to the face of another person trying to do the same to you provides ample opportunities for strategy and excitement.
Now, I believe an argument can be made that "violence" and "conflict" are naturally connected, and that doing away with one without affecting the other is not neccessarily possible. However, mortal violence should certainly be possible to at least minimize.
To my mind there would be two main ways to reduce the lethality of gameplay:
1) Replace the actual killing with something less direct.
In Arkham Asylum you don't technically kill a lot of people (if any? don't remember the details), but it is still pretty violent. I think it would be quite possible though to create a context where the form the violence takes is less direct and the resolution of combat is trapping the enemies in a net or similar (just an example, there are probably more elegant solutions). The animations could emphasize the decreased lethality by consisting of a lot of evasive maneuvers, feints and other moves that are not actual damaging hits to the body of the opponent.
In the end though, this is still fighting, and even though it might reduce the sociopath factor story-wise, would probably still not attract the kind of people who doesn't want violence in their games.
2) Invent a new conflict metaphor that does not consist of two entities trying to physically overpower one another.
I don't know of a game mechanic with the same simplicity and modularity as physical combat, but the ideal would be to find a mode of interaction where competition can be as fierce and strategy as deep as with a system based on violence, but that has a completely different context. It doesn't need to be a "realistic" approach, it can be completely abstract, but a mechanic that could replace violence in games taking place in the "real world" would of course be great.
Thoughts? I could of course be completely missing that such a thing already exists; if anyone knows of a game that solves this problem I'd love to hear of it. Also, if you feel I'm completely off the mark please say so. I've tried to make solid some simmering thoughts I've had lately, but I'm not sure I succeeded.
Last edited by postinternetsyndrome; 18-06-2012 at 12:27 AM.
18-06-2012, 01:49 AM #2
18-06-2012, 03:08 AM #3
There are plenty of games which don't require violence as a primary mechanic, though violence tends to be an easy mechanic to use because it's a fairly clear form of competition. Inventing a 'new conflict metaphor' isn't impossible and plenty of games have already done it, but the issue is that if it becomes too abstract people probably aren't going to care. Games ultimately have some sort of opposition - a challenge. If that becomes ill-defined or too obscure then it's crossing into that dangerous 'not a game' argument.
But yeah, things like Portal or SimCity do a good job at defeating this. I'd also sort of argue that something like LA Noire (minus the gunplay) sort of fits the bill given that the primary mechanic isn't so much beating the snot out of people but in solving a case; the opposition is a criminal mind, not an Anglo-Saxon Incredible Hulk in normal clothes with a chaingun. Then again it does include violence in that someone is murdered... though I'm running with your 'contest' idea here.
18-06-2012, 03:15 AM #4
18-06-2012, 01:58 AM #5
The issue at hand is more the popularity of violent games, or the genres that are predisposed to violent play. FPS games are immediate and familiar entertainment, and it's difficult to separate violence as a theme from violence as a gameplay mechanic. My favourite example is Nerf Arena, an Unreal Tournament-based game that not enough people played. You were sliding and bouncing around colourful levels firing nerf guns at each other, which in a way isn't particularly violent. But in gameplay terms it was very similar to UT, which most definitely was a violent game.
Could you make an FPS game that isn't in some way based around violent conflict? If you could, would it matter? I don't hear people complaining that paintball is violent and dangerous, even though it's a violence-themed team game.
Returning to the immediacy of violent games, you can see a similar situation in films. You have lots of loud, violent action films filling the cinemas. Lots of people enjoy them, and even if you recognise that they're not sophisticated or memorable films, they're still fun to watch. The difference in film is that there's lots of other popular genres, many of which don't translate well into games as things currently stand. If a comedy or drama film does have a game made, it's usually a gimmicky film theme laid over a simplistic game.
I think I'm going off track from your original topic here, but it interests me so I'll do it anyway. To my mind, the existing genre with the most potential to reach wider audiences in the long term is adventure games. They're currently seen as a niche genre, because the largest audiences for video games either see them as time wasters (Farmville etc) or want the immediate action of Call of Duty. But over time, as more people come to accept gaming as a valid medium, and concepts that began in small indie projects begin to spread? I can imagine the equivalent of films in game form, interactive stories that you play through over 2 or 3 hours. It's been done before, but I can't think of a good example that successfully couples high quality writing and acting with good game design. But there's no reason why that shouldn't be possible, and no reason why such games would benefit from excessive violence.
18-06-2012, 03:19 AM #6
Three things come to mind:
1) It isn't violence, it is simulated violence. The distinction is important. Viewing and/or witnessing real violence is quantitatively and qualitatively different. You can see it in PET scans when subjects are exposed to the real vs the simulated. [slightly OT, in Montreal recently a teacher showed an actual video of a real murder (with elements of necrophilia and cannibalism) to a grade 10 class. This actual real violence is genuinely disturbing to emotionally healthy people. In fact, some police veterans who have viewed that video have needed counseling.]
That is not to say that simulated violence may have some effect, especially on developing minds; but it is not equivalent to real violence.
2) People have very little tolerance for learning. If a game mechanic requires reading and practice & cannot be grasped in 30 seconds, the game will fail.
Simulated violence as a game mechanic is so entrenched in AAA videogames it might as well be AAA videogaming (with the exception of Nintendo). People who buy $60 games are those that have invested a lot of time in buiding up a skill set around that mechanic. They know shooting, stabing, punching, etc. Selling them games that challenge them or require them to learn new skills or ideas is a really difficult proposition, especially when publishers are risk adverse and budgets huge.
Learning new things is uncomfortable and hard and most people won't choose to do that because they do not find it pleasurable. So jettisoning simulated violence, and replacing it with something else, imo, would be like releasing a Fellini/Godard/Bergman movie and expecting it to be as popular as The Avengers (or any of the top 100 grossing movies from the last 20 years). You would have to retrain an entire generation of videogame players and that aint happening.
3) Once you leave the world of triple a games, anything goes. Spacechem, most nintendo games, online chess, doublefine, minecraft, etc all exist and there is a market for them. But the market is small, I mean just look at the 100 most played games on steam--you've got 98 simulated violence games + football and basketball.
18-06-2012, 01:50 PM #7
The RTS market is not as big as the FPS market, but it's still a big one for competitive multiplayer. I don't think it's unreasonable for me to state that Call of Duty is more violent than Starcraft, but what about Starcraft compared to a non-violently themed FPS (like Nerf Arena or a paintball game)? Those games still follow the design of familiar shooting games, they involve firing pretend guns at people, but does the lack of blood and death make them particularly less violent? Things get even more complicated if you throw in a real sport like football, a non-violent sport that often invokes agression and violence in fans and players.
As for why violence is the primary game mechanic in competitive multiplayer, I'm not sure that's a 'problem' that can or should be solved. Sports games are popular, but lots of the people who want to play sports will do so on a playing field rather than a games console. Chess (and other board games) are popular, but lots of the people who want to play them will do so with friends around a table. Of the genres that are specific to video games, FPS is the most easily accessible and most supportive of casual play (despite the lengths some 'hardcore' players will go to).
18-06-2012, 04:31 AM #8
18-06-2012, 05:30 AM #9
Namdrol: I'm not doing the "video game violence makes kids kill people" thing. No need to get defensive. This is more about personal preference and suspension of disbelief. And variation. Your second point is just what I'm having a bit of a problem with; that shooting and stabbing is the default in high budget games. The parallell to action movies is appropriate, but the bodycount in a typical action game is often much higher than in a movie. Perhaps that is just a function of the difference in duration.
I'd say portal is only half an example of what I'm thinking of, since the conflict is with a - mostly - static environment. There is no base tension apart from your wish to go from A to B. The genius of FPS combat for example is that you can just dump a couple of players in any sort of environment and the game makes itself out of their interactions. A game like Portal has to have every piece of game manually crafted by the designer. It'd be interesting though too see what kind of multiplayer conflict you could construct with the portal engine, and it's an awesome game regardless. Or some more open kind of game, with focus on exploration rather than puzzle solving.
Mirror's Edge is similar. The conflict isn't dynamic, since the opponent is an unchanging environment. And the conflict with other "humans" is of the traditional, violent kind, though it's nice that you're given the option of not killing. (Mostly. The end section of the game was pretty silly in that regard.)
I guess my thinking is pretty multiplayer-focused, in a way. And even in a singleplayer enviroment, my focus is conflict with other "players" with similar abilities to yours. As I mentioned above what I find fascinating with standard videogame violence is how modular it is, how it naturally takes new forms when you change up a few variables. I'm likely subjective, since FPS is my favourite genre, but I don't think it's chance that games like UT, CS, BF and MW (and SC for that matter) have had such long lifespans. Dynamic conflict with other thinking beings is a self-renewing source of entertainment.
Sports games are a really good example actually, I don't play them at all so I didn't really think of it. I'm not very interested in sports IRL and less interested in having them in games - though I would like to see more scifi and fantasy sports games, or made up sports in general. I think there is a lot of untapped potential there. (In fact, thinking of Minecraft, I just now remembered Spleef: http://www.minecraftwiki.net/wiki/Spleef)
Stealth games is a good point and they should get more love, but seeing how IO is abandoning much of the emergent gameplay and splinter cell is turning more shooty for each new installment, I don't have too much hope for those in the near future.
Haven't played LA Noire. I've heard so much about the dialogues being about simply finding the answer the developers thought of rather than actually having some sort of verbal conflict with the suspects. Again an example where every interaction has to be premade by the game designer.
19-06-2012, 10:03 PM #10
I haven't read the entire thread, so apologies if this was mentioned...
18-06-2012, 05:49 AM #11
18-06-2012, 05:59 AM #12
I hate the way most developers are trying to shoe horn combat into racing games.
18-06-2012, 08:26 AM #13
I get where the OP is coming from. Yes, not all games are violent, but that's not what the OP is saying (primary, not only) . If we look at volume sales the MWs, Skyrims, Starcrafts, GTAs & WoWs far outstrip the sales of the Sim Cities etc.
In a dash but will add my thoughts later on.
18-06-2012, 09:02 AM #14
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I guess you can do a lot with violence, and you can also abstract it pretty well if necessary. For instance it's no real surprise that combat in RPGs is usually detailed with many options, whereas diplomacy skill use is generally just a skill check, because combat is much easier to abstract in a believable way, whereas if you tried to make a detailed conversation game it would be more gamey and less believable (not to say people shouldn't do that, but it's unlikely to be a believable system).
Also violence is pretty exciting if you're not involved and it isn't really serious (for instance, watching boxing can be exciting, and even watching say soccer players fighting can be entertaining, but watching soccer hooligans fighting is usually disturbing).Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.
18-06-2012, 09:28 AM #15
Stealth games can have violence, but rest assured it plays second fiddle to evasion and pursuit.
MMO's have violence but the game is actually about watching numbers go up and paying a monthly fee for a chat room. :p
Is chess about violence? I guess most strategy games are, but some are management games about controlling the flow of goods (settlers 1,2,7) or the opinion of the community against the flow of tax (sim city, tropico, Startopia, space colony, anno) yes they contain violence often but it's not the point of the game.
Adventure(point 'n' click) and puzzle, hidden object, racing and sport get away without violence, but I find that these genres get forgotten in these conversations.
18-06-2012, 10:32 AM #16
I'm particularly irked by immersion-breaking violence. It is too common in games I've played for combat to occur at a frequency or with a carelessness utterly out of touch with the overall narrative, or worse, the specific scene. This includes violence towards the player, in addition to violence by the player. A nice example of things done well: My first adventure in GTA IV was trying to follow the rules of the road. I was awful at it. I nearly killed several pedestrians, sideswiped a few cars, and eventually sirens were wailing towards me and the car I'd rammed into a lightpost--I got out of the car as they approached and was promptly arrested. It was one of my most refreshing gaming experiences.
In the four or so hours I've since spent with the game, I discovered the story is crap and the whole package isn't really for me, but I remain impressed by how proportional. In a lot of games, looking at someone funny sets off a combat encounter. In Dragon Age, I'll be attacked by poorly armed bandits despite having a hulking Golem, a grinning Witch, a fully armored dwarf and a pair of magical swords at my disposal. No one ever runs away. Only a scant few important NPCs back down when their health bars run out. Death is cheap. Which is fine in games that never ask you to care in the first place, but perplexing in games that provide you with moral quandaries involving the lives of innocents or mercy for your enemies.
I've had similar experiences in other genres, but the Guns and Conversations genre stands out the most to me since such games tend to make the conversation vastly more interesting than the guns.
It boils down, as far as I can tell, to a general sense that certain types of gameplay are necessary. Generally certain repetitive and grinding types of gameplay. When these don't fit with the less grindy parts of the game, the tonal disconnect is left alone no matter how harmful to pacing, narrative, or the overall experience it may be. A similar phenomenon seems to surround boss fights. Games have to have boss fights, right? Otherwise the level never ends. So we get a boss fight whether it's fun, mechanically sound, or coherent with respect to the fiction.
I guess I sort of feel that most of the games I can think of that use violence ineffectively are also using the mechanics around violence ineffectively. When the game isn't properly communicating with itself, some or all of it is going to seem out of place or unnecessary. Those violent games mentioned as having really long lifespans? They incorporate their violent mechanics really well. They're built around killing, and it's a tight and coherent experience. They made it into an interesting competition and an interesting play, not relying solely on the violence itself to carry the game.
Last edited by gwathdring; 18-06-2012 at 11:16 AM.I think of [the Internet] as a grisly raw steak laid out on a porcelain benchtop in the sun, covered in chocolate hazelnut sauce. In the background plays Stardustís Music Sounds Better With You. Thereís lots of fog. --tomeoftom
You ruined his point by putting it in context thatís cheating -bull0
18-06-2012, 11:29 AM #17
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I find it baffling that you can have played video games for so long as find such things "immersion-breaking". They're just standard in video gaming, you should be used to them by now and not notice them. You shouldn't even be stopping to think about them. Stopping to think is a mistake.Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.
18-06-2012, 12:02 PM #18
Last edited by gwathdring; 18-06-2012 at 12:06 PM.I think of [the Internet] as a grisly raw steak laid out on a porcelain benchtop in the sun, covered in chocolate hazelnut sauce. In the background plays Stardustís Music Sounds Better With You. Thereís lots of fog. --tomeoftom
You ruined his point by putting it in context thatís cheating -bull0
18-06-2012, 01:36 PM #19
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18-06-2012, 01:46 PM #20
Personally I loved ghosting levels, but in your first play through ghosting means missing out on things, that makes me a sad panda.
It would help is dxhr hadn't had an xp system which ultimately rewards ocd.