RPS Asks: Which Bits Of Games Would Gross You Out To Work On?

There’s an interesting piece over on Gamasutra about the effect that working on gross or violent aspects of gaming has had on three different artists and animators. “Gross and violent” in this case means watching colonoscopy videos for corridor design, animating arms being ripped off, and needing to research how bodies drop during a hanging.

I’m writing about it here, partly to flag it up because it’s an interesting read (the divide between animation and art is one I hadn’t thought about before) but I also want to ask this:

Which bits of level design or art research from games would give you the heebie jeebies?

I’ve just done a quick survey of the RPS chatroom and we’d struggle with work regarding the following:

John: “Anything to do with teeth. I hate teeth. Teeth being pulled or falling out. Bleaurgh.”

Alec: “I think anything to do with eye mutilation for me. that bit in the last BioShock Infinite DLC where [REALLY GROSS SPOILER REDACTED FOR GROSSNESS AND SPOILERNESS], urgh.”

Adam: “This is mine.”

Graham: “There’s a lot of mutilated corpses. Probably drawing textures for burn wounds in Spec Ops or horrible skin-peeled zombies in Half-Life 2.”

Alice: “Torture, or anything going under fingernails.”

The idea of researching torture and the experience described in the article or researching a hanging make me feel numb. I think I’d really struggle to shut out even a tiny fraction of that. But my Pip-specific one would be injections. Hi, BioShock!

I really struggle with injections, whether it’s watching them or experiencing them. Having to have a drip when I’ve been in hospital was quite the exercise in self-control. I could feel this thing in my elbow or in the back of my hand the whole time. So disgusting. I am actually shifting in my chair and jiggling my leg just writing this. I’m not sure if researching needles and injections would lead to becoming desensitised or whether I would end up crawling under my desk and shouting my resignation plans from there.

Thinking about what makes people squirm reminds me of the idea of abjection which came up a lot when I was studying the body in modern art at university. It’s about us being revolted or disturbed by objects or concepts which threaten our sense of self or show our bodily boundaries to be permeable. Corpses are one example – a living body is one with which we can identify, a dead one becomes “other”, rejected. Bodily waste is another example; it crosses a border and goes from being part of us to being separate. We reject (or rather, abject) those things in order to draw distinctions between them and us and to build or maintain identity. I’d expect the list of things that gross people out to have a lot in common with what is abjected.

So yes, are there bits of games would you find too gross or violent to work on?

89 Comments

  1. trn says:

    Finding ways to implement microtransactions. Eurgh!

  2. Optimaximal says:

    John: “Anything to do with teeth. I hate teeth. Teeth being pulled or falling out. Bleaurgh.”

    Worth a disclaimer that John’s dad is a dentist? :)

    • Ross Angus says:

      Yes – I thought that too. Weird.

      • Scandalon says:

        Perhaps not so weird. Both my parents are nurses, you’d think growing up with stories of crazy things my dad’s seen would desensitize me to it, but just thinking about how fragile our bodies are weirds me out.

  3. turth says:

    MGSV: Ground Zeroes’ ending with Paz

    • DarkLiberator says:

      Especially later when you hear that tape where they tell you where the second bomb was hidden in Paz.

      • Evil Pancakes says:

        Yeah that’s a pretty nasty bit. Imagine being one of the sound guys working on that. I wonder where they got the squishy noise from. On second though, I don’t want to know.

        Another pretty gross game, Prey. Anyone remember Prey? That game had some very weird doorways and passages reminiscent of certain parts of the human body.

        • Ross Angus says:

          Plus the dung beetle mini game, where you needed to roll pellets all over the shop.

        • Boothie says:

          The unsettling levels is the reason i never finished prey, its the game i thought of when i saw the headline image too.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Given how weird foley work seems to be, “squishy noises” are probably generated by throwing a bucket of nails down a wooden staircase or something.

          • Darth Gangrel says:

            I once saw a dev video of The Witcher 1, where they revealed that the sound effect for wading through sewage was made by stirring a stick through freshly made spaghetti. That felt odd, because spaghetti is appetizing and wading through sewage or the squishy sound of it, is not.

            When I saw that image I thought of Doom 3’s fleshy wall growths and how yuck-inducing it would be to work on those.

  4. Philopoemen says:

    I’m fairly desensitised to most things these days due to my day job, but anything involving hurting or children being hurt still makes my stomach turn.

  5. st33dd says:

    Not squeamish enough to be bothered by any of your suggestions. Poop, gore, murder – it’s basically not real.

    The line gets drawn at depictions of rape (especially statutory). I think that pretty much every medium draws the line here and only the sociopathic types cross it.

    • Boozebeard says:

      You’re missing the point of the question. When you’re actually making the art and animations for this stuff you often do have to watch/look at real world examples.

      • Risingson says:

        I think it is perfectly in the topic. Alice mentioned torture, and rape is, also to me, one of the things I find most disturbing in art. You really have to be careful when talking about that. Or better, avoid it. I still have nightmares with certain part in “I have no mouth”.

        But physicality speaking, there are some other parts that rival. Sound of broken bones, for example, or anything to do with brains: certain scene in Hannibal and certain scene in Dead End are just made of unease and disgust. And just for laughs.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      I dunno why rape is such a taboo subject to depict onscreen, but violently taking away someone’s life is fine. I’d much rather be raped than murdered, that’s for sure.

      • stele says:

        +100

      • Janichsan says:

        There are enough traumatised rape victims for whom life is living hell who might disagree…

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          Yes, and far fewer living murder victims.

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          Phasma Felis says:

          There’s also more than a few rape victims who are trying to get on with their lives and are pretty tired of people implying that they’d be better of dead, just FYI.

      • Xocrates says:

        Rape has been so trivialized in media that I suspect anyone that’s not a rape victim has any idea of what “being raped” actually means.

        I would not be so quick as to discard it as preferable to a quick (even if brutal) death.

        • Distec says:

          How on Earth has rape been trivialized by the media?

          • Xocrates says:

            Rape and attempted rape has a become a lazy narrative short-hand for “this (female) character needs a tragic backtory/have something bad happen to her”. It has become so common that any impact that such scene should have has become increasingly diminished to the point that some are not even recognized as such.

        • hungrycookpot says:

          And murder hasn’t? I think in our society we are so far removed from large scale violence that we have no concept of what it really is. Rape is a terrible thing, like beating the shit out of someone and leaving them to die. You’re left physically and mentally damaged, but you’re still alive and can recover. It’s a big step down from murder.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Probably, but you haven’t exactly lived through rape, have you? Being raped has a horrible impact on the psychology of the one who is raped, and because it’s something that people live through, it can be traumatic to witness a simulated or implied rape with the knowledge of what it is like.

        Being killed on the other hand…you don’t meet many death survivors. The only tangible effect is the killing’s effect on everything other than the one who dies — they’re gone. The worst case with death is that you remind someone of a family member’s death, but we’ve all experienced that, and it’s much harder to do so in a tasteless way (but still possible). It helps that death is all around us and awaits us all; it makes it easier to understand and respect. Those writing about rape likely haven’t experienced its effects themselves.

        There’s a really good Jimquisition episode about the topic, incidentally.

        • hungrycookpot says:

          IMO you don’t need to live through something to know that it’s bad. I’ve never had both my hands violently chopped off either, but I know that’s something I wouldn’t enjoy, and I can definitively say I’d rather be sexually assaulted than be permanently maimed like that too. But you’ve never had your hands cut off, you wouldn’t understand.

        • pepperfez says:

          Those writing about rape likely haven’t experienced its effects themselves.
          Particularly in video game writing, where they’re likely to be men.

      • Beefenstein says:

        My mother was raped by her father and then my father so I can testify to the long term psychological effects. They’re bad enough that they effect me too, because I am the child of rape and have been brought up by a woman devastated by it.

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        Grizzly says:

        It’s for the same reason that we, as a society, tend to frown more upon torturing then we do on killing.

      • Shazbut says:

        It comes down to the relationship our societies have with women and femininity in general. We’re about at the level of a teenage boy in Britain, so our women are still sexually objectified everywhere and we are confused by femininity and don’t know how it fits into the capitalist model of living, but at least we allow our women the luxury of talking and not being sexually enslaved from birth. The possible exaggeration, and untouchable status, of the horrors of rape that you perceive is a result of the nation trying to grow up. It always happens much slower in this regard than it does for actual individuals, who generally wish the culture would hurry the hell up.

      • wr0ng1 says:

        I’m guessing there are more rape victims out there than murder victims who’ll be affected by seeing something played out on screen. Murder victims are a pretty stolid lot.

        • Distec says:

          This has always seemed like a weird argument to me. Obviously dead people don’t have feelings about anything one way or the other, but there are plenty of survivors of attempted murder or just plain ol’ assault. Somebody who has been beaten within an inch of their life or survived a gunshot may not technically be a murder victim, but they could still have a visceral reaction to depicted killings along those veins.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            True, but rape is still far, far more common.

          • hungrycookpot says:

            And yet we don’t sanitize murder out of all of our media to protect their feelings, do we?

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Every medium draws the line at rape? Just thinking about it I can’t think of a medium that doesn’t cover it though I think its fairly rare in games.

      • Distec says:

        Yeah, rape may not be a hot topic in film or music, but it’s there. To say “only sociopaths cross that line” is just dumb.

        I’m not surprised to see statements like this, along with “it’s a subject matter that requires sensitivity”. And while even I think the latter is true, I think for some people there is no depiction sensitive enough.

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          Sculpture, classical painting, books – hell its a fairly big theme in a lot of romance, ’50 shades of grey’ being a recent example that apparently played fast and loose with themes of consent and it supposedly sold 50 bajillion copies …

          • Kitsunin says:

            No. 50 Shades didn’t. It was way too lukewarm to depict anything approaching rape.

          • Hedgeclipper says:

            *shrug* haven’t read it, I have seen comments by people who’d disagree with you – what is undeniable is that rape appears in a lot of written work and doesn’t get anything like the comment even the suggestion of it receives in games, I’m not sure what that says exactly its certainly not something I want to see in my games.

            Anyway shout out to Indie Gala for their super creepy timing; link to indiegala.com the first one there is about “a perverted sex maniac” and “three girls… forced to learn about this”

          • Kitsunin says:

            I think 50 Shades included scenes which could be interpreted as rape — but only because of the author’s lack of knowledge around the subject of consent.

            This doesn’t contradict your point or anything, but I think it’s true that it only garnered such success because it avoided such murky territory. If you can manage to appear edgy without actually doing anything edgy, then you get the people who are curious without even offending anyone. AKA a recipe for (unfair?) success.

            All of my searching seems to indicate games are a bit (and just a bit) more willing to throw around rape as a plot/character device than books and films. No movies or books come to mind off the top of my head (On second thought, The Dark Tower, but that’s all). A couple games do, and a ton of visual novels (but then, that’s different too).

    • MD says:

      ‘Anyone more sensitive than me is squeamish, anyone less sensitive is a sociopath’, then?

  6. Rao Dao Zao says:

    The Beholder tunnels in Baldur’s Gate 2… or really anything of that ilk. Blerch!

  7. MiniMatt says:

    Working on front page layouts for many of today’s UK papers would rather gross me out.

    Compared to that, working on the entirely imaginary gore, death and violence of video games would seem rather tame.

  8. fenchurch says:

    Monetization strategy in games marketed at kids.

  9. christmas duck says:

    Because I can’t think of a way to Google it that won’t be an unmitigated nightmare…can someone tell me where the banner image of the err, wall mounted sphincter, is from.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Click Adam’s link.

    • MiniMatt says:

      Looks like Natural Selection 2 – link to rockpapershotgun.com

    • Rhodri says:

      The image is from natural selection 2 (well the hand certainly is at any rate).

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      Adam Smith says:

      It’s not wall-mounted. That’s an interior shot :(

    • WarOnGamesIndustry says:

      It’s a gorge tunnel from Natural Selection 2. And yes they are sphincters at each end of one. The alien team uses them to rapidly travel the map like the nydus canals in starcraft. Going through one as marine is often a good way to sneak into the enemy hive and takeout some upgrades and also a good way to die a horrible death to tentacle whips.

  10. bill says:

    I find it a bit freaky that they feel the need to research that kind of stuff. I always assumed they just, you know, made it up.

    • LionsPhil says:

      The discerning Gamer demands that his gorn is as realistic as possible. Realism is the ultimate goal of all fiction.

  11. james___uk says:

    This: link to youtu.be

  12. Janichsan says:

    I’m squeamish regarding (in lack of a better description) mutilation body horror. An example would be Tommy’s girlfriend Jen in Prey stitched to an alien monster.

    But I have to say that, with age, I have become also less tolerant regarding certain graphic violence, like quite a bunch of Mortal Kombat X’s fatalities, or brutal executions of downed enemies (e.g. the occasional belly slitting in Shadow of Mordor).

  13. bit.bat says:

    I generally find the sound of people screaming in pain and terror much more upsetting than the visual aspects of it (although the visual can be upsetting enough as it is). I have never worked on anything like this but I would imagine that associated research with something like a torture scene would make me very uncomfortable.

    • foop says:

      The torture scene in GTA V really disturbed me. I inadvertently picked the pliers, not realising that they would be used on teeth. Having just had root canal work recently that reduced me to cringing wreck.

      So, yeah, having to work on that would be awful.

  14. bill says:

    I’m much more disturbed by the realistic / real life aspects than the fantastical ones.

    I don’t really care about body horror alien monsters or sphincter airlocks or even slicing up space marines with chainsaws.
    But curb stomping or knee-capping etc.. I can do without that in my entertainment – unless there is a damn important reason to include it.

    • Shazbut says:

      It destroyed American History X for me. It was so horrible that he was essentially irredeemable for the rest of the movie.

  15. Turkey says:

    Video games aren’t realistic enough to trigger anything that I’m squeamish about.

  16. Rizlar says:

    Genuinely don’t think there would be anything too gross or violent to work on in terms of reference material/trying to replicate something. As they mention in the article – when you are actually working from reference it is all abstract, the thing doesn’t come into it. Like life drawing, people always expect to be weirded out by it but within minutes it just becomes a non-issue, you are just focused on the shapes in front of you.

    But I would like to think that I would object to some stuff based on it’s inclusion in the game rather than how it feels to work on it. Like the Mortal Kombat x-ray animations which just feel gratuitous, they aren’t actually used for much impact and the obsessive detail doesn’t sit well within the rest of the game. The coolest fatalities are still just the ones with punchy animation and a twist.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      It doesn’t really make sense to me, you get kicked in the neck, shattering your spine and detaching your head from the rest of your body, but then you go on to karate chop the other guy in half and win the fight?

  17. yoggesothothe says:

    Groupings of holes, anything to do with biological holes and pores. Trypophobia, I believe it’s called.

    Any time I get Hamelin during a rift in Diablo 3, I can’t really fully look at the screen or think too much about what I’m looking at. Desensitization doesn’t seem to be happening much. Shuddering even thinking about it just now.

    • yoggesothothe says:

      Don’t google trypophobia by the way if you have it.

      • TomxJ says:

        need. air.

      • Kitsunin says:

        I hate how google brings back image results on a web search. Dammit if I wanted pictures I’d look for pictures, all I want is a nice, non-traumatic, textual explanation of what something is. Not a disgustic, graphic picture.

    • Lamb Chop says:

      me too. Everyone seems so bemused by my fear, too. Why do they not see it!

      • yoggesothothe says:

        I’m gonna venture to explain it but it might be rather graphic to read:

        What’s not horrifying about a bunch of parasites crawling out of every visible pore, literally tumbling out every time the host shudders. An infestation of wriggling creatures freely entering and exiting a living body? NO please, I don’t need to be reminded of the porousness of my own body so starkly.

        I think mostly though, even without the parasites, its the inevitable picturing of the infrastructure underneath the holes that just completely does me in. It’s an unnameable, un-seeable thing whose capacity for horror is only limited by one’s imagination.

        Okay, I got a bit off topic there, it’s just really, really, really hard not to think about and get out of your head once you start thinking about it. That’s really the worst of it, how stuck it gets.

    • Hanban says:

      The first time I remember being grossed out by an internet picture was something relating to trypophobia. It took me a long time to get over it. EUGH.

    • Shazbut says:

      Absolutely this. Now I’m going to have to forget that word so I’m not tempted to ever google it

    • TheLetterM says:

      EEEEUGh. I had NO IDEA that it had a name. Thank you (I think). And, yes, I googled it immediately and now I have to go lie down.

  18. Premium User Badge

    JiminyJickers says:

    Spiders. If I had to create spiders for a game I will have nightmares for days. I’ll probably have ones just for typing this, haha.

  19. K33L3R says:

    If I had to work on something depicting abuse I’d refuse, far too painful to touch

    Now I’m sad face :'(

  20. jonahcutter says:

    I’d be terrible at this. I have little problem with just about any medical, violent, depraved or gross scene in a game. But I find myself squeamish of most of the same in real-world footage.

  21. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Anything to do with surgery – with the ironic exception of Surgeon Simulator, which is ridiculous enough to not bother me. I’ve never had surgery, but I don’t have enough faith in strangers to ever be okay with one cutting me open. Strangely, the idea of anesthetic during surgery makes it even more horrifying… lying paralyzed vulnerable under someone’s knife is just an awful, awful scenario.

  22. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    I definitely couldn’t work on something like Mortal Kombat, or God of War. I don’t care for that kind of sadistic violence in general but I don’t even want to think about the kind of reference you would have to look at. A lot of commenters seems to be missing this point… It’s not about how shocking the end result looks; it’s about the material you’re having to wade through to create something that somewhat resembles the real thing… and no, if you’re a professional artist or animator you don’t just make that shit up. You study the subject.

  23. Minglefingler says:

    I tend to rarely have a visceral reaction to gore in games and creatures that I can’t touch in real life (spiders) are no trouble to hack to pieces. Two exceptions are Dead Space 2, walking over dismembered corpses was sickening, as was the Paz scene in Ground Zeroes and for a different reason the tape depicting sexual assault in that game, a subject that needs more sensitive treatment than Kojima’s woeful dialogue and the hammy delivery of it by the cast.

  24. Chiron says:

    I think the only gore I’ve ever really felt grossed out by or disturbed by to walk away from was Clementine in the shed.

    Even happily blowing chunks off people in SoF2 didn’t leave me particularly bothered, but that? Bloody hell.

  25. ALucard0617 says:

    for me its pulling out bullets, arrows, shards of metal or glass, and exposed bones on a living guy or if your character has to pull a metal spike out of there hip like in Lara croft when you start a new game or in far cry 3 or 4

  26. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    The assassination animations in Dishonored. Bullets, explosions, stranglings, there’s all kinds of violent deaths I’m alarmingly unfussed about in a game but anything with sharp knives. Bleurgh, makes my skin crawl. Dishonored had a load of clearly very carefully crafted ‘finish him!’ animations for key assassination targets. Yuk.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Oh, and the piles of naked dead bodies in Amnesia: Dark Descent. Way too reminiscent of real genocide scenes you wish you’d never seen on the news/internet.

  27. Shazbut says:

    Games don’t really get under my skin much. They still seem so fake. I know that everything I’m looking at is unreal. At least in a movie, I know some of it is real.

    Real life suffering makes me very very sad. I wouldn’t be able to research anything. I’d just make it up and hope it was realistic.

  28. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    Anything which directly involves or strongly invokes drawn out extreme pain or malignantly unnatural states physical or mental. Nukes themselves are genuinely moving, to say the least (not trying to be clever there), but they don’t make me squeamish. Being exploded without foreknowledge is disturbing in real life but I could see myself animating such a thing. Depictions of quickly, cleanly severed limbs would probably be mentally abstractable into inertness if I were required to work with them, especially if they were medically required amputations (even pre-anesthetic age stuff). But animating or drawing or observing reference material of someone drowning, being crushed, having a limb torn off, a bad hanging or the anticipation of being hung (implied by the otherwise arguably interesting hanging itself)? Or a leper with flesh rotting in situ or a druggie with “bugs under the skin”? WTF STOP MAKING ME THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS YOU BUM

    Thanks for raising my awareness of it, but though I can generally appreciate expanding my comfort zone, I will not be reading that Gamasutra article today. :)

    Ahhh, back massages and reading books and milkshakes and Proteus and other lovely things, yeaahh. No marshmallows or puppies or kittens, but rainbows are cool — woo physics. Oh, and cats can stay, too. Then add one armful of guinea pigs and another of tribbles to really saturate the purrometer. And some bunnies hopping about, too. Ahhh, much better.

  29. liquidsoap89 says:

    The stuff that gets me is when it ISN’T super gorey or gross. Stomping on an Ork’s head in Space Marine doesn’t make me feel anything, you stomp your foot down, a big cloud of red mist flies out of your foot and you move on.

    But when that same motion plays in The Last of Us, and the enemies head DOESN’T explode… I get really uncomfortable seeing that! Thinking about it now, TLOU might be the most disgusting game I’ve played, simply by it’s virtue of not really being gore horror.

  30. caff says:

    Probably the bit in the South Park game in the family planning clinic…

  31. Henas says:

    The brutal injury and death animations in the rebooted Tomb Raider made me feel as though the devs were misogynisitc sadists. I wouldn’t have been comfortable animating those scenes.

  32. rifflesby says:

    At Kingdom of Loathing we recently did a content dump that included a bunch of gags about stuff from the 70’s, like lava lamps and KISS and so on. So I had to listen to a couple Cheech & Chong albums.

    They were awful. Just boring and unfunny as hell.

    I guess I have it easier than guys who have to research buttholes though.

  33. slavasesh says:

    Anything with torture / killing of animals in it would be a “no-go” for me, as a developer. I can deal with people being tortured and killed, I can deal with blood and poop and whatever, but hunting games and stuff like that, I would literally cry if I had to work on them.