Video Game violence only matters when you’re bored

May 16, 2013

Coming off the heels of finishing Bioshock Infinite, a game hailed for its allegorical commentary on society and consequences, I needed a game less cerebral and more, well, brutal. While Infinite did have a strong sense of violence, I never felt like I wanted to be a part of it. I never felt a connection in that regard, and instead preferred those tender moments with Elizabeth or the action-hero cutscenes. With some reluctance I began playing Tomb Raider. With it I found a protagonist with character, slick moves, and a war I could get behind. I realize now that as I battled through Infinite and Far Cry 3, the reason I felt disconnected is that all along I was trying to be Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft. I was searching for a reason to pull the trigger and not question the purpose.

The latest Tomb Raider game is a reboot of the classic series. Considering that modern platforming and adventure games are dominated by the Uncharted series, it’s no surprise to me that the new Lara Croft would be a lot more like Nathan Drake: she gets beat up, her story is personal, and she has a healthy balance of combat and platforming. Make no mistake, Lara is not an exact substitute for Nathan. Where Uncharted’s Nathan Drake is funny, Lara Croft is serious. Where Nathan is lucky, Lara is cunning and resourceful. Let me put it this way: Lara Croft is Rambo without the PTSD. Well, not yet anyway. As a result, I found myself drawn into her story. I care about Lara and how she gets to where she’s going. At no point did I question the in-game violence. Truth is, if I were Lara, I would have made the same choices and dealt with the consequences as she did. Comparatively, Booker Dewitt of Bioshock Infinite did not have to destroy Columbia and thousands of its inhabitants. I have trouble getting behind that type of violence. Far Cry 3 is an even stronger example of a fight I couldn’t justify begin a part of. Jason is basically a psycho who enjoys herbal remedies on occasion. At first, I cared – after-all he witnessed his brother’s murder. But 30 hours and thousands of bodies later, I utterly stopped caring. And on a side note: the story was ridiculous. Sitra falls in love with Jason. Really? He barely saw her and said no more than 20 words to her!

Violence can be an artistic tool. When it’s used to entertain, it becomes bigger than the story or game mechanics.

When a game executes a story well, I don’t question video game violence at all – or, when the violence or story are intentionally imprudent. Take, for example, Suda 51’s Shadows of the Damned. The game does not attempt to point out flaws in humanity with a protagonist that is a flaw in humanity (as most are). One of my favorite series is Diablo. It’s incredibly violent and gruesome experience that, for me, was never an issue. I would talk to my friends about Diablo and point out the looting, quests, character builds, and atmosphere. It was never about blood spilling out of guys or chopping off heads. In fact, while I do recall the way a zombie death was always a decapitation, I would have to look up if there was blood. The point is, I cared more about the experience points and potential drops of gold or a new short sword.

We all have reasons to play games: story, mechanics, gameplay or visual/audio effects. Learn from my mistakes and don’t play 20 hours of an MMO alone or 30 hours of Far Cry while dreading the story. Games are released with such great frequency, while maintaining depth, that you can quickly move from one to the next until you find what you want.