"Where the violent see only violence,
the skilful see only skill."
- Bruce Thomas
As yet another
videogame-inspired death dominates the headlines, all eyes are on my
profession once again. Although I don't subscribe to the theory that games are
entirely to blame, you may be surprised to hear that I DO have a problem with
such products. That may sound deeply hypocritical considering the violent
content of my own games, so here's the explanation...
Yes, there's no
denying that my games are violent. The blood-soaked, table-smashing
destruction from the wrestling games has been there since day one. In fact,
for many people, it's the single biggest reason for enjoying them! However, as
any wrestling fans knows, the violence has always been kept in a sporting
context. It's not meaningless or irrational - it's simply a recreation of the
comic book violence seen in the real business. The whole experience is more of
a staged spectacle than a license to kill...
Violence Solves Everything
However, the excuse of a "sporting context" was nowhere to be seen when The
MDickie Show crashed onto the scene! This game brought my trademark
violence to the more unconventional setting of a TV chat show. It was a more
convincing 3D setting to boot, which was soaked in more gore than ever before
(even extending to severed limbs). As if that wasn't distasteful enough, the
game also boasted a coarse, expletive-ridden soundtrack - and the dubious
slogan, "Violence Solves Everything!". In my defence, as was made
painstakingly clear in the game's presentation, it was merely a parody of
trash TV. At no point was the action to be taken seriously. In any case, if
the player chose the route of evil they were regularly met by a damning
newspaper headline - reminding you, as if it were needed, that the characters
Life After Death
Admittedly, all of the above are tenuous justifications
for what felt right at the time. However, there is one huge redeeming feature
in my games: the fact that death is significant. My years as a wrestling fan
have taught me to respect the dead - and that quality has clearly filtered
through to the games themselves. When a character dies in my games you are
left in no doubt that it's a sombre prospect. You even hold a memorial show
the next night, for God's sake! It's so rare that it's a shocking situation
too. Even the tragedy of a paralysed character catches your attention. This is
because death in my games is a genuinely detrimental situation. Each character
has his role in the world - possibly in your game - so when he disappears, a
noticeable void is left. In some cases, it can even hinder your progress
because it's one character that you've lost access to...
Delusions Of Grandeur
I appreciate that the power of my games is lost on most
people. For every person that's humbled by the death gimmick, there's somebody
that's thrilled by it - and even go so far as to deliberately kill characters. I know
because they've told me as much! That's OK. It's not my place to tell you how
to play the games. If you're not sentimental, I can't force it on you.
However, that doesn't mean my efforts are a waste of time. If just one person
comes away from my games with the right attitude then my job is done and I can
have a clear conscience. It proves that violence is in the person and not
The Usual Suspects
So, if I can confidently defend my own games, what's my
problem with everybody else's? The sad fact is that many of them don't share the
qualities mentioned above. Manhunt, in particular, has no redeeming
features. Death (or more accurately, "murder") occurs for no discernable
reason, with absolutely no consequences. There's no emotional value attached
to the character you killed, or the situation that drove you to do it. The concept isn't even marketed as some sort of "spoof" - it's simply a murder
simulator! That's very dodgy territory. If I was responsible for it, I would
be somewhat ashamed of myself. And therein lies the problem - games like
that bring shame on my profession. I, and many other developers, are working
to establish games as an art form. We want to put things out there, violent or
otherwise, that make a positive impact on the world and bring a sense of pride
to the industry. Games like this come along and leave us looking more like
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than The Sopranos! They're simply not
worthy of respect...
The funny thing is that these people are actually
trying to be the gaming equivalent of The Sopranos or Eminem.
It's just that they're too ignorant to pull it off! Let me help you out. People don't like
Eminem purely because he's controversial - it's because he's got something
to say underneath it all. Likewise, people don't like The Sopranos purely for
the violence - it's because it's a carefully constructed, classy production.
Very few mainstream game developers have got an ounce of the talent that goes
into those creations. If they did, they would be responsible for innovative
content rather than the cheap imitations that we're subjected to. The reality
is that they're social misfits that have never experienced the real world and
have to resort to their feeble, misguided imaginations. I've seen people
knocked unconscious - and I know it's not funny. That's why my more realistic
games, no matter how violent they may be, are tinged with sincerity. It's a
quality that I'm very proud of - because, evidently, it's a rare one...
The problem is that most game developers are anonymous.
The above social misfits work their magic safe in the knowledge that they'll
never have to answer for it. They'll never be named and shamed in the press,
or asked to explain themselves on TV like Quentin Tarantino. They'd be lucky
if their bureaucratic operation let in so much as a few letters from the
outside world! Even Eminem fears the repercussions of dishonour - as
evidenced by his scramble to explain a racist slur from his past. When a man
isn't responsible for his actions, it's very easy to become corrupt. It's the
classic "Invisible Man" tale, where the power is soon abused for a life of
crime! An extreme example, sure, but a worryingly appropriate one. At the risk
of scoring points, my brand of game development sidesteps the above landmine.
Being solely responsible for the games means there's no doubt about who should
be held accountable - or how to contact him. The result is that I literally
have to justify every step I take (as evidenced by articles such as these).
Every distasteful concept, feature, or remark comes back to haunt me within 24
hours. I don't resent that trend. In fact, I encourage it. My players double
as law enforcers, and help keep my work on the straight and narrow. If all
game developers had such a fruitful relationship with their audience, the
industry would be a much more respectable place...
Sunburnt And Paranoid
That's not to say that every complaint deserves to be
upheld though. For every legitimate and constructive criticism, there's plenty
of paranoia and melodrama. Even my harmless Sure Shot franchise has
been accused of glorifying war! The latest 3D version is already coming under
fire for trivializing the war in Iraq, and even the humble 2D version was
condemned for following 9/11. Quite how such a fictitious, cartoony game can
be so closely linked to real life is a mystery to me. And therein lies the
real issue. We all come to games - and entertainment in general - with our own
standards, thresholds, and expectations. When they're not satisfied, we
condemn everybody with the gusto that we would normally reserve for ourselves.
My discomfort with gratuitous games, for instance, is purely because they
taint my particular profession. It's a rather selfish grievance, which is
unlikely to be shared by the masses. I'm not disgusted by the violence itself
so much as the presentation. I've made violent games in the past, and I'm
almost guaranteed to make them in the future - with increasingly realistic
graphics to boot! However, I'd like to think that I'll continue to do so with
a healthy dose of responsibility. The most violent acts imaginable can be
justified if they mean something and go somewhere. That's the golden rule -
and if we game developers don't follow it, the only people we'll really be
"shooting" is ourselves... in the foot.
Copyright © MDickie 2000 - 2004