Splinter Cell dev: Industry must offer more than violence

Blacklist director Patrick Redding says focus on gore makes games an "easy target", believes diversity can quell concerns

In the wake of this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, one recurring theme at the major media events was shocking violence. It was picked up on by developers and writers alike, with Tomb Raider, Far Cry 3, The Last of Us, and Splinter Cell: Blacklist among the offending titles. GamesIndustry International spoke with Blacklist director Patrick Redding at the GamerCamp festival in Toronto this weekend to get his take on the uproar.

Redding called the concern partly a consequence of the medium's "preoccupation with visual fidelity and production values," a subject he touched on in his presentation at the event. If the gore in violent games didn't look quite so gory, if it were more stylized, the same sort of actions would pass by without much objection, he said, adding that putting the most violent moments in scripted events further aggravates the problem.

"It won't just be about having beautifully rendered blood and extra-visceral bone-breaking sounds. It'll be more about the decisions..."

Patrick Redding, on the effect of using systemic violence

"If I'm playing the game and these events are being shown to me, and I feel as though it's like a cinematic moment in the middle of the game, then my discomfort with it comes from the feeling that I can't avoid it, or that it's part of the story that has to happen."

As to how the industry can minimize the outcry over violence in games, Redding had a couple suggestions. First, he thinks developers should try embracing a more system approach to violence in the future, where it emerges as a natural interaction of game systems instead of being used as a key plot point or otherwise scripted segment.

"If we're willing to embrace a more systemic approach in the future, then we have the ability to explore these kinds of meanings in a way that will be less uncomfortable for people," Redding said. "It won't just be about having beautifully rendered blood and extra-visceral bone-breaking sounds. It'll be more about the decisions, the choice of, 'Do I believe that ethically, the situation is bad enough for me to do something really terrible to this person in order to get a certain game result?'"

While systemic violence would still prompt outrage (as in the way Grand Theft Auto III's systems allowed players to sleep with a prostitute and then kill her in order to get their money back), Redding said such situations would blow over more quickly because those who played the game understood that the situation was optional and emergent.

"[Violence] becomes an easy target when it's the only thing we're doing."

Patrick Redding, on the need for diversity in the industry

"My argument would be that the initial feeling of outrage that hits when someone sees that a game enables the player to do something morally questionable because the systems support it, that passes a lot faster because as people look at the game, they become more literate procedurally in what makes the game a game, and what makes it interactive. They start to understand that just like the message says at the beginning of the game, 'interactions are not covered by the rating.' Human beings have the autonomy to go in there and do things that are distasteful or of questionable merit, but they're taking those actions on their own."

Beyond that, Redding suggested that cultural concern over violence in games could also be effectively addressed by making games that aren't so reliant on it.

"I think we all agree that for the last several years, games have been dominated by the adolescent male power fantasy-type experiences, across all genres and across all platforms," Redding said. "And I think most of us would like there to be more different kinds of games out there. And if we can do that, if we can provide games that are of interest to a more diverse audience and relateable to a wider range of people, then the presence of some games that are still more violent or action-oriented is going to be less disturbing. There will be a sense that this is a medium that's mature, that's rich, capable of tackling a lot of different subjects, whether they're serious and difficult, or frivolous and purely entertaining. Same as any other medium. But it becomes an easy target when it's the only thing we're doing."

Latest comments (9)

Adam Campbell Game Manager, Azoomee6 years ago
Seems pretty obvious to me but what are they going to do about it?

The Tec Guy ~AC
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Offer more action games interspersed with puzzles, which have elements of judicious violence to contrast/reinforce pathos and impactful moments...and come summer and christmas, we all want the same stuff. Micheal bay blockbuster or harrypotter magic...
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Mbuso Radebe Producer, Electronic Arts6 years ago
I am hoping the success of Journey on PSN and other progressive non-violent games of its ilk bring about a renaissance within the industry.
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Show all comments (9)
Meelad Sadat [a]list daily editorial director, Ayzenberg Group6 years ago
So this is the keyart screen for the next SC, which means for the next two months i have to see Sam Fisher about to kill a guy who looks like my uncle. i hope i can unlock and play as my uncle.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 6 years ago
The game industry has gone down a narrow and nasty niche which has damaged the game industry. We have become the shooters industry.
Gaming is just a form of entertainment IP like music, the theatre, movies, television and books. All those others have output that covers the human condition with far more scope than does gaming. Even ballet does it better! We have performed unimaginatively and abysmally as an art form.
With the current generation of consoles it has become even worse, even music games have gone out of fashion. So now we have an output dominated by simple shooters. This comes from everyone just copying two successful products, Operation Flashpoint and Grand Theft Auto. Then thinking that violence is the key ingredient, so adding more and more of it.
Part of the blame for this must be that the game creation process is so technical and thus it does not favour the right sort of creative people. The second reason must be because of senior management being unimaginative and risk averse, leading to a me too mentality.

There is very good news however, mobile gaming has a very low barrier to entry so it is far easier to take risks, also there is vastly more competition with hundreds of thousands of games out there. So developers are trying anything and everything to be different and get noticed. We are seeing an amazing flowering of creativity that is far greater than anything the industry has ever experienced before. Also easy to use design tools, like Unity, have led to a different type of creative person now being able to created published games, which is fantastic. As these tools become even more user friendly we will reach the stage where making a game becomes as technically easy as creating the other IP based entertainments now is. Which will lead to a further flowering of creativity.

The enormous success of fun games, like Angry Birds or Flick Golf, on mobile must eventually lead to the rest of the game industry realising that there is a far bigger market beyond the shooter.
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@Bruce Yes and yes.
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Maybe the next SC will spout poetry, justice, impassioned pleas for clemency and then deploy non lethal objects of pacification. We come in peace, come peacefully or go in pieces.. or something something...
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Tony Johns6 years ago
The ESRB is put there for one thing.

allowing the parents and those who are sensitive to violence to chose the games fit for them or their kids.

mass media outcry will happen no matter what, even if a game is not marketed in the west it still can cause controversy...looking at the case where a UK politician criticised a game in Japan that was not even available on the market.

We can't stop the idiots of the world for targeting our medium, even with many Wii sports and Wii Fit games and Angry Birds, there will always be those who just don't like some games and go to great lengths to put a negative spin on it.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd6 years ago
The console market has never homogenously put out violent action games, and yet they've always been some of the most lucrative franchises.

The only thing that's changed recently is we had an E3 where lots of the blockbuster games were presented focusing on brutality. This happened because the current gen consoles have been maxed out, and in the absence of anything that's an obvious radical departure from previous years, gimmicky shock tactics were used to get attention. But the neck-stabby trailers didn't necessarily reflect the deeper content of the games. This is a failure of the imagination of marketers, not developers.

Consider also that most of the new IP shown for the Wii U and Vita wasn't swimming in blood.
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