Ex Dishonored dev says gamers are "blinded by the fear of censorship" on violence

Games that deny the player choice regarding violence "do so at the disadvantage of society"

A former member of the core design team for Dishonored has issued a plea to gamers to consider the role of violence in video games.

In an editorial for Rock Paper Shotgun, Joe Houston, who helped code some of Dishonored's depictions of extreme violence, described the defensive response from gamers whenever links between gaming and real-world violence are discussed.

"In light of the recent gun violence in the U.S. and the resultant anti-game talk that has stemmed from it, it's important as gamers not to simply retreat to the easy reaction, that games aren't a part of the problem," he said. "While I think that might be true...I think it's a pity to stop there.

"I don't believe that game violence causes real world violence, but I do believe that it does little to prevent it"

"Too often we think about what we might lose as players and developers if forced to engage in that conversation, becoming blinded by the fear of censorship. As a result we miss out on more creative and effective ways to be a part of the solution."

Houston draws distinctions between linear games, which are designed so that the player has no choice but to commit acts of violence, and more open games like Dishonored, which offer the the player alternative strategies to achieve their goals. In Huston's view, "linear games that have a lack of personal ownership in game violence actually do so at the disadvantage of society."

"I don't believe that game violence causes real world violence, but I do believe that it does little to prevent it. And games with meaningful - and potentially distasteful - choice just might do better because they stand a chance of making the player think about what they're doing on screen."

As evidence, Houston offers the notoriously censorious German government's decision to pass Dishonored uncut. Such leniency is enjoyed by very few violent games, and Huston believes that it's due to the game allowing the player to opt out of killing.

"One could argue this is largely because the game can be played without killing anyone," he said. "This doesn't change all the things you might do in the game, but simply by knowing that it allows non-violence you find that every violent act you choose in cast in a sobering light."

Since leaving Arkane Studios, Houston has founded the indie studio Roxlou Games. Roxlou's first project is Unwritten, a turn-based strategy game for the PC.

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Latest comments (2)

David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers5 years ago
More choice is always nice. I wish more games allowed for more interactive story elements, because games are inherently an interactive medium, so why shouldn't the story be too?
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Sergio Rosa "Somewhat-Creative Director", Domaginarium5 years ago
I for one believe some types of games can use, and even need, some ultra-violence.
Wait, what?
Yes, you read that correctly. I said "some," BTW. Everyone's been talking about how the games medium is more "mature" and how it's "grown up" but that discussion is solely based on the fact that we now have many "though-provoking artsy games with deep meaning" but the same industry tends to shy away from many subjects because they are "too much" for games (while in reality they are too much because much of that stuff may be used only for marketing purposes, Hitman's killer nurses anyone?).

I think that's what Hotline Miami has tried to do (I say tried because I haven't played the game, so I don't know how well it delivers the message on senseless violence). So, I believe it's not only about linear violent games versus sandbox games where you can decide not to kill anyone, but about games that can actually depict violence (or any other subject) in a mature way.
We could pretty much use a more games that are the game-equivalent to A Clorkwork Orange, Pulp Fiction or Irréversible, as well as those who are the equivalent to the heart-pounding Big Fish or mind-bending Inception.

Until that happens, we'll continue to believe that games are meaningful and can be considered art because thought-provoking non-violent games like Dear Esther or Journey exist. So maybe we can start by putting aside the idea of "violence = bad" (but if "violence = bad" one has to wonder how come Pulp Piction is one of the top 10 movies according to IMDB)
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