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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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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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