Still, that doesn’t make games impervious to criticism, or even some soul-searching within the gaming community. At this year’s E3 — the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the industry’s largest U.S. gathering — some attendees were stunned by the intensity of violence on display. A demo for Sony’s “The Last of Us” ended with a villain taking a shotgun blast to the face. A scene from Ubisoft’s “Splinter Cell: Blacklist” showed the hero torturing an enemy. A trailer for Square Enix’s “Hitman: Absolution” showed the protagonist slaughtering a team of lingerie-clad assassins disguised as nuns.
“The ultraviolence has to stop,” designer Warren Spector told the GamesIndustry website after E3. “I do believe that we are fetishizing violence, and now in some cases actually combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality. I just think it’s in bad taste. Ultimately I think it will cause us trouble.”
“The violence of these games can be off-putting,” Brian Crecente, news editor for the gaming website Polygon, said Monday. “The video-game industry is wrestling with the same issues as movies and TV. There’s this tension between violent games that sell really well and games like ‘Journey,’ a beautiful, artistic creation that was well received by critics but didn’t sell as much.”
During November, typically the peak month for pre-holiday game releases, the two best sellers were the military shooters “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” from Activision, and “Halo 4,” from Microsoft. But even with the dominance of the genre, Crecente said, “There has been a feeling that some of the sameness of war games is grating on people.”
Critic John Peter Grant said, “I’ve also sensed a growing degree of fatigue with ultra-violent games, but not necessarily because of the violence per se.”
The problem, Grant said, “is that violence as a mechanic gets old really fast. Games are amazing possibility spaces! And if the chief way I can interact with them is by destroying and killing? That seems like such a waste of potential.”
There are some hints of a growing self-awareness creeping into the gaming community. One gamer — Antwand Pearman, editor of the website GamerFitNation — has called for other players to join in a “Day of Cease-Fire for Online Shooters” this Friday, one week after the massacre.
“We are simply making a statement,” Pearman said, “that we as gamers are not going to sit back and ignore the lives that were lost.”