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Representing the worst and violence in video games

By Thomas Costes – Posted on 21 Oct 2022 at 17:00

We always tended to take a step back from what we could see every day. While social networks make us aware of the violence of human nature and our world, video games sometimes tend to attenuate it. The worst ? What is that ? How do video games manage to make us accept seeing or experiencing terrible situations?

The idea of ​​the “worst” in video games

Obviously, it is about something extremely complicated to define. The worst can encompass a lot of very subjective things. Our anxieties, our fears, our disgust are specific to each one. We don’t all have the same sensitivity to these things. Moreover, when we speak of the worst, we regularly refer to the concept of “violence”. Video games are no exception to this rule. Violence has different aspects. It is not characterized solely by physical violence. It can be psychological, visual or auditory.

The different forms of violence

In the case of video games, we obviously think of highlighting violent games. GTA or even the call of duty are the perfect examples. Physical violence differs between game genres. While GTA tends to push us towards so-called “gratuitous” violence, call of duty is part of a conflict with informal rules. War, even in the most violent moments, has always had principles that are sometimes forgotten. It was even made rules during the Geneva Convention from 1864.

GTA Video Game

We can also mention the case of visual violence. Blood, death or even disturbing scenery are commonplace in the world of video games. We can think of Scorn, whose graphics are quite strange and can seem completely gloomy for a novice. Blood and death are recurrent in the world of video games. The player is confronted with the death of his character on a regular basis, and this can be defined as a form of violence. Guillaume Baychelier speaks in the case of these games of a form “delicious horror”. It is thus a question of stimulating the player using themes such as death or pain. But it all looks like violence.

Finally, we could talk about psychological violence. Whether it’s lyrics, moods or ideas represented on the screen, everything can be a form of symbolic violence against an individual. For example, representing the Nazi regime in a video game can be frowned upon by a player. It can be disturbing. The case of the sex scenes can also be a problem.

The whole role of video games is to help limit these forms of violence by logically incorporating all these elements. In particular, a distinction should be made between video games featuring a fictional universe and those using history as a backbone.

Understand the different functions of the video game

Video game

Michel Nachez and Patrick Schmoll write “subjective vision precipitates identification with the aggressor” especially in the context of physical violence. It is in this position that the player can place himself in an FPS for example. But, of course, this kind of thinking can lead to a very famous shortcut: video games make people violent by reducing it through fighting and war games.

Video games, especially science fiction and postapocalyptic games, respect certain logics. Yannick Rumpala evokes the fact “that by depicting evil through monsters, aliens, androids, devastating weapons, and other catastrophes, science fiction exercises a form of exorcism of evil […] : to resolve the problems of evil and violence by externalizing them”. Highlighting the worst would allow us to take a step back. It would be a form of outlet for our fears and anxieties. However, it is necessary to go a little further and it is Yannick Rumpala who offers an interesting discussion.

Video game

These scenarios have a alert and warning function. Jean-Pierre Dupuy explains that it is “to obtain a picture of the future that is catastrophic enough to be repulsive and credible enough to trigger the actions that would prevent its realization”. In other words, “expect the worst so that it does not happen” (Yannick Rumpala). Representing the worst is therefore necessary for us to realize what could happen to us.. Death is not just something that has been softened with advances in medicine and the structuring of our society. It can be violent if we don’t take our precautions.

Another function of these scenarios is that of the idea of ​​reassurance and catharsis. The cathartic is that a person can release his passions in order to pass an obstacle. The fear of an element is often present among players. Video games provide a sense of security and allow “to exorcise modern violence” (Sebastien Jenvrin).

The third function is that of the idea of ​​habituation while giving an entertaining dimension to the media. In the case of climate change, for example, games on the subject explain what is happening and how humanity will have to meet its needs. They seek to stage a “imaginary of collapse” (Yannick Rumpala) to explain what will happen. The studio is not necessarily committed, it uses scientific facts to establish a scenario and a framework for evolution.

The last is the one anticipation and reaction. It is somewhat related to all the others. It offers a rather playful concept while being serious.

The case of historical video games: the example of the Nazi regime

Wolfenstein Video Game

Representing the enemy we are fighting has often been a problem for development studios, especially when they work on the period of the Second World War.

The Nazi regime is often represented as the ultimate enemy, especially in war games.. However, studios tend not to get too wet. In particular, they wish to present the warrior aspect of the regime. Politics and ideology are often put aside in order to avoid any problems. However, this is a concern it mitigates the atrocities committed by the Reich. Enemies are often depicted as unsympathetic and often dehumanized soldiers. But racist and anti-Semitic ideology is set aside. Romain Vincent, historian, explains that when one describes the enemies as “crazy” or “evil” “deny the fact that this is a historical construction” and not the incarnation of an evil entity straight out of hell.

Call of Duty World War 2 Video Game

For the studios, it would seem that the “worst” stops with the military apparatus of the 3rd Reich. But yet, “the Final Solution” is very little represented. She appears briefly in Call of Duty World War II. The final mission features the arrival of American soldiers at a concentration camp in Germany. We see the abuses committed by the regime. But that is only a very small part of the campaign.

Besides, the use of Nazi symbols was censored in Germany until 2018. Jörg Friedrich, co-developer of the game Through the Darkest of Times » explains that before the lifting of these restrictions “Hitler is no longer called Hitler but Heiler and no longer has a mustache, and there are no longer Jews but traitors”. All this is “fanciful” for the co-developer. The will not to represent the massacres is a will of the studio not to transmit political messages.

What to conclude?

PEGI Video Game

The studios have a share of responsibility in their work of representing violence and the worst. However, if the latter do part of the work, it is important that the players become aware of what they are seeing. The video game has a fun and educational function.

The studios must also take into account the sensitivity of their consumers by highlighting the degree of violence of the game. The PEGI labels are not there for nothing!

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