It’s easy to point out the irony from this statement coming from the director ofSplinter Cell: Blacklist
, but that doesn’t make his statement any less valid. Games are almost exclusively hack, slash, shoot, and burn these days. So is this all that can be of games? Well, let’s look at where we come from.
Probably the best and simplest example of a game that doesn't resort to violence for player's reward is Pacman. The core excitement and joy of Pacman comes from trying to eat all of the dots around the level while maneuvering and dodging ghosts that are chasing you. We obviously can't ignore the power up for Pacman to eat the ghosts, but that is not the core focus of the gameplay. The core idea here, is that the feeling of reward and satisfaction can come from anywhere, and we have known this since the earliest days of gaming.
Violence is not all games have known. It's simply, as Redding put it, an "easy target." The instant gratification you get from performing a certain action and getting the desired reaction is best realized in shooters. Pull a trigger and get the result as soon as you do. You can't get a simpler or quicker satisfaction anywhere else. The challenge is as easy as the solution, but requires just enough action for us to want it that much more.
The solution, while not hard to do, is harder to sell. Let's look at what does sell. It comes to focusing on how you want to challenge the player. What are they afraid of? Dying, being captured, or running out of time? Everyone is afraid of failure and ultimately death, so death is the easiest way to convey to the player that they have failed. How will you provide positive feedback to the player when they have completed something of significance? A harder level, new weapon, or a leveling system? People always want to progress, and a progress bar is a visualization of that progress. An experience point based leveling system can also satisfy players almost indefinitely, rewarding them with new weapons/abilities only make that feedback that much stronger.
So we see why the decision is made to go for violence, because it's the easiest way to satisfy players and something that humans universally can understand. That isn't to say we are barbaric, but in nature, survival is ultimately what we strive for, and violence brings out this instinct strongest. Now, not to get all philosophical on the duality of man and what have you, but you see the point. It's easy, and the pay off is much greater. Look at the top selling games this year alone, they are either shooters or action games, it's all we know these days! Or is it?
We have shown many advances in the last two years, games like Portal 2 and Journey come to mind instantly. It's not that gaming isn't capable of providing a great deal of satisfaction or entertainment outside of shooters and action games, it's just not what is selling these days. What would need to happen is getting more of these games made. We also see transitional titles such as Telltale's The Walking Dead: The Game, where choices, puzzle solving, and story telling are the game's core objectives and the violence is just a sideshow. These alternatives are successful because they create engaging stories that players want to see unfold and experience. We need, as an industry, to experiment and develop meaningful games that can appeal to wider audiences that many not want the next big shooter.
The simple gratification of killing is only one way players can find satisfaction, and we've explored enough of it to be ready to move on. The video game medium is one of interaction that no other medium can compare. Movies, books, art, etc., for the most part, are controlled experiences. Video games allow players to take control of a creation and influence what happens in that space. It's time to grow as an industry and a culture if we are to share these experiences with others. Games can offer more than violence, they just need to make the effort to do so.