A developer responsible for some of the most violent parts of stealth FPS Dishonored has urged those involved in gaming to not shy away from conversations about violence in gaming.
In an editorial for Rock Paper Shotgun, former Arkane Studios developer Joe Houston, who coded Dishonored’s infamous neck stab, said that the easiest reaction was counter-productive for several reasons.
“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,” Houston wrote.
“While I think that might be true (after personal examination), I think it’s a pity to stop there.”
Houston believed that conversations about gaming violence offered opportunities to expand the limits of gaming.
“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,” he wrote.
“As a result we miss out on more creative and effective ways to be a part of the solution.
“As players we can stand to expand our emotional palette by seeking out games that challenge us. And developers have a responsibility to answer that demand with games that engage the player with meaningful choices, additional freedom, and ultimately greater personal responsibility.”
Houston put on record his belief that gaming violence did not contribute to real-world violence, but also that games where violence was the only option evoked no emotional response from him.
“Acts of game violence are just one form of visual expression to me at this point.
“If thrust into a game where the choices aren’t mine to make, violence (even horrifying violence) ends up making a statement about what that game’s creators are trying to express more than it makes a statement about me the player being forced into a role.”
However, giving players the choice of whether to act in a violent manner or not found “every violent act you choose in cast in a sobering light”.
“That doesn’t mean I can’t find Dishonored’s violence uncomfortable,” he added, “it just means I need a little additional context beyond the plain old cold steel and choke hold.”
“It is harder to create an emotional attachment to wrongdoing if the game lacks the freedom of choice necessary to get the player’s complete buy-in.”