Ex-Arkane developer Joe Houston has suggested in a recent editorial that the relationship between real world violence and game violence, and the kneejerk reactions that have arisen in conversation in the aftermath of events such as the recent gun violence in the United States, too often has a stultifying effect on creativity.
As well as highlighting the importance of context and player choice when it comes to providing colour around the issue of violence in video games, Houston suggests that it is a "fear of censorship" that leads developers and players to avoiding engaging in a dialogue about personal responsibility, and using such a conversation to perhaps deliver games that approach violence in a different fashion.
"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 on RPS. "While I think that might be true (after personal examination), I think it’s a pity to stop there. 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. 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."
Using Dishonored as an example, Houston noted, although not saying it's the perfect model for all titles, that games which provide the player with the freedom of choice arguably at least make the player think about what their doing on-screen, and that by acknowledging a non-violent course of action, they make the player's relationship to the violence slightly more considered and personal by proxy.
"I don’t believe that game violence causes real world violence, but I do believe that it does little to prevent it," he said. "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. And there are others that think so too: Dishonored is one of the few violent video games that has not been censored by the German government. One could argue this is largely because the game can be played without killing anyone. 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."