Fight Club: How Masculine Fragility Is Limiting Innovation in Games

Tomb Raider

[PART 1] [PART 2]

A few days ago, I reblogged a post that had been circulating Tumblr on the centrality of combat in video games. I’ll link it here, but the gist of the post is a single rhetorical question: isn’t it absurd how many games there are where violence is the only problem-solving mechanism a player has?

There’s no shortage of conversations about violence in video games. Back in 2007, the phrase “ludonarrative dissonance” came into vogue specifically to critique narrative-focused games with violence as their only core mechanic (think BioShock Infinite and the Tomb Raider reboot). Critics have long since challenged violence in video games, especially when games are banned or censored, as well as in the wake of mass shootings. Whether or not violence in video games incites violence in the real world seems up for constant discussion and debate. (Before you get too excited, long-term studies have found no links between the two. Marilyn Manson wasn’t to blame for Columbine, either. Go figure.)

Recently, gamers have also begun to question the necessity of violence in games—not because of perceived real-world consequences, but because with improved graphics, interesting storytelling, and detailed world-building, combat seems like a tedious afterthought. “I feel like ‘nerd culture’ wanting to keep combat in games is heavily related to wanting to maintain their vicarious brand of masculinity,” wrote user stochasticprocesses in the post linked above.

“I want Fallout and Skyrim and Dragon Age and all the rest without the combat,” added user homieomorphism. “Why can’t I use magic to explore a beautiful world? Why can’t I use diplomacy to unite and pacify warring factions? I’m so sick of it, honestly. It’s to the point where I just [try to] minimize time spent in fights [so I can] enjoy the dialogue and art that much more.”

That particular conversation intrigued me, so I joined in. I added that I thought much of this discontent was founded in a fundamental inability to choose violence or non-violence. I want a choice in how to act in a video game. I want to be able to CHOOSE to be violent, but I also want to be able to choose NOT to be violent. I want both of those choices to be perfectly viable and nuanced. I want to be able to change my mind and my play style at any time. This is a part of true character customization, which should have as much to do with how you interact with NPCs as it should with customizing your avatar’s physical appearance. As one user wrote, “#we have barely scraped the surface of what video games are capable of.”

As the post continued to circulare, one well-meaning user reblogged my commentary and added, “Well, good news! In Far Cry 4, you can sneak and talk your way out of combat with humans.” Now, fundamentally, this comment seemed benign. But it bothered me for some reason. Eventually, I realized that the solution of negotiating conflict bothered me because I wasn’t picturing a game where I could deal with conflict by stealthing around it or by using diplomacy. I was talking about a game where, depending on my play style, I could opt in or out of violence as a game mechanic. I wasn’t talking about a game where you, as a player, can react to violence in one of three predetermined ways—I want a game where you may not ever have to react to violence, depending on your play style.

And that brought me back to the original post. Is stochasticprocesses right? Is masculine fragility limiting innovation in video games?

Fallout 4

How Masculinity Comes Into It

Needless to say, reactions to the assertion that violence in video games is preventing the medium from reaching its full potential have been mixed. People get defensive about violence in video games. Amid the standard insults and gendered slurs hurled in the direction of the original poster, the loudest members of the opposition argue that without violence, Fallout, Skyrim, and Dragon Age “wouldn’t be games.”

This is something at the heart of what classifies games as games’ debate. There is a growing multitude of games that don’t utilize violence as a central mechanic. Many of these are in the independent sector—The Stanley Parable, Papers, Please, and Never Alone are a few of my personal favorites. Telltale Games’ entire catalogue since the release of season one of The Walking Dead has had conversation and social maneuvering as the central game mechanic. Animal Crossing, The Sims, and Minecraft are all worldwide sensations made by what one would now consider to be AAA companies, and yet, since not one of these games has violence as a core mechanic, each and every one of them has been criticized as not being ‘game-y’ enough.

The fact that the same criticism is levied at so-called “casual games” and “casual gamers” reveals a link between the two: games that don’t include violence as a core mechanic are perceived by the community as being fundamentally more feminine than games that do. Games with women-majority audiences, women-majority casts, and women-majority dev teams are frequently lumped in with this kind of critique. Violence, goes the logic, is what makes a game masculine—and, by extension, being masculine is what makes a video game a video game.


Violence Limits Narrative Possibilities

In video games, violence—that is, being good at enacting violence more effectively than, say, NPCs or other players—is a often key mechanic. Violence is often seen as the most effective method for engaging players. It sets the stakes and gives players a sense of momentum and urgency by giving them a clear, tangible, immediate goal: hurt the thing that’s hurting you. The consequences of losing are telegraphed to you by your very real instincts of fight-or-flight rather than by the digitized, fictional language of the game.

Furthermore, giving you an enemy to fight and a clear way to fight it presents you with a powerful incentive to succeed. There’s a visceral, instinctual quality to violence—even fictional violence—and that can make it a crucial tool when creating interactive media. But when violence becomes a requirement for making a game “count” as a game, its limitations become incredibly clear.

For one thing, violence is a tired mechanic. There are entire genres of video games dedicated to different varieties of violence: first-person shooters are separate from Rogue-like games; action-adventure games like the Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted franchises are separate from survival-horror games like Alien: Isolation and Dead Space; fighting games are separate from all of the above. Yet in each of these genres, the player is threatened with violence and asked to react with violence or stealth. The market is supersaturated with games that utilize violence as their only core mechanic.

This supersaturation lends itself to illustrating the greater problem: violence lacks nuance. It’s hard to tell a wide variety of stories by utilizing violence as the only way by which the audience can interact with the narrative. In real life, people have a variety of mechanisms they use in response to the actions of others. But in video games, the solution is often singular: shoot/punch/kick/kill the obstacle. It’s hard to tell an emotionally evocative story when violence is a player’s only option to progress.

Furthermore, placing players in a reactionary position forces them to view game worlds in terms of black or white by making them sort all NPCs as friends or foes. It breeds enmity between a player and the world they live in, and naturally so—when even so much as exploring a world places you in mortal peril, you, as the player, begin to regard that world with equal hostility. In games like Tomb Raider, almost everything you meet tries to kill you—other people, wolves, bears, airplanes, rivers, cliffs, ancient goddesses, etc. It’s exhausting and, more importantly, it renders it impossible to interact with the world in a non-violent way.

That isn’t to say that violent games don’t have avenues for non-violent interaction with the world. Item collection and world exploration are often rewarded—at least in the superficial “game trophy” sense—and are often separate from a game’s violence-heavy action segments. But these avenues are housed inside a violent world. It’s impossible to find all the things and explore the world of Tomb Raider—or even Skyrim—without first killing everyone (and everything) you meet along the way.

All this goes entirely without mentioning just how intrinsic violence is to most game-making tools and technology. Game devs are resistant to removing violence as a central mechanic for a variety of ideological reasons, but their resistance is also founded in practical reality—violence is a core mechanic in most game engines exactly the way it is in most games. Most engines struggle to do anything else, which is why, almost 60 years after the invention of video games, we’re still trying to figure out how to use modern game engines to animate a believable hug.


What Video Games Are Capable Of

So, what is the solution? How do we address the limitations “necessary” violence places on game innovation? The independent and casual game markets are beginning to, in their own way. Games like Fez, Journey, and Minecraft partially enjoyed success because they provided content to an incredibly underutilized market. The recent resurgence of adventure games and collect-a-thons are tied to this, too—players with alternative playing styles are starved for content, and will buy anything that promises them an experience that doesn’t demand violence in order to facilitate progress.

I think, too, as a community, we need to begin to discuss how misogyny finds its way into the conversation about the necessity of violence in video games. Refusing to classify non-violent video games as video games is an act founded in masculine insecurity, and it not only discourages innovation in the medium, but also disqualifies innovative new games from inclusion in the medium.

Players deserve to be able to fully customize their experience and to explore new and different play styles. They deserve to be able to spend time exploring the gigantic worlds developers work so hard to craft without the threat of violence, if that’s what they want—and they deserve to be able to opt into that violence, too, if their desires change.

Video games could do so much to facilitate change in the world. They could do so much to enrich player experience and to diversify as an art form. And that change, that diversity, will come from acknowledging a need for different narratives and different mechanics, and from a rejection of the violence-as-masculinity-as-video-game qualifier ideology.

I, for one, am ready.


36 thoughts on “Fight Club: How Masculine Fragility Is Limiting Innovation in Games

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  1. As someone who prefers a strong story in a game to running and gunning, I think you have some strong points. However, there are a couple of points where we disagree. First, game developers follow the money; I can’t stand COD or a number of other perennial favorites that are focused on violence as the main focus of the game, but I also know that they sell a ton of those games every year. People are not buying these games because there are no other options; they’re buying these games because they like them. If/when people stop buying these games, they’ll stop being made. It’s that simple.

    Second, I agree that we need more games that are open to different play styles, but as you pointed out, we’ve only scratched the surface of what games can be. Adding a number of options to the decision tree adds complexity; complexity typically means longer development and higher costs (which brings us back to my first point). With all of that said, I think it would be a far more rewarding experience as a gamer if I can play through the story how I want to, instead of being pushed into situations where I’m forced to solve the problem with only one or two solutions.

    Finally, you mention that huge game franchises like Minecraft, Animal Crossing, and The Sims are not seen as real games. My question is, by who? I’m a gamer, who works with a bunch of gamers, and has a bunch of gamer friends, and we all see Minecraft, Animal Crossing, The Sims, as well as Portal, SimCity, Civilization, Myst, etc. as real games. I would ask who is criticizing these games, and do they represent the majority of gamers, or are they simply part of a very vocal minority? I have a feeling it is most likely the latter.

    Even though it doesn’t seem like it with this post, as I stated at the top, I agree with you. We do need games that have more options when it comes to active storytelling. Allowing players to interact with the world and a story in a manner they see fit creates an experience that is rewarding, powerful, and lasting. And, I believe we’ll see more of these as the market continues to evolve. We’re starting to see larger games that are less focused on violence, and I hope that trend continues. However, game development companies are businesses, and they have to make games that will bring in revenue. At the moment, for better or worse, that means creating games that are focused on running and gunning. As a gamer, that means you may have to bounce between games to fit your mood instead of having one game that allows you to do it all… for now.

    Thanks for a great post, and I hope you have a great day.


    1. I think it’s pretty obvious that you don’t actually agree with OP and are at least subconsciously trying to circumvent her point. Nowhere in the article did she state that games like COD shouldn’t be made; why bring that up? Where did you even find that in the article? Pulling those little things from thin air and then railing against them is a common distraction tactic used in online debates.

      Second, by claiming that you ‘don’t know’ who calls games like the Sims / Animal Crossing not ‘video games’, you’re either not a gamer at all and live under a rock, or you’re lying. I refuse to believe there’s a gamer out there, male or female, who interacts with video games even on a little bit of regularity that doesn’t know/feel/see/interpret the way our society interacts with games and gamers differently based on the type of game. If you can tell me with a straight face that someone who’s a Sims Buff would be just as respected as someone who’s a COD Buff by ‘gamers’ in general- then I know you’re lying to my face. Please, let’s not pretend like there isn’t a world of difference between those types of games and the way that gamers treat their perception of ‘casual’ gamers.

      In all, my opinion of your post (and please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) is a subtle, backhanded compliment style post meant to undermine what was written in a way that would let it ‘fly’ under radar, because you’re being nice about it.


      1. First off, thanks for replying. I actually do agree with the overall sentiment of the OP, but we differ on the reasons behind why there’s such a large number of games centered around violence as opposed to other avenues of conflict resolution/avoidance. COD was brought up because it’s a perennial top-seller (for better or worse), and my point is most of the games that are top sellers use violence as a means for conflict resolution. The reason why more games come out every year that focus on violence as opposed to other offerings is because it’s a business, and these publicly-traded companies have to make money. Look at when Rock Band and Guitar Hero were all the rage and making money hand over fist; you saw more rhythm based games being released during that time period, which flooded the market, and then that genre fell off. If I’m running a business, should I look for new opportunities expand my offerings? Absolutely, but I also have bills to pay, which means I have to go after the popular markets to fund my new shots at changing the industry. Basic business. So, in my opinion, it has less to do with machismo and more to do with dollars and cents, and the fact that the new technologies needed to create a true vision that the OP was discussing take time, money, and high-level business support.

        Am I a ‘gamer’? I guess that’s technically up to who’s defining what a ‘gamer’ is. I’m 32, played games since I was 3; I started on an Atari and have owned a console and played computer games ever since. I play everything from Civ to Mass Effect to Battlefield to Rock Band to Sims and Animal Crossing. In my opinion, and the opinion of the ‘gamers’ around me, Sims, Animal Crossing, Tetris, SimCity, Minecraft, etc. are all categorized as games just as much as Battlefield, Civ, Rock Band, COD, etc. Just like a Pixar movie is still a movie, it’s just a different genre of movie, these games fall into a different genre of games. My wife works out a ton, teaches conditioning classes, and takes two types of martial arts. However, she doesn’t do body-building competitions or play a sport; does that mean she’s not an athlete? Of course she is. She’s just not a hardcore athlete. Same can be said for ‘gamers’; there are different types, and the label is, to be honest, a matter of opinion.

        As for whether a Sims buff would be as respected as a ‘gamer’ as a die-hard COD player, I think it depends on who you ask. The die-hard COD player probably wouldn’t consider me a ‘gamer’ because I am god awful at first-person shooters. Do I care what they think? Not really. I’m happy playing the games I play, Sims and Animal Crossing included. I would argue most ‘gamers’ don’t care what you play, but it may be a difference in the age, experiences, and/or social circles that causes this difference in opinion.

        Finally, my post was not meant to be a subtle-backhanded post. It was meant as a response in a discussion that is very complex. It’s very easy to paint this picture as black and white, gamer and non-gamer, male and female. Almost nothing in life is black and white, it’s all a very large scale of grey. Do I think the OP has some great points? Absolutely. Do I also believe that she makes some assumptions that I disagree with? Yep! To me, the best way to discuss isn’t with pitchforks, and ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ statements. It’s opinion; it’s shades of gray. In the end, we’re probably both a bit right and both a bit wrong. The truth is almost always found somewhere in the middle.

        Like I said, thank you for responding. I hope that clears up any questions you have about me and my stance on the matter. I hope you have a great day.


  2. Really interesting post and very enjoyable read. I can’t help but feel that a lot of the issue is the obvious visibility of Triple A games, as indeed that seems to be the focus of the article. I think we will begin to see improvements as many of the smaller indie devs get more support, become bigger names and move on to bigger projects. I for one have many titles that don’t really center around violence, and hundreds that do. I would imagine we will see more proliferation of interesting game design in Triple A as people who hold the ideal as being important move into that area.

    The current giants of the gaming scene were all just small companies once, and companies that are small now will rise to match them. The question is, will the market support the ideals?


  3. I recently wrote of violence in gaming and also found myself wondering all this. What other alternative gameplay mechanics could be created? I have a lot of difficulty finding it. Like you said, it’s a tired mechanic. It gets old to just go out and kill everything on your path in any open world video game. And I see it too and also agree with it, but I have trouble thinking of other possibilities!

    In fact, it’s also difficult to me to suddenly play story-telling games, because I feel like it’s lacking something… combat. And that doesn’t mean the game is “bad” or anything, it means I got used to it, as a consumer. I got used to being sold the exact same thing with different textures over and over again. And I don’t have any reason to get used to it, I should be asking for more. Something more complex and creative that forces me into doing some parallel thinking to solve the heroes’ problems in their stories.

    On the other hand, I also find killing (and violence in general) in gaming incredibly fun at times. To give only a couple of examples, in Far Cry 4 it was all basically the same from Far Cry 3, but damn those elephants could cause a mess! It was just hilarious to send people flying! In Skyrim, well, there’s NPCs like Heimskr that simply demand the Dovahkiin to go violent in the most creative ways XD There’s no point in attacking him in his sleep. (Am I getting creepy here?)

    Also, sometimes they go so gore-y that it’s just absurd and turns hilarious at the same moment (like the Bloody Mess perk in Fallout 3 and New Vegas).

    And still, combat as a gameplay mechanic is still getting incredibly old. How complex could it be anymore? Locational damage, weaknesses and strengths… Now that I remember it, the Nemesis System in Shadow of Mordor was good for a change! They would taunt and remember Talion! Damn those trackers, always blew up my cover!


    1. Alternatives to combat – Let’s start by looking at those RPG/puzzle hybrids that were in vogue a couple of years ago, which replaced traditional combat mechanics with abstracted conflict resolution mechanics, usually Match 3 but sometimes a card game…

      …And most of the games doing that proceeded to map that mechanic that could have been applied to literally any form of conflict, from weathering a storm for the night to negotiating a treaty to, in almost all cases, combat pretty much on a 1:1 basis.

      Moving on a bit – Management sims, which were in vogue for a while in the 90s. It wasn’t just Sim City which is basically the only one that survived. You also had stuff like Afterlife, Railroad Tycoon, Theme Hospital, etc. You still get them occasionally now – The Democracy series is excellent – Somehow it was only The Sims that got people asking ‘is this really a game?’, as I recall.

      Puzzles? Text adventures and point and click adventures aplenty, which typically didn’t allow for violent solutions to problems. The former became non-commercially viable, the latter… Moved from being primarily appealing to men to primarily appealing to women in audience, and while never really going away (The Hidden Object genre is a direct evolution of them, though more traditional ones have been on mobile also), at which point it started to get basically ignored until the creators of the Classics ‘revived the genre’ via Kickstarter. Heck, there’s an entire industry that came out of the room escape subgenre that mostly were free renditions of the point and click genre on flash: Escape Rooms.

      And of course, you have the various mechanisms that are being used in board games and which you could easily get more complicated versions of in a video game (or just digital implementations of), which have been working out how to do interesting non-violent games since the 60s or 70s partially on account to half the industry coming out of Germany, which typically preferred non-violent themes on account of, well, WWII, leading – eventually – the the modern board game resurgence that some would trace back to 1995’s Settlers of Catan. Auctions, card drafting, worker placement, hand management, resource management (oh my lord the amount of variations on resource management), social deduction (though good luck getting that into a single player video game), trading, negotiation, area majority, and the like.


  4. I’m a game player. I play HOGs and adventure oriented games – and I consume them voraciously. I can’t speak as eloquently as those who’ve previously commented, but I have encountered some attitudes of superiority from those who play violence oriented games. I think a great narrative is harder to create, and can actually create meaning in the context of the game. I know any good drama includes conflict – and that will sometimes mean combat… but not always. Give me a good story every time.


  5. Very interesting article, though I have to say that “Refusing to classify non-violent video games as video games is an act founded in masculine insecurity” is something I disagree with. Nobody debates that Tetris is a game, and its mechanics are totally nonviolent.

    On the other hand, what about Dear Esther? A lot of people won’t call it a game- not just on account of a lack of combat, but because there’s nothing really to solve- no puzzles, nothing to fix or figure out- but does that make it less of an experience? I wouldn’t call Dear Esther a game, but I still love it.


  6. Why can’t we have both? In the real world you can go through life without raising a hand, but you also have the option to punch and kick your way to the grave. Sometimes, depending on circumstances surrounding you, it’s even necessary if inaction will lead to a harder outcome for you to live with.

    It’s very easy to implement that in video games. To an extent Spore is proof of that. You get attacked, just like you do in the real world, but even in that scripted attack in the space age you can get out without firing a shot.

    In theory you could enjoy Minecraft to its fullest and not even craft a weapon.

    While it would be far from trivial in terms of time, in terms of technical know-how it would be laughably easy to implement a diplomacy system into a game like Skyrim (using it for an example since the framework is largely there). You could go through throwing fireballs or hacking your way through or you could negotiate (or intimidate) the bandits, barter for wards that would get the undead to leave you alone, etc. Don’t want to kill the dragons but want to advance the story? Hire guards to do your fighting for you while you go off mining ore and sawing wood to expand your house. Don’t want to kill the big bad at the end? Outsmart him. Use his arrogance against him to get him to unwittingly seal himself or commit suicide.

    Granted these things aren’t possible in Skyrim per se, but it’s not all that hard to take that particular type of open world game and add diplomacy to it. The people who want to live vicariously through their warrior or mage character can carry on as normal and the people who want a non-violent alternative can enjoy the same game.


  7. Really lovely article. I think that a lot of male game designers are trying to create game experiences that have the largest “impact,” as in there is a clear effect to player actions. In their mind, shooting a gun is seen as a relatively easy way to have a player action with a dramatic effect. But that could just as easily be applied to splashing paint around or freezing an enemy in place. I hope that as more thoughtful women continue to enter the industry, games can become more meaningful in the actions they expect their players to engage in.

    I’m a new subscriber, and I already love what you guys are doing!


  8. Nah, there’s more to that. Would you invite a computer on you birthday party?
    A single-player game is construed in such a way that you express yourself only through interaction and there is nothing on the other side to interact with. You’re interacting with something that’s only reacting, and on some level you know it very well all the time. Any attempts at diplomacy and cooperation in computer games must feel wrong, beause they parody something that is very important for us in our daily lives. There’s some genuine sadness in giving agency to anything. Things you usually interact with should already have it and your act of bestowing agency betrays the fact it’s all just a stupid game.


  9. While I definitely agree that violence is a prominent and very popular theme.
    Violence isn’t what defines Fallout, Skyrim or Dragon Age as a game.

    Its their objectives. In Fallout you are told to go out into the world and explore and as you do so you come across objectives to fullfill. The same is true for Elder Scrolls games and Dragon Age.
    In The Sims or Animal Crossing you’re not given an objective, its your sandbox to do with as you please.

    Call of Duty and Candy Crush Saga have one thing in common – they objective is getting points.
    In one you get points by killing people in the other by matching gems, but in both people are motivated to play to obtain points or a higher score.

    To make The Sims or Animal Crossing more game-y you’d have to add objectives or scenarios.
    “You have to reach X in a career, get a kid, make Y friends.” and so on.
    A lot of The Sims or Animal Crossing players are satisfied with setting these kinds of objectives for themselves.
    A lot of gamers don’t have this ‘creativity’ and want an objective to be set for them.

    A good example here would be Myst, Myst has an AMAZING world to explore. Seriously – whoever said they wanted the mystical world of Fallout/Skyrim without the violence? Go play the Myst series. They’re a bit dated by they’re wonderfully created.
    And its all about exploration and problemsolving. And you’re guided through this world by objectives. You’re expected to solve these puzzles and explore this world.

    Its objectives and goals that set a “game” apart from a sandbox or simulator.
    A sad reality with modern media is that many of these objectives are violence driven.

    You’ll note how “Portal” isn’t criticized for not being game-y enough. And yet its not about violence at all.
    I’ve never heard anyone say “The Stanley Parable” isn’t game-y enough, and again no violence.
    But both do have objectives. You’re told what to do. You’re given a purpose.

    As opposed to Farming Simulator or Microsoft Flight Simulator where you can pick up your chosen machine and simply “go” out into the world and do what you want.
    Or Animal Crossing where you can tend to your own little town. Or The Sims in which you guide your family.
    Aside from personal preference, the main reason people dislike these games is because they simply do not know what to do and get bored.

    I’ve actually seen the same with Fallout and Elder Scrolls – where a new player would enter the open world (exit the vault or whatever dungeon you start in) and then just stand there… Not knowing what to do. Wander around for a bit and shut down the game cause they got bored.


    1. It’s easy enough to disprove your ‘point’ by asking; Would a panel of ‘Gamers’ in modern day call Candy Crush and COD both a ‘videogame’? You say it’s easy enough to change the objectives or add objectives to games, when the reality is that there are lots of games out there with objectives that still don’t get called ‘serious videogames’; Journey, Pokemon, etc. These are not sandboxes, they have defined goals and objectives, and the average male gamer is going to respect a Battlefield 1942 Champion much more than they would respect a CandyCrush champion. It’s got nothing to do with ‘objectives’ and everything to do with violence.


    2. “Seriously – whoever said they wanted the mystical world of Fallout/Skyrim without the violence?” ME. *I* said that. Repeatedly. I would love to spend hours exploring both of those worlds, especially Fallout.
      “Go play Myst- sure it’s dated, but…” Yeah, that’s kind of the point. Once you’ve explored a world to it’s fullest, you’re done. MYST was released in 1993. TWENTY-TWO years ago. Tell ya what…since you like shooters, go play Duck Hunt. It’s the same thing as (insert First person shooter here).


  10. I gotta agree with a previous commenter. Now perhaps I may be uninformed, but I’ve never heard of The Sims or Animal Crossing being not game-y enough. Now, while games with violence as the core mechanic are a plenty, less violent games are present if you know where to look. I think most of your disappointment lies in the AAA industry.

    Even in the the days of MUDs, there were non-combat ones like Zork. Sim City, Roller Coaster Tycoon, and it’s kind had their day in the sun. Most puzzle games don’t utilize combat, from Tetris to MYST to Cut the Rope. Rhythm games and music games tend to have no fighting. Simulator racing games like Gran Turismo or Forza should be good too. Of course, there’s the question of whether sports games are considered violent. As you said earlier, the indie games are the best places for immersive, non violent stuff

    Also, the nature of violence would vary from genre to genre. The violence in horror games, from Outlast to Clocktower, comes from a position vulnerability. The violence in fighting games stem more from a challenge of skill. The action adventure and shooter games are the ones that fall under your ire the most


    1. There’s a big difference in our social concepts between a ‘game’ and a ‘videogame’. A ‘videogame’ is typically hardcore violence stuff; COD, Battlefield, etc. The big $60 XBox games, basically, are ‘videogames’. You’ll be more likely to call it a videogame, rather than just a game, it has reached a certain status in our social perception. Videogames that we’re more likely to call just ‘games’ or even ‘Casual games’, as if they are not infact videogames, are things like Candycrush, Animal Crossing, The Sims; these are videogames, but they are rarely held in the same standing as things like COD or Assassins Creed. Casual games are seen as easy, not challenging, and often ‘for women’ in the way that our society treats violent games like they are ‘for men’. Linguistically, it’s a small difference to call something a game vs. a videogame, it’s got a lot more to do with how we, (as a collective society and not you individually) treat videogames and the people who play them. There are whole television networks dedicated to videogames, talk shows and reviews, magazines, insane levels of interaction and updates and work poured into these violent ‘masculine’ videogames. Where’s the tv network for games like animal crossing, or pokemon? We treat those violent videogames like they’re something serious, like they’re somehow more inherently challenging and therefore more worth our time/energy/money. As a society, we are at least ‘meh’ about guys wasting half their day with COD, we don’t really respect them for it but we don’t act like it’s anything out of the ordinary; but imagine instead a girl spending half their day playing Candy Crush, and that’s a completely different story, isn’t it?


  11. I agree with the vast majority of this. I feel like most games go out of their way to create plots where violence could reasonably occur, and we are therefore missing out on a lot of other stories that could be told. But I think (for once) that it’s not about Toxic Masculinity. I could totally be wrong- I’m not an expert by any means- and I do think sexism/fragile masculinity has a huge part to play in many of the problems in the gaming industry, but I just don’t think that’s the reason games centre around violence.


  12. I agree in theory, but here’s a few thoughts I had:
    -Why are hugs hard? Any contact is very hard to animate. From any angle, hundreds or thousands or polygons have to touch but not cross through.
    -Why violence? Violence is an easy way to express a problem. Violent games predate video- ever heard of chess?
    -It’s not femininity or nonviolence that causes people to reject games. Tetris is universally recognized as a video game. Gone Home arguably has no problems to solve, but Dear Esther inarguably has no challenge. There’s no discovery, just walking along a predetermined path. A video of Dear Esther is as impactful as Dear Esther itself.
    -As a game designer, I’m constantly trying to think of a satisfying way to handle diplomacy. Violence is much more binary than speech- no one cares if their character punches someone in the face at a different angle than they intended. But we already have such a huge problem conveying emotion and intent via text on the Internet. Imagine that problem, plus a computer parsing all the meaning of the text. No such algorithm exists. So we have to use dialog choices. They are inherently limiting; no matter how many I write, a player will want to say something else.
    As a game developer, I agree that violence limits games. But not for the reasons in this post at all.


  13. I started gaming in the late 70’s when arcades where in their “bronze age” so I’ve been exposed to many different games across several different systems. Sure FPS games, violent in nature, seem to dominate the market monetarily but definitely not in volume. The industry has evolved beautifully into a plethora of genres to choose from to fit your gaming fix. Sure, in the beginning I was chomping ghosts, fighting Mike Tyson, shooting asteroids and side shuffling invaders but I also had the option to play Tennis, baseball, pole position and don’t forget Tecmo Bowl. These options have always been there for us and will never go away. Who cares how many violent games are out there? You can choose not to play them. Some do have fascinating story lines and colorful art to go along with the carnage, Destiny and Uncharted are great examples of this. Yet the satisfying gameplay of Katamari Damacy and candy crush is a refreshing change but not necessarily the direction all games should head in the future. I like a great game that entertains me whether its racing, blastin’ a fool, or solving a puzzle, It doesn’t make much of a difference to me. There’s no classification between video games and just games, this is pretty much black and white. If you play it on a system whether mobile, console or arcade its still a video game no matter the genre. Playing cards is just a game. People who talk down on others for their choice of genre are just strait up douches anyway so who cares what they think. Play on brothers and sisters.


  14. Yup. I think these are all great points. I love my Skyrim and Dragon age, but I love Animal Crossing and such as well. More variety is always good. No one’s saying change the existing stuff. Just make new stuff with a new angle.


  15. In less than two minutes of reading, your text here has gotten me to rethink the way I’d make the games I want to make on the most fundamental levels. So that’s something.


  16. Oh, excellent article. And you’ve reminded me of one of my favorite games of all times: Abe’s Oddworld, where he actually did have to pat his friends on the back (not a hug exactly) if he accidentally hurt them, in order to get to the goal. Because he had to get his fellow Mudokons to follow him, see, and they wouldn’t cooperate if they were pissed off. Another interesting point of the game: Abe didn’t have any weapons. He could only possess the bad guys who did, and make them shoot each other. It was an interesting “once remove” from the violence. And a great deal of Abe’s success in navigating the game space relied on him going into “sneak” mode and tiptoeing around and not waking up the bad guys, who snored like mofos. But my favorite part of all was when Abe would drink the bad brew and possess his own farts, flying them around and making them explode. Okay, that’s violent, but in a hilarious, cartoony sort of way. The game was so incredibly imaginative, and you really had to work your brain to solve it. I guess I know what you mean about straight up violence being a really tired solution, because it’s not just tired, it’s effing *boring* in comparison to throwing meat bones over the side of a cliff and watching the guard dogs go chasing after it. (Another cool trick of Abe’s).


    1. If you know how to work MAME or have a frontend, (i personally use but every OS has its favourite) I’d recommend looking up Avenging Spirit. Pretty much the only enemies you NEED to fight are the bosses, and sometimes it’s advisable (especially at the end) because it’s really easy to get killed. Basically it looks like your standard platformer at first, mobsters kidnap your girl and you gotta save’er, but your guy dies and becomes a ghost during the intro. Your health only drains when you are in ghost form, you advance by possessing the mobsters and using them to fight each other. (being a Japanese game, one by Jaleco no less, it eventually starts throwing really odd things to possess/fight at you, like football players and bipedal dragons) Despite having a health bar and being cartoony it’s semi-realistic damage-wise. Most creatures in the game can only survive 1 or 2 shots. (which includes whomever you possess) And grenades and fire kill anything in one shot. So it’s sometimes better to nab one of the kung-fu girls or the ninjas and make a dash for the exit, just attacking to stun people instead.

      On a related note, nab a genesis/mega drive emulator and grab Haunting as well. Poltergeist trying to scare a family out of their homes because their shoddy products killed him. Definitely need more games like those two.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Excellent article! I’ve been gaming my entire life and I long ago got sick of the violence-as-the-only-means-to-advance game mechanic too. The games that I’ve most enjoyed in recent years all have one thing in common…fighting is not the means or not the only means to advance. Portal is the first one that comes to mind, but there have also been a variety of survival games. Even in the fighting games like Skyrim I have always played to minimize how much I actually do.

    I’m hoping that the success of Portal and the many independent gaming studios that are getting traction via Steam will encourage more creative development of these sorts of games. If anything having more options will renew my interest in some of the old hack-n-slash stuff too because it won’t be the only option anymore.


  18. Unpopular opinion here judging by the comments: I don’t agree that violence is wholly masculine (I’m a woman who enjoys it a lot), nor does it limit games at all. I simply believe that violence is usually the most basic way to present a conflict in an exciting and cathartic way, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. In an ideal world, there would be no wars, no hurt feelings, and everyone’s perfect and nobody dies. Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world, and neither do the video games that use violence as its main game mechanic.

    Violence as a game mechanic is a legitimate way to tell a story because not every story is about coming home and rifling through your sister’s diary, mining for diamonds, or catching butterflies with your camel neighbor. No one is taking away the legitimacy of Minecraft being a real game (its popularity and sales can attest to that), but because a game IS a shooter, doesn’t mean it’s just a run of the mill gore fest with no story to tell.

    Take games like The Last of Us for example. In a world where people are literally tearing each other apart with an infection that carries on the wind, where society has fallen and the last dregs of humanity are struggling to survive, violence is a terrible necessity. Out of context, some say all violence is unnecessary, but within context to the narrative and the world the game is trying to depict, it makes perfect sense. When you line up every game and check off violence as its only attribute without looking more into it, you’re only doing the game a disservice. Unfortunately, this article seems to do just that and that’s just a shame.

    Should there be more games that don’t focus on violence? Totally. No one ever said there shouldn’t be since variety is the death of stagnation after all. But should we look down on violent games and wave away their narratives? No, and it’s honestly pretentious to do so. Take the time to pick up a game and try to look at it within context, it makes for a much more enjoyable ride.


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