Are video games too violent? It's an often-asked question which gets more important as games develop. And no doubt we have our share of "violent" video games this year. After a quick search on Google for the most violent games, you'd be forgiven for thinking that many of them are indeed too violent. Some of the usual suspects are the Grand Theft Auto games, where you can travel its vast locations and kill almost any pedestrian in a variety of ways; Gears of War, where you can chainsaw men in half and stomp their heads to death; Mortal Combat, where "Finish him" can be as ridiculous as yanking out your opponent's spine and beating him to death with it; and God of War, where you commit deicide by shoving your thumbs into Poseidon's eyes. The list goes on.
But are they truly violent? It seems ridiculous at first to suggest that this isn't truly violent, but I bet the first time that you saw game violence like the things mentioned above, you did little more than wince slightly, perhaps followed by a grin or an 'ooh' because of the superfluous nature of game violence.
That's because they are not truly violent. Imagine a ninja from a video game doing something very violent like slicing off the legs of his opponent and watching as blood gushes out and his opponent screams. Then imagine a husband and wife in their kitchen arguing about bills; the argument gets more heated, and suddenly the husband punches his wife in the face. Which is more violent? Which is more shocking? A single punch can be much more violent than the excessive stuff imagined by game writers and game developers.
Violence in games is only truly violence if it can shock you. Even though games feature actions that are classed as very violent, without the shock-value, they are harmless and confined to the world of gaming - and totally removed from reality, where true violence is much simpler. Most gamers are rational human beings; who would deem us sociopathic when our reaction to a decapitated head or ripped up guts is nothing more than a quiet 'ugh' and a slight wince - if that? It doesn't shock because games aren't truly violent in this sense. On the contrary, video game violence is often funny. Killing people in sandbox games like GTA is ridiculous and hilarious.
However, there are some no-gos when it comes to violence in any media entertainment, including games. Enactments of recent tragedies, such as the controversial Super Columbine Massacre RPG, is incredibly insensitive, no matter what message the writer thinks he is getting across. But the issue here isn't that it's "too violent" - the game doesn't need blood and gore to make it controversial - but that it belittles the murder of real individuals. (Games like Doom were also blamed for the massacre, as well as popular music.)
Another no-go is sexual violence. A rape scene features in the interactive survival point-and-click horror game Phantasmagoria. This sort of extreme violence, including graphic violence towards children and graphic torture, is certainly too violent because anyone who feels the need to make rape and torture explicit can only ever be hoping for cheap shock or perverse titillation.
Aside from this, though, are video games too violent? Only if it has the power to shock - usually as a result of good writing rather than bad - otherwise it's just ridiculous and/or funny as a type of humour unique to games. Certainly not dangerous, though, as the question, "are video games too violent?" implies. When games lose their sense of humour and its violence becomes truly violence, then is the time to ask that question. Until then, it is harmless fun.