Video-game expo reveals line-up that's long on graphic violence
Expounveils latest line-up of video games, featuring enough graphic violence to fill a slasher film
Game makers at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) went for the jugular.
That's not just a metaphor about the competitive spirit of the video-game industry at its annual trade show last week. There were also actual depictions of throats being ripped out - as well as spleens, spines, hearts and testicles - in some of the goriest scenes ever shown off at E3.
Developers of such titles as Bloodborne, Let It Die, Mortal Kombat X, Dead Island 2 and Dying Light weren't shy about harnessing the graphical capabilities of the latest consoles to portray more realistic dismemberments and other grisliness.
Why the apparent boost in high-definition gross-outs?
"I think in the early years of a console launch, you have the so-called early adopters and hardcore fan base," said Shawn Layden, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America.
"I think they look for the latest gaming experience that takes them to another level from where they've been before, and a lot of our publishing partners are pursuing the new, most impactful experience for gamers."
The parade of carnage kicked off last Monday at Microsoft's presentation, when the creators of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare demonstrated a level in which a character's arm is ripped off while trying to sabotage an aircraft in South Korea. Michael Condrey, co-founder of developer Sledgehammer Games, said the amputation wasn't only intended to shock.
"We know that war is terrifying," Condrey said. "The military advisers that we work with talk about the horrors of war. Call of Duty isn't just about gratuitous violence. The scene that you saw in Seoul at the Microsoft press conference, that's an impactful story moment. The loss of the arm is really part of the narrative. We showed that for a particular storytelling reason."
Other slaughter on display at E3 included a first-person perspective of a decapitation in a demo of the French Revolution-set Assassin's Creed: Unity, and several bone-crushing new moves in Mortal Kombat X, like close-ups of characters snapping their opponents' spines and manhandling their genitals.
"It seems, as time goes on, video games continue to become more violent, realistic and graphic," said Brad Bushman, a communication and psychology professor at Ohio State University.
"This is a disturbing trend. Unfortunately, I see no signs that it will stop. The research evidence clearly indicates that violent video games increase aggression in players, and can make them numb to the pain and suffering of others."
In their defence, game makers say gore aids the narrative, yet many believe a little goes a long way.
"For us, it's more impactful if it's done tastefully," said The Order game director Dana Jan. "If you just throw blood all over the place, it's meaningless. We have to look at what we think is disturbing or scary and figure out how to do that masterfully, without going too over the top."
E3 wasn't completely consumed with bloodshed. This year's show featured a plethora of non-bloody, artsy games that attracted an unprecedented amount of attention.
Still, the biggest games at E3 are usually the most hardcore, and the violence got visceral reactions from gamers.
"E3 2014, taken as a whole, doesn't feel as obsessed with violence as past shows," wrote Chris Plante, co-founder at the gaming site Polygon. That was before he cut the show's most graphic violence into a one-minute video.
"The supercut is dense with blood, organs and unrecognisable viscera," Plante wrote. "It's strange how these things can wash over you but make an impact when taken together.
"These conferences can be a bit desensitising."