Dishonored dev says games can help curb violence

Violent games have reclaimed their status as a global scapegoat for societal ills, and gamers and game makers are nigh-unilaterally trying to shut down the conversation. Dishonored developer Joe Houston thinks games are probably not part of the problem, but he wrote in a Rock, Paper, Shotgun guest editorial that they can and should be a bigger part of the solution.

“I argue that linear games that have a lack of personal ownership in game violence actually do so at the disadvantage of society,” Houston wrote. “I don’t believe that game violence causes real world violence, but I do believe that it does little to prevent it. 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.”

Houston (who has since left Arkane and founded his own studio) noted that Dishonored was one of few games to depict graphic violence which was not censored in Germany. While German Team Fortress 2 players explode into gears and springs instead of gibs, they can slash the throats of Dunwall’s nobility just like anybody else.

“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 is cast in a sobering light.”

“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. 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.”

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