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On Violence

Violence is an unavoidable and inflammatory subject in video games. Since the earliest days of the industry there have been concerns about the violent nature of many games, concerns which unfortunately have never been satisfactorily allayed by the industry's major figures. There is a feeling in the industry that it is hard to design non violent games, harder still to sell them to a predominantly young male audience. Admittedly, many of the arguments against violence in games stem from ignorance and from a misunderstanding of the gaming experience; but on the other hand, most of the arguments from the developers side have an evasive quality that does little to convince. The scientific research done on the subject has been inconclusive.

If the industry is to defeat the arguments levelled against it, it must face up to this issue. It must come to understand the range of reactions that a game can evoke and formulate a coherent way of depicting violence with psychological responsibility.

These are difficult issues, but the Jungian approach to games design can help us a great deal. Firstly, it tells us that games (and music for that matter) are not so much causes of behaviour (except perhaps in the very young) as they are catalysts, or mirrors for feelings that already exist, either consciously or unconsciously. A person may come to a game to validate a particular fantasy, but the game is unlikely to be a root cause. Secondly, it tells us that simply forcing people to make non-violent games will not work. A gamer will have no interest in a game if it does not in some way reflect his or her psychological situation. A gamer with a propensity towards violent fantasy will be attracted to games that mirror those concerns.

So how can designers create violent games with psychological responsibility? The answer is by creating games that depict the integration of the shadow, by taking the gamer on a journey from opposition and anger, to integration and understanding. This can be done through the storyline or through the game mechanics. One RPG design I created attempted this by having two main characters, one good and one evil. At certain points the scene would change and the player would be in control of the evil character. The story would then continue from his point of view, and the player would be forced into comprehending and undertaking decisions that would have a detrimental effect on the main, good character and the world at large. The game would gradually lead these two characters together, transforming them both, and the player would be taken along with them. Although it is easier to depict the integration of the shadow with story based games, it can be done in almost any game with a little thought.


Throughout this series I have discussed fantasy, a subject derided by many as irrelevant escapism. I hope I have proved in some small way that fantasy is in fact, relevant escapism. It is through the images of imaginative fantasy that we escape and overcome our limitations. By their enchantment our fantasies lead us away from the mundane, unquestioned life. They point out directions, signal dangers, and have the power to enrich our lives if we but learn to watch and understand them.

We have reached the end of this series of articles, but we certainly haven't finished exploring the limitless world of games and the imagination. The Jungian approach described here is not the only way we can explore this issue. In some respects, game design is an act of creative metaphysics; in making our games we are defining what a world is, and what place the player has in it. It seems to me that every theory of the world, of society and of mind could be used to explore our games. Each question answered, each puzzle solved leads to yet more questions, more mysteries and more ideas. Every section of this series could be expanded to create a series of its own, and in the future I hope to release more articles exploring these ideas in greater detail. But until then, I only hope that these articles have been as interesting and enjoyable to read as they were for me to write.


* The ideas in this section are still in development, but are included here for reasons of completeness and in the interest of sharing ideas. I hope the reader will forgive the somewhat complex nature of the discussion, and will realise that it is still in the early stages of being worked out.


Rheingold, Howard, Virtual Reality (1991, QPD)

Sulis, William, Archetypal Dynamics (1998, INABIS conference on dynamical systems in psychiatry)

About The Author

Richard Dare develops games for Smartphone and PocketPC. He would be very interested in hearing from anyone who would like to discuss his ideas or take them further. He can be contacted at: richardjdare@hotmail.com

© 2004 Richard Dare

  Fantasy and Genre
  The Problem of Narrative
  On Violence

  Printable version
  Discuss this article

The Series
  The Primacy of the Imagination
  Approaching the Imagination
  The Game as Quest
  Integrating the Imagination