As games become more realistic, their depiction of violence goes more extreme


Gore has gone high-definition.

There have always been video games with excessive violence, but thanks to next-generation consoles such as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the extreme nature of certain kinds of games is becoming ever more visceral and realistic. Is there a point at which "extreme" becomes "too much"?

Yes, says Brad J. Bushman, professor of vommunication and psychology at Ohio State University. Bushman has been studying violence's popularity in media and pop culture for over 25 years, and even teaches a class at Ohio State called "Violent Media."

"It seems, as time goes on, video games continue to become more violent, realistic and graphic," says Bushman, pointing to 140 studies of violent games involving over 68,000 participants. "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."

For proof, say supporters of Bushman's assertions, look no further than the games that were on display at E3 2014. The annual conference is a showcase of the biggest upcoming games, and includes trailers and gameplay footage from hundreds of titles.

The gameplay trailer for Mortal Kombat X, for example, depicts ultra-violent confrontations between supernaturally powered individuals that rip one another apart, crushing skulls, exposing internal organs, and splashing buckets of realistic blood all over the screen. Assassin's Creed Unity showed off a pre-rendered trailer that included a French Revolution decapitation -- from the victim's perspective. Dead Island 2 displayed a cheeky sense of humor within the context of a gore-filled zombie outbreak.

Never have gamers witnessed disembowelments or amputations with such intense realism. Enthusiasts might call it "exquisite," but psychologists like Bushman worry that it will desensitize gamers to violence more than ever before.

To be fair, the majority of games on display at E3 had no images of extreme violence or gore. It's only a handful of titles that take blood and guts to their limits, but most of them are high-profile, AAA games. Michael Condrey of Sledgehammer Games defends Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare's depiction of a protagonist's arm being ripped off as being an important symbol of the horrors of war.

"The scene you saw... is an impactful story moment," says Condrey. "The loss of the arm is really part of the narrative. We showed that for a particular storytelling reason."

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