It was about five minutes into the game before Kratos—the intrepid hero of the “God of War” series—ripped open a mythical creature’s chest cavity and impaled it with its own arm. Ten minutes later I was mashing the circle button repeatedly so that Kratos would detach Helios’ head from his body—using his bare hands.
Then there are the topless Medusa enemies, whom you defeat by slashing open and then yanking on their hair until their heads pop off like grapes. I cannot remember how many times I picked up an undead soldier of Hades and ripped him apart at the waist, then threw the bloody pieces of him at his friends.
I was a freshman in high school when “Goldeneye” hit the market for N64. It was one of maybe 10 games (Mario, Wolfenstein, Halo, Zelda, Madden, etc.) that would set a new standard for its genre, and still have replay value decades later. Instead of going to parties, that was what we nerds did in high school (and much of college, at that). You could make a fair argument that James Bond multi-player mode got me all the way through my secondary education abstinent and drug-free. I’m sure that the braces and band uniform helped too.
I made the mistake one night, however, of playing against my mother. After I mowed down her character with the “klobb” automatic handgun, I laughingly continued to shoot her character’s lifeless body as it lay dead on the upper floor of the pyramids map. Amongst friends in the gaming community, this is the commonly accepted language of trash-talking. With your mother, it’s suicide.
She swiftly laid out a decree that Goldeneye was not allowed in her house. I had to get my fix of 3-D shooters for the rest of high school at friend’s houses. She said that it was making me desensitized to violence and slightly sadistic. I still think she was just mad that she lost.
If the bloodless Goldeneye game was intolerable—and at the time, it was the flagship entity for the violent video game genre— I shudder to think of the wrath that would have come upon me if she had walked in on me playing something half as brutally gory as the God of War franchise. Video games have taken it to an entirely new level, which makes even me a little queasy. I was once ferocious defender of the harmlessness of video game violence; as long as it is age-appropriate. I was, and still am of the disposition that if you’re old enough to see something on a movie screen you are old enough to see it in a video game. Junior high kids should not be playing Grand Theft Auto and shooting hookers, however.
My fiancé loves gory slasher movies. She’s seen almost all of the Saw movies, of which I’ve seen none. (I heard something about a scene with needles and was completely turned off from the entire franchise). But this morning when she walked into the living room to see that Kratos had caught the Messenger god Hermes , and was dangling him upside down by the ankles to cut off his legs, she was horrified. Understandably so; with the outstanding graphics of a Playstation 3 game on a 42-inch HDTV, the scene was pretty gruesome.
Scenes like this aren’t what disturb me as a modern-day video gamer. It’s the total lack of a moral upper hand for the supposed antagonist. I find myself controlling the devious Kratos to whatever end, and the means are often times horrific. I don’t like video games where screaming civilians begging for their lives get repeatedly stabbed through the chest with giant blades.
I’ve often wondered what my Grandfather would have thought about warfare video games. I know that the Call of Duty series is wildly popular with modern servicemen and women, but I have the feeling that if my Grandpas saw me playing a game that so graphically depicts World War II they would be horrified, and probably slightly ashamed of me. There’s no question that it’s profiteering. I have little question that it’s making light of very horrific crimes against humanity, and that it’s insulting to the people that actually fought in these wars and lived through the things that are being slapped onto a disk and sold for 60 bucks a pop. When my grandfather was in Korea, there were not checkpoints or a pause button; I am horribly afraid that he would think to himself, if he saw these games.
There was a particular level on the latest Call of Duty game—Modern Warfare 2—in which for the first time in my entire life as a gamer, I almost set down the controller and didn’t want to come back to the game. As the player, you are required to take control of an American black-ops agent who is undercover with a Russian terrorist organization, as you walk through an airport and massacre civilians. It was completely unnecessary and horribly disturbing. Men and women run screaming away and get shot in the back, crawl away choking on fire as they beg for their lives, and if you try to turn your weapons on the terrorist you fail the mission and it starts over.
For me, it’s different when it’s goblins or mythical creatures. No amount of blood or violence can really shock me when the antagonist of the game is trying to save the world or fighting aliens or something unworldly.
I’m still trying to figure out if it’s okay to ignore the parts of the game that make me squirm and give GameStop my $60 any way, or if I’m justifying something I know is wrong because it’s just so much damn fun. I don’t have a problem with violence against zombies or Covenant or Koopas or whatever the flavor of the week is—but pushing the trigger button to kill cops and terrified women is frighteningly getting a little bit easier every time I put a new disk in.
My mother and fiancé are probably right; spending my weekends at the control of Kratos as he beats a man to death with his own arms might make me vaguely sociopathic, and borderline delusional. But the God of War answers to no one. I…erm ahem….Kratos… must have his revenge.