Splinter Cell. Tomb Raider. Assassin’s Creed. Beyond. Far Cry. Watch Dogs. Crysis. The Last of Us. Medal of Honor. Call of Duty. The first day of E3 2012 was a blur of highly polished, highly desirable titles from many of gaming’s greatest developers; I can’t honestly remember ever having been so thrilled about so many upcoming games before, and there are still three days to go!
However you feel about the protracted life cycle of the seventh generation of game consoles, one thing is clear: developers are thriving on their familiarity with the hardware. The Xbox 360 and PS3 have aged like fine wine, and we’re now firmly entrenched in the greatest renaissance in gaming since Nintendo saved the industry from annihilation with its 8-bit Famicom and NES machines. The great benefit of all of this is that developers are now able to fulfill upon creative visions that have long been stymied by inadequate hardware: video games now offer a more immersive, more cinematic experience than even the biggest Hollywood films, and games will only continue to outclass the movie industry.
But for all the excitement and fulfillment that comes along with witnessing the artist unshackled, the situation also forces us to consider what it is we’re enabling by celebrating this work, and what it reflects upon gamers as a global society. Consider the content of today’s major debuts: of the ten games I mentioned above, half feature sickeningly visceral stabbings or bludgeoning of human beings as a central game play mechanic; the rest make bloody sport of hunting down and shooting people until they die. Games have always been built on the play between conflict and resolution, and in that regard, there’s nothing new going on here. But the extreme level of violence, combined with what appears to be a dreadful seriousness about the subject matter, is cause for concern.
Parents, teachers, and politicians have hemmed and hawed for decades about the dangers of exposing children to violent video games, but I wonder how many of us realize that adults are just as susceptible to these influences. How many of you have come home after a particularly demoralizing day, turned on a game console, and emptied a clip into an enemy soldier or driven over a pedestrian as a way to relieve the stress of work, school, or your social situation? Probably most of us, right? And there’s no real harm in this, when it’s done in moderation. But with one after another of the biggest games of E3 2012 hewing toward the old ultraviolence, there’s been no better time to champion a little more diversity in our triple-A titles. Publishers sell us violence because we ask for it, and developers seem to thrive on it. If we don’t start demanding a little something else every now and then, we may end up wishing we’d done things differently when we had the chance.
Luckily the games I’ve mentioned here aren’t the only interesting ones coming out of E3 2012. Titles like Ni no Kuni, Rayman Legends, and South Park: The Stick of Truth should deliver compelling experiences for those of us looking for a little more levity in our gaming experiences. Will I do my best to dig deeper with Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, Watch Dogs and Crysis 3 this week? You bet. But if, tucked away in some forgotten corner of the Los Angeles Convention Center, I can find an interesting game that doesn’t involve thrusting an arrow through a man’s throat or smashing his face against the corner of a desk, you can count on a full report, right here.