Video Games That Justified Their Violence

VOICE OVER: Adrian Sousa WRITTEN BY: Kurt Hvorup
Lets face it, even the good guys in video games tend to kill a lot of people, and often, for the sake of fun or more content, video game violence can go over the top. But these games used the violence for more than just shock value. The grim events of these games were not only necessary for the story and fun, but to make the games work thematically as well.
Video games and the simulation of violence sure do go well together. When working in unison the duo provide opportunities for thrilling entertainment, dynamic means of interacting with digital worlds... and also a meaningful artistic statement? Welcome to MojoPlays and today we’re looking at the top Games Where Violence Was Necessary.

For this list, we’re specifically looking at video games in which the use of violence is not only essential to moment-to-moment play but also proves vital to the themes and intent of the overall experience. Sometimes it’s as simple as playing into the notion of pure catharsis, while for other works the grotesque acts showcased are the medium by which more thoughtful points are made.

“No More Heroes” (2008)

It’s hardly a surprise that a game spearheaded by Goichi Suda, AKA Suda51, would end up having worthwhile things to say about popular culture, its audience and its notable fixation on graphic violence. Yet it’s difficult to ignore exactly how determined “No More Heroes” is in underlining and skewering the sort of individual who thoughtlessly slays their way through an action game’s menagerie. Centered on the rise of otaku-turned-killer Travis Touchdown, the game uses its absurd laser sword fights and exaggerated boss encounters as part of its critique. Travis’ single-minded and unquestioning murder of his rivals is treated not as a heroic endeavor but rather as an increasingly misguided effort.

“Doom” series (1993-)

Right from the word go, the “Doom” games have been designed to provide a very specific type of power fantasy: that of overcoming supernatural, inhuman hordes with great prejudice. That, coupled with the original game having been partially influenced by particularly intense horror and sci-fi films, necessitates an embrace of violent action as the primary manner of engaging players. Demons from Hell pose a clear and obvious danger to the player character, which in turn ensures the use of increasingly deadly firearms is needed for survival and progression. It’s at once satisfying and reasonably well considered as creative approaches go.

“Shadow of the Colossus” (2005)

Restraint and deep introspection can often bring about compelling works in gaming, but here it’s especially vital to the effectiveness of Team Ico’s grim fable. “Shadow of the Colossus” centers itself on its protagonist Wander’s quest to slay the sixteen colossi in exchange for a woman’s life, making that premise part of a larger statement. The killing of the colossi is portrayed not in the usual gratifying fashion as per many games, but rather as a sordid and tragic affair that sees Wander negatively transformed by the experience. Combined with its desaturated visual style and haunting mood, the net result is a game that mourns over what it asks of the player.

“Hotline Miami” (2012)

One could be forgiven for looking at this neon-lit top-down action title and seeing just another game riding on the coat-tails of the 1980s nostalgia boom. Given room to breathe, however, it soon crystalizes that “Hotline Miami” is operating on an entirely different and fascinating wavelength. Levels begin with pounding music and the thrill of bloody fighting, yet close out on a muted and sullen return trip through the carnage wrought by players. Characters actively chastise and question the protagonist and the audience on their motives, hallucinations grow more frequent, and the tone turns from grim enjoyment to bitter self-reflection. And that’s before the truly startling revelations about what’s actually been going on…

“Far Cry 2” (2008) & “Far Cry 3” (2012)

Certainly differing in their respective approaches, these two entries in the “Far Cry” series illustrate rather compelling means of making violence thematically pertinent. For its part, “Far Cry 2” uses its war-torn setting and incredibly abrasive shooter elements to highlight the futility not only of war but of the player’s impact on the conflict. “Far Cry 3” deviates from this notion to instead deliver a more straight-forward power fantasy, using general progression and character upgrade systems to entice further slaying of enemies and conquering of territory. However, it’s also a game that acknowledges the deep-rooted insecurities and issues of its characters, suggesting that sort of emotional instability is tied to the game’s plentiful bloodshed.

“Spec Ops: The Line” (2012)

Many video games like to showcase the act of fighting wars, but too few are concerned about subjects like collateral damage or post-traumatic stress disorder. No one predicted that “Spec Ops: The Line”, a reboot of a not-particularly-remarkable military shooter series, would manage to sound off on such material in decisive fashion. Thanks to a brilliant script by writer Walt Williams loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” “Spec Ops: The Line” begins as a familiar sort of action game before pulling back the curtain to reveal a ruthless criticism of its own genre, including the notion of player agency and apathy towards narrative. Even as “The Line” descends into surrealism and escalating brutality, it never forgets to make clear the depths of its contempt and cynicism.