I’m a big fan of the 1UP Yours podcast. I met Shane at the launch party for [Prototype] at GDC08. He’s a real person, maybe moreso than me. He’s like Dave (if you know who that is), who introduced us.
Anyway, in the 6/6 podcast they talk about game violence and specifically about GTA. The consensus was that there are situations in the game where violence goes too far, but not in ways you might imagine. Ultra-violent images and actions weren’t the cause of the feeling, it was the context of those actions.
Without going into spoilers, the reviewers found that being forced to roleplay a cold-blooded murdering psychopath broke immersion. “Why am I robbing this bank,” one asked, “I am rich enough.” But the narrative forces you through these actions and breaks your sense of participating in the story. “My Niko wouldn’t do this.”
That started a larger conversation where Shane pointed out that very few games use basic tools like the unreliable narrator. Bioshock and Silent Hill are apparently the standouts there.
“Where are all of the depressing games?” (cf. Where’s Our Merchant Ivory?) And then the gem drops: “developers lack the courage of their convictions.” Amen. The answer to “where are all of the depressing games?” is “depressing games don’t sell”.
Which is really business language for “we’re too stupid and lazy to sell games with complex themes”. We as an industry are intentionally aping Hollywood (for a couple of decent reasons). That means more games catering to the big fat middle. Sorry.
Alex should man up and sell ivory.