April 16, 2013 by gregoryadler
Halo 3 and Super Smash Brothers Brawl appear to be two seemingly distinct games; one a first person sci-fi shooter aimed at a mature audience, the other a Nintendo fighting game advertised to a younger age group. Despite the difference in intended audience, the appeal of both games is the same mechanic, simulation of violence. If both games entertain through simulated violence, why is it that parents are often willing to purchase a game like Brawl for their children, but are adamantly against a game like Halo 3? What draws the line between a violent game appropriate for children and a violent game only suitable for adults? Analyzing differences between Brawl and Halo 3 in their mechanisms of violence and consequences for violence can provide insight into what makes a violent game age appropriate.
Mechanisms of violence refer to the means by which a player commits violent acts in game. In Halo 3, the player uses a variety of guns to inflict damage to enemy players. Violence in Halo 3 closely coincides with a major mechanism of real world violence, the use of guns. In Brawl, the player uses a fictional move set to deal damage to the opponent. For example, Pikachu can deliver a thunderbolt from the sky or Luigi can shoot fireballs from his gloves. While electrifying somebody with a thunderbolt or burning them with a fireball are definitely violent acts, such mechanisms typically do not closely relate to violence in the real world. I think this difference helps provide insight as to why a game like Brawl is considered more appropriate for children, simply because violence simulated in Brawl would be very difficult to recreate. On the other hand, violence in Halo 3 can possibly translate into real world acts, as guns are widely accessible in society. The ability to translate the violence depicted in a game into real world actions appears to be a significant factor in determining if a violent videogame is appropriate for children.
Brawl and Halo 3 also differ in how they depict the consequences of violent acts. Consequences in Halo 3 more accurately depict effects of violence in the real world. Shooting an enemy in Halo 3 causes them to bleed and die, leaving their body on the floor of the map for the player to see. In Brawl however, violent acts cause cartoonish knockback effects where the character is flung in the direction they are hit. Brawl also represents death differently in that losing a life is simply portrayed as the character falling off the edge of the screen. This difference in how death is depicted also carries over to how the two games are scored; In Halo 3, scoring is represented with ‘kills’ and ‘deaths’ whereby the same acts are represented in Brawl with ‘KOs’ (knockouts) and ‘falls’. This leads me to believe that the more a game depicts the consequences of violence in the real world, the less likely it is that the game will be deemed appropriate for children. Parents of gamers and the industry believe that it is more appropriate for children to knock an opponent off the stage than it is to encourage them to shoot and kill an opposing player.
To conclude my analysis as to what distinguishes the violence depicted in Brawl and Halo 3, I would like to discuss the relevance of these differences for videogames in general. In terms of mechanisms of violence, I think that it is important that games marketed towards children do not portray violence that could easily occur in the real world. This is important because it makes it so the player cannot replicate the acts portrayed in the game and also prevents the player from losing sight between reality and the game world.
In terms of consequences, I am unsure as to whether portraying the real world effects of violence is a meaningful distinction in videogames. On one hand, including the effects of violence may act as a reminder to the gamer that violent actions do have serious consequences. It reminds the player that shooting somebody with a gun will cause him or her to bleed and potentially die. At the same time, keeping consequences of violence more fictional may help in creating games where entertainment comes not from violent acts, but from the competition of gameplay. If the consequences of violence are represented in fictional and abstract terms, the child is able to more easily maintain the distinction between gameplay and the real world. When violence becomes more realistic, it seems to be easier to blend the two together. It also may create the effect whereby violence no longer shocks the player and they become desensitized to such actions.
The significance of drawing differences between child appropriate violent games and more mature violent games is an issue that I believe is important for the video game industry at large. It seems inevitable that violence will find its way into the games marketed towards children. For this reason, I believe that it is important for both the industry and the parents of gamers to delineate between violence that is appropriate for children to simulate and violence can have negative implications on a child’s understanding of reality.