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Digital Violence
Posted on Sunday, November 11 2007 @ 11:12:19 PST

Can you remember when "videogame violence" was limited to stomping on oddly proportioned, mushroom looking objects with bipedal turtles and perhaps a half dragon, half turtle? Can you remember when "digital violence" was only limited to a poorly animated laser canon going "pew-pew" and your enemies just fading from existence?

I remember those days. A lot of people believed that video games and the consoles they're played on were merely kids toys. One could of course make the argument that they were right. With titles like Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, and Mega Man almost always leading the pack in terms of sales, it's hard to think that video games could be used for something more than a child's entertainment. In fact, I remember having to hide my copies of Mortal Kombat and DOOM for the Super Nintendo simply because I thought that my parents would freak out if they ever found what was in these two video games.

And yet I remember, marveling over the game casing of these cartridges and thinking "wow, these are really cool." I didn't think that these games were "incredibly violent" or that they would "damage my psyche" and turn me into a "psycho killer". I thought, plain and simple, that it was pretty cool to be able to punch another character in the face and have them bleed.

And maybe that's the problem. Kids grew up playing Mortal Kombat and DOOM. They grew up with those two games especially because, while they were violent, they were also a hell of a lot of fun to play. There was a sense of maturity, a sense of approaching adulthood because you were chainsawing Imps from hell or because you managed to punch another guy in the crotch. Children can be entertained by the simplest things, and sometimes, they can even be thoroughly entertained because of the adult themes found in entertainment. There's laughter usually when someone finally discovers how to crotch-punch with Johnny Cage, or long winded "oooooh aaaahh"'s from people who finally figured out how to rip someone's head off their shoulders with the spine still attached.

Maybe in hindsight, this does sound disturbing... but for a young male, there can be no greater joy found than playing these games with other boys. There's a sense of camaraderie there as well. It was perhaps our little secret, and one that we would never show our parents for fear of getting the dreaded stamp of disapproval.

Where am I going with this, you may be asking yourself? Well, it's quite simple. Since the very beginning, violence in video games has been a part of our favourite hobby. If you can think back (or perhaps read up, if you're not old enough to remember), there were "violent video games" on the Atari platforms. There was a massive backlash over a video game based on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where you simply ran away from an oddly pixelated version of Leatherface and what looks like a giant wang of doom. These game, if you care to look, is incredibly primitive... but that didn't stop most retailers from banning the game outright and, when they did sell it, slip it in a paper bag as if it was some kind of pornographic material.

I use this example, because I think there is a video game out right now that is not deserving of the flak it's receiving. This game, of course, is Manhunt 2. It's a game that is visceral, pulls no punches, and while it may not be everyone's cup of tea, there is a certain sense of morality at work here.

I alluded to the more "fun" varieties of violence earlier, and I want to say that this game is nothing like that. If anything, Manhunt 2 can serve as a wakeup call and force gamers to remember that the violence shown in Gears of War, Halo, and even Grand Theft Auto are merely cartoon variations. The real violence looks more sinister, is more gruesome, and it makes the player remember that violence is not the best solution to any situation.

The violence you're forced to witness (and even commit) forces the player into an uncomfortable situation. The deaths at your own hands are not all justified like in the first game. There are innocent people here--innocents who just happen to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

I don't want to stray off the point, so I think I should be blunt. Manhunt 2 is not a video game for children. Much like Mortal Kombat, DOOM, and even Texas Chainsaw Massacre were not. This is a game meant for adults. With that out of the way, I can safely tell you that Manhunt 2 is a poignant and gritty look at violence in general. The "executions" are incredibly realistic, the punches your character throws feel more real than any fighting game in existence, and the subject matter (insanity, revenge) definitely screams that this game should be looked at with a serious eye.

I won't deny that there are no doubt some people who will get a kick out of Manhunt 2's stealthy executions. I don't think I am one of them, however. I've personally cringed and shaken my head over half of the stuff that Daniel Lamb does, not out of disgust, but because I was being slapped in the face and reminded that there is a difference between real violence and fantasy violence. That line, to most gamers I think, is slightly blurred. We see gameplay like Gears of War or FEAR, and we think it must be great to chainsaw someone in half or blow a replica soldier to a bloody mist. That gameplay IS fun, but it also keeps us from realizing the true horror of violence.

Manhunt 2, once more, doesn't pull any punches like that. Nothing is over-dramatic, and every ounce of pain you dish out looks and feels real... but perhaps, the real clincher here, is the fact that Daniel Lamb's reactions to killing are perhaps the most visceral and humanistic that I've ever seen in a video game.

The character of Leo Kasper is always egging Danny on, telling him that these people need to die because they stand between Danny and Leo and freedom. Danny is incredibly reluctant and, after taking his first victim's life, he proceeds to vomit. These are incredibly human reactions. The voyeur (Leo), constantly pushing Danny to take the next life so that they can survive, and Danny's reluctance because he is not a violent man by nature.

It's really a marvelous sight to behold. I've never before seen reactions to violence in such a visceral manner. Right from the onset, this game forces you to realize that violence is ugly, and the choice to kill is a hard one, but it gets easier...

Allow me to elaborate. Manhunt 2 not only forces the player to become a killer in order to survive, but it also forces the player to slowly lose his or her grip on the impact of these violent acts. Later on in the game, you seem to grow accustomed to the violence you're committing, and you're growing more and more accustomed to the playful cheers of Leo as he prods you ever onward in pursuit of the Project. I've also noticed how, around the third or fourth mission, Leo's comfort and soothing calls to Danny that killing is something he must do, suddenly turn to giddy, if not insane rambling about how Danny is a one man army, and almost constant calls of "niiice one Danny", seem to hint that Leo may not be all he's presented himself as.

And that's about the gist of it, really. Manhunt 2 should not be banned, but instead looked at as a serious game with serious subject matter. It's a game that decides to look at real violence and then translate it into a digital setting. The atrocious crimes committed here are, from my understanding, not simply there for amusement. It's meant to teach the player all over again that there is a very thick line between fantasy violence, and real violence. It's a line that we should always remember, and I personally think games like Manhunt 2 are necessary to smack us upside the head when we start to forget that.

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