The White House meeting between president Trump, Republican lawmakers, and members and critics of the videogame industry that took place yesterday opened with a "greatest hits" reel of videogame violence, featuring clips from the Call of Duty and Fallout series, Sniper Elite 4, The Evil Within, and others. It was, predictably, very graphic, although nothing that most of us haven't seen before. (It also didn't show Sub-Zero ripping somebody's spine out, which I think is a pretty serious oversight.)
No big deal, then—but it did elicit a surprising reaction from Warren Spector, one of the industry's best-known figures.
I don't believe games cause violent behavior. Not for one second. However, the videogame reel shown at the White House on Thursday is simply disgusting. Every shot is in colossally bad taste and everyone associated with those games should be ashamed of themselves. They hurt us.March 9, 2018
Spector acknowledged in followup tweets that Deus Ex, a game famous for its breadth of player agency, allowed the killing of children, but said that he hoped players were "repulsed" by it. "And, easy for me to say, but true: I'm ashamed of the kid-killing possibility and wouldn't do it again. Can't promise, but I don't think I'll ever make another game where you can kill virtual people at all," he wrote.
That may be a stretch—Spector is currently working on System Shock 3, and you can bet there will be some rough stuff there—but he said that his games don't force players to act like homicidal maniacs, or reward them for it. "The games I work on typically offer alternatives to violence; I try to show the consequences; there aren't any decapitations, bloody gibbing headshots or ax killings," he tweeted. "I don't mind violent games. I mind games that glorify it & present it in graphic, disgusting ways."
He stated emphatically that the argument that games cause violence is a "red herring" and "a blatant attempt to shift the focus from real problems." His complaint is specifically about the "gratuitous, over-the-top depiction" of violence in videogames. "I've made games that allow violent behavior, but I haven't shown decapitation, flesh torn from bone, heads torn apart," he wrote. "Bad taste is what gets me."
Spector's comment attracted a couple of other game developers, including Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford, who said that the video is "a dishonestly cut hit reel" made up of "strategically out of context shots assembled by a propagandist mindset." Spector agreed, but said in response that it "doesn't change the fact that the images are in shockingly bad taste."
"That they could be cut together at all is the problem," he wrote. "Again, I'm just talking about bad taste, not violence in videogames."
The White House footage certainly neglects context. No Russian, for instance, is a horrific moment that the player witnesses but doesn't have to directly participate in, which the White House footage doesn't convey. Stuff like The Evil Within is a full-on gore-horror game. Slow-motion x-ray nut-shots are a little harder to defend, but on the other hand, they're Nazi nuts and so I'm willing to give it a pass.
To me, Spector's suggestion that people who worked on these games—which are mainstream entertainment by any measure—should be ashamed of their efforts is over the line, especially since the most of them would have had less control over the broad-strokes creative direction of the project.
"Response to my tweet about the violent video game video are coming in fast & furious. Most are calm & well-considered," Spector said in his concluding (for now, at least) tweet on the matter. "For those upset with me, I know the images in the video don't reflect the vast majority of games & it provides no context. I get that it's pure propaganda."