Video Games at E3 are Obsessed with Violence

When you think of video games, what’s the first one that comes to mind? One of the Super Mario Bros. games? Perhaps an old childhood favorite like The Legend of Zelda or one of the games on your phone that you’re playing in your spare time like Clash Royale? Maybe it’s even Minecraft. Now that you’re thinking of a game, does it have violence in it? I’m willing to bet the majority of you are thinking of a game that does, even if it’s just Mario jumping on people’s heads.

The Electronics Entertainment Expo (or E3) was two weeks ago, and I couldn’t help but notice – most of the games at the expo had violence in them. The violence ranged from the ultra bloody State of Decay 2 to the classic Mario jumping on Goomba heads, but it was almost always there. It got me thinking – what percent of games shown at E3 had violence in them and which ones didn’t?

The Data

Thanks to IGN‘s mostly complete wiki of games shown at E3, I was able to watch the trailer for 233 games demoed and categorized them into one of four categories:

The Categories

Realistic Violence: This is where one character (usually player-controlled) is physically attacking another character in a bloody, gory, and somewhat realistic way. Grand Theft Auto, State of Decay, The Walking Dead, Battlefield, and Uncharted all fall under this category.

Comic/Stylized Violence: This is any kind of violence where one character is physically attacking another character. This includes all of the Mario games, Final Fantasy, Pikmin, Pokémon, Hearthstone, and many many more.

Sports/Racing Game: These games consist of racing games and traditional sports games like golf, football, soccer, and basketball. The usual suspects of Madden, NBA Live, Gran Turismo, Rocket League, and FIFA fit into this category.

Non-Violent: These games all have zero violence in them. Very few games fit this category – even games like Minecraft have a small subsection that contains violence although the main part of the game doesn’t.

Most of the games I looked at fell easily into one of the categories, but a few games were on the edge between realistic violence and comic/stylized violence. In those few cases, I made a judgement call, which didn’t greatly affect the data because of how many games I looked at.

Why the Sports/Racing category?

I categorized this separately because even though sports and racing video games do not have directed violence in the sense that you can attack another person or character, the activities they are based on and their origins are often quite violent. People who play sports break bones, get concussions, and can even die while competing. Racing is even more deadly, especially if you look at one race in particular which is more likely to have a death every year than not, with the most deaths in a single year being eleven (!!!).

The video game versions of these sports aren’t as bloody or deadly as real life, but they mimic the real life activities accurately enough to often feel violent. Some games even go so far as to say the violent collisions are a feature of the game. There is a difference between directed violence and the violence in sports, but enough violence exists even in the video game versions to warrant a separate category.

The Results

After analyzing the data, the graphs showed me that most games shown at E3 did, in fact, have violence in them.

As you can see, the vast majority of games have comic or stylized violence in them with realistic violence coming in at a distant second. It’s a little hard to tell how large of a percentage those categories are from bar graphs, so next is a pie chart with the percentages.

Now it’s even more apparent just how many games feature violence in them in one form or another.

And lastly, when you single out the non-violent games, it’s astounding how few of them there are.

Which Companies are Making Non-Violent Games?

There were so few non-violent games shown at E3 that I can list them here:

AnamorphineArtifact 5 inc.
BestLuckJae Cloud Yoo
Chess UltraRipstone Ltd.
Coma RememberedSerenity Forge
Harvest Moon: Light of HopeNatsume
Harvest Moon: Lil’ FarmersNatsume
Just Dance 2018Ubisoft
Manifest 99Flight School Studio
Roto Color RhythmBlue Volcano
SumerStudio Wumpus
Surviving MarsParadox Interactive
The Artful EscapeBeethoven & Dinosaur
The InpatientSupermassive Games
The King’s BirdSerenity Forge
Tornado TowerDizzy Slugs
Where the Water Tastes Like WineDim Bulb Games
Which developers made those games? It turns out, only one of them is being made by a big name company. One. Just Dance 2018 by Ubisoft is the only non-violent game from a large company at E3. There are three by smaller companies like Paradox Interactive (Cities: Skylines) and Natsume (Harvest Moon), but the rest of the non-violent games come from indie companies. I’m positive there are non-violent games being made by the larger companies, but why are they not being promoted and shown at E3? Why is the focus of this event primarily on violent games?

Why so much Violence?

Most video game have a majority of literary elements in them including Characters, Setting, Plot, Theme, and Conflict. The conflict in video games is often physical violence as it’s easy to convey when an action is good or bad. It is easy for players to understand that violence against the player is bad and violence against opponents is good. Video games have featured this design mechanic going back to one of the first widely available video games ever created.

We’ve been making video games for over 55 years that feature violence as a form of conflict, so we’ve had quite a bit of time to get good at displaying it in different ways. You can shoot people, stab them with swords, jump on their heads, punch them, eat them, drive over them with a car, blow up spaceships, and have one of your cards attack and damage another card. Yes, that last one feels a bit silly compared to the others, but it’s still a form of physical violence which the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) categorizes as Fantasy Violence.

My theories as to why

1. Games are incredibly difficult and time consuming to make, so because there is an extensive lineage of games with violence, developers are able to use those common design patterns to not have to explain mechanics new to players. In a Mario game, you know you can jump on an enemy’s head because you have 30 years of experience telling you it’s good to do so. Many non-Mario games allow you to jump on enemy’s heads to deal damage for this very reason. Finding new mechanics that work to convey good and bad actions is incredibly time consuming, so developers have chosen violence as the easy path. It sounds lazy, but when developers are facing the difficult task of finishing and shipping a game, they’ll take any easy wins they can find. Violence is easy to create and contain in a game design, and so is often the first choice.

2. Games are made predominantly by young, white men. In the IGDA’s 2016 diversity report, 75% of responses identified solely as white (81% for white multiracial) and 72% identified as male. The report even goes on to say “This data presents the prototypical game industry worker as being a 32 year old white male with a university degree who lives in North America and who does not have children.” Because game developers, as a group, aren’t very diverse, the games they create aren’t either. Their common background, and the history of violent games, doesn’t easily allow new ideas that would work in place of using violence as a game mechanic. The people making games have played the older, violent games and use those as a basis for creating new, violent games.


Is 2017 representative of violent games at E3?

Feminist Frequency has been tracking the violence shown in games over the past 3 years at E3, and the trend has largely stayed the same. They use a slightly different categorization method than I do, but you can see in their 2015, 2016, and 2017 posts that it’s very similar to what I’ve shown here. 2017 wasn’t a unique E3 with regards to violent video games. It would be interesting to see if Steam, iOS/Android, and consoles have an equivalent percent of violent video games on their platforms, but even if they don’t, it’s interesting that the games developers choose to show at E3 have so much violence in them. If game developer create more non-violent games, why do we choose to promote the ones with violence at E3?

Why is this an issue?

There are an infinite amount of games we could make, but right now the games shown at E3 are almost entirely violent games. That’s sad to me. I want to experience all of the different types of games possible, not just the ones we have now. I want more games like Astroneer, The Witness, Bounden, The Stanley Parable, Gone Home, and Flower. We can’t have those different types of games without also changing which mechanics we use and focus on.

Also, media influences how you perceive the world, so it’s important to remember that games developers create influence those who play them. Feminist Frequency has been successful at changing how developers portray women in their games for this very reason. It is important to have a variety of design mechanics otherwise people who play games could be influenced to think that violence is the only answer to conflict.

Should we stop creating violent games?

No. Just because we’re overdoing it right now doesn’t mean we should stop entirely. Rather than having violence be the default conflict game mechanic, I would like everyone making games to be intentional about picking violence. If a game calls for it because you’re doing something that relies on violence as the sole way to explain what’s going on, then it absolutely makes sense to use it there. If game developers are doing something that would work with non-violent forms of conflict, then they should explore those other types of non-violent mechanics.

Violence is the easy answer to many game design choices, but it shouldn’t be the only tool we have in our bag. We can develop others that are just as good as violence, it’ll just take some thought to do so.



[1] Categorized Data
[2] Thanks Ashley Kelmore, Jason Weiler, Forrest Smith, and others for helping improve this post.

Calvin and Hobbes

Growing up as a kid I looked forward to reading the newspaper comics everyday. I ate breakfast and read the day’s comics in the same order always leaving the best for last. Calvin and Hobbes was always something I looked forward to and I was sad when Bill Watterson decided to move on from making it. I didn’t understand what it’s like to work on the same thing for 10 years so it didn’t make sense to me, but as an adult I get it.

Five years ago I read the entire Calvin and Hobbes collection and wrote down which comics were my favorite. The comics still held up and I found a bunch that I liked, but none quite as much as the very last one that was made. The comic has taken on different meaning for me as I’ve grown older – at first it made me sad because the comic was over, but now it makes me happy because Watterson was starting off on a new adventure. Ashley bought me a framed copy of it a couple of years ago for my birthday and we have it hanging at the bottom of our stairs.

I’m pretty deliberate about the tattoos I get, so even with all of this history and feelings about the series and the specific comic, it still took me a year or two to finally get a tattoo of it. I’m so very happy with how it came out and how Christopher Gay was able to take the comic and form it to my arm in a unique way.

Catarang in 2016 – Building a CI Server

Catarang is a Continuous Integration (CI) server that I’ve been working on for the past two years in my spare time and have made a ton of progress on in 2016. CI servers, for those who don’t know, do repetitive tasks like compiling code every time a change is checked in or automating pushes to production servers. The most popular one out there is Jenkins, but there are a ton of other options listed out on this excellent Wikipedia page: Comparison of continuous integration software. In this post, I’ve written up the progress I’ve made on Catarang in the past year and what I’m looking to do with it in the future.

Why build a new CI Server?

A question I often get when I talk about Catarang to people is why build a new one if there are a bunch of options out there already? The two main reasons are that none of the CI Servers out there fulfill all my needs and I wanted a project to learn Go on. I’d heard good things about the language and had tried out the little playground they had, but I learn best when I actively use the language on a project. Throughout the two years I’ve been working on Catarang, I’ve fallen in love with Go and find it an utter joy to program in. Once I got a hang of the language (which was very quick), I’ve been able to get a surprising amount done with it with a limited amount of head scratching issues coming up.

I’ve also learned a ton about CI servers and unique issues surrounding how they work. These things are incredibly complicated and take a lot of fiddling to get right! Lastly, it’s been fun to build a large scale tool by myself and be able to rework all of the code at the drop of a hat if I don’t like how it’s structured. I try to keep that to a minimum and make constant forward progress, but at times it’s beneficial to take a step backward and to the side so that it’s easier to go forward in the future.

Progress in 2016

Catarang Contributions for 2016

The amount of energy I had to work on Catarang fluctuated quite a bit this year due to work, illnesses, life issues, and politics. There were several weeks where I worked on it non-stop in my free time and then there were several months where I didn’t have any energy to even think about it.

This makes sense considering I’m only working on my own time and not being paid for it, but there were certainly days when I felt guilty about not programming on it when I had wanted to. Catarang as a whole has only 105 commits, so with 81 of them coming in the 2016, it’s easy to see that I did a significant chunk of work on the project this year.

Feature Set

Catarang is still in its infancy, so I wouldn’t suggest anyone start using it yet, but I am proud of how the features are coming together and it’s starting to feel like a real project. Here are all of the features I worked on this year:

Plugin System

I started off building all of the functionality straight into Catarang for git, running arbitrary commands, and saving off artifacts, but realized it’d be better to have a defined interface to make writing plugins easier. I’ve gone through several iterations and am at a middle point with this, but am happy with where I am right now. Each plugin is completely segregated from the rest of the code and I eventually plan on moving them outside of the project itself so that they can be updated independent from Catarang itself. I briefly looked at Hashicorp’s go-plugin and even got a prototype working, but stopped going down that route as it felt like I was going a bit too deep into that system and ignoring other necessary features. Right now plugins are as easy to add as filling out a basic interface and adding a single line to the plugin list to register it.

Job Template and Instantiation

I created a job template so that you can create a job via a single file that you keep in your depot. Catarang will pull in the appropriate plugins from the plugin system and run the commands that you specify in the template. Catarang can already handle when you check in a change to the config file and will rebuild the job based off of the new template, which took a bit of work to allow. This is the number one feature that I had originally wanted in a self-hosted CI server that wasn’t available in the one I was using at work, so it’s nice to have made really good progress on it. The template itself is pretty simple and this is what Catarang’s currently looks like:

Catarang’s build config file

It’s a bit verbose since it’s in JSON and that will likely be changed at a later point in time, but it’s a great start.

Job Instances

Each time a job runs, it creates a new instance of itself and saves off all of the log files associated with running that job. Each instance is separate because if you change a job’s configuration template, you’ll get very different output and want to keep that information around. It’s also useful to go back and see why certain runs of the job failed and why some succeeded. This feature has changed quite a bit over the past year due to creating the job template and the plugin system, but it’s at a pretty good place right now.

Unique Logging of Commands

I’m pretty proud of how Catarang logs all of the commands it runs. For every command it keeps

  1. A list of the arguments used to run the command
  2. A high level description of what’s being run and the plugin that ran the command
  3. The output from the command segmented into the Standard Out and Standard Error sections

Because of that last part, I can highlight on the CI server (and in emails) which parts actually failed so you don’t have to go digging for it when it does! I haven’t seen any other CI server do this, so it felt good to get in. It was a bit difficult to get in as I learned there are some deep, dark secrets of StdOut and StdErr that I didn’t know before. Did you know you can get interwoven lines of output in your console that look like this:

Yellow is a standardRed is an error that comes between a single output line single line of output
Yikes! It gets even worse if you have sub-commands being run in parallel and only a single output window.

A Web Server

One of the awesome parts of Go is that it’s suuuuuper easy to set up a web server and serve content. The most basic setup is a single line of code, and a more complex example isn’t far from that. I know next to nothing about web development, so I have a very simple web interface for Catarang that allows you to add new jobs, run them, delete them, clean them, and see all of the output from each job instance. This is the largest thing that will have to be worked on before I release it to the world, but it’s also the least important until I get a solid feature set up and running. I used to have fancy websockets working so the site would live-update, but that broke at some point and I didn’t care enough to go back and fix it since so much of the architecture of the program was changing.

What’s Next?

In 2017 I’m going to work much more on making Catarang stable and usable for the general public. It’d be neat to be able to release a very alpha version and start getting feedback on it, but that’s a bit of a stretch goal.

As for the next features I’m going to be implementing, a lot of it will focus on expanding out the Job’s capabilities. I’d like to add the ability to chain multiple jobs together in a pipeline using if/or/and blocks. Getting this right is the most important thing for a CI to be useful to users, so it will likely be quite a bit of iteration before I’m happy with it.

I’d also like to start expanding the plugins to other things people might find useful like Slack notifications and emails. There’s a long way to go, but if I implement some of the basics that most people are going to want, then I’ll get some traction in order for people to want to create their own to flesh out the parts they want but I haven’t made yet.

Tests are something I have a small amount of, but not nearly enough. I haven’t bothered with them since I’m more focused on building out a prototype, but now that it’s getting a bit larger they’re becoming much more useful. I’m going to be aiming for a fairly high test coverage percentage and we’ll see where I get with that.

Lastly, I’d like to start fleshing out the UI on the server into something that’s not a programmer’s prototype. I’m not very good at web development mostly due to lack of experience, so this either entails me finding someone that wants to work on this project with me (for free) or spending a lot of time learning how to build a highly interactive website from scratch. Both seem fairly difficult to do, so we’ll see how this goes.

I’m still super excited to be working on Catarang two years after I first came up with the idea, which is great. I’d love to be able to release it and have people other than myself use it on a day to day basis so I keep building it with that in mind. I know that if I got some dedicated time to work on it I could really build it up into something special, so I’ll have to slowly work in that direction since I can only use spare time right now. If you want to keep up to date on my progress you can follow me on Twitter or follow Catarang on GitHub.

Books of 2015

books banner

I enjoyed doing a post about all of the games I played last year, so I thought one on the books I’ve read would be equally fun. Here goes!

Best New Comic Series: Ms. Marvel

I don’t normally read long standing Marvel series (I’m much more of a self-contained 10 book series kind of person), but something about this comic called to me. Ms. Marvel is about a Muslim girl growing up and realizing that she has super powers. She fights the assortment of bad guys you’d expect, but it’s all new because of the different perspective it has. It’s definitely on the lighter side of comic books, so pick it up if you want typical super hero fare with a slightly different perspective.

Book that I enjoyed even though it made me feel dumb: A Brief History of Time

I’ve taken a number of physics classes over the year, but nothing in those classes prepared me for this deep dive of physics knowledge. It was a bit hard to follow when he was talking about quarks and their weird electrical charge and spin, but it still gave me a good basis for better understanding the theory of relativity and other physics peculiarities. It was also fascinating to see the history of physics research and how wrong (and right!) people were in the past.

Most enjoyable science book: What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

This book is a series of silly questions like “How many AK-47s would it take to lift a person off the ground with the recoil caused by firing” and equally silly, but true answers. Both Ashley and I tore through this book because it was thoroughly entertaining and insightful. I can’t wait to pick up Munroe’s next book because this was one of my favorites this year. Highly recommended.

Most overrated book: The Road

Everyone I’ve talked to about this book has told me how much it would wreck me and make me sad. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve played so many survival horror games or watched a bunch of sad movies, but it didn’t do that to me. Sure, there was some sad stuff that happened in The Road, but it wasn’t anything I haven’t seen before. Maybe it’s one of those things similar to Citizen Kane where it was original and groundbreaking in its time, but if you experience it now, it doesn’t feel as impressive. Good book, but didn’t live up to the hype.

Most important book I read: Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family

Becoming Nicole is a great book to read to start to understand the struggle for transgender rights. Nicole and Jonas are identical twins, but Nicole is transgender while Jonas is not. This book is the story of their family, their community, and how learn what being transgender is all about. It’s also a study in how people tend to be scared of things they don’t understand. Becoming Nicole is an easy, if frustrating read and I suggest everyone read it as soon as possible.

Favorite book of the last ten years: The Martian

If you haven’t read this book, click this link and buy this fucking book, NOW. The Martian is easily my favorite book that I’ve read in the past ten years and it’s not hard to understand why. Science. Explosions. MacGyvering things. Science. Space. Exploration. Did I mention Science? XKCD explains it perfectly in this comic. It’s a book about overcoming an environment that wants to kill you while being scientifically accurate and funnier than I ever expected. So fucking good.

Here’s all the books I read this year:

A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
Alone on the Wall – Alex Honnold and David Roberts
Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family – Amy Ellis Nutt
Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference – Cordelia Fine
East of West, Volume 1: The Promise – Jonathan Kichman and Nick Dragotta
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt – Michael Lewis
Flying the SR-71 Blackbird: In the Cockpit on a Secret Operational Mission – Richard H. Graham
Footnotes in Gaza – Joe Sacco
iZombie: Dead to the World – Chris Roberson
Lumberjanes Vol. 1 – Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen, Shannon Watters
Ms. Marvel Vol. 3: Crushed – G. Willow Wilson
My Beloved World – Sonia Sotomayor
Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo – Anjan Sundaram
The Hero of Ages: Book Three of Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson
The Martian – Andy Weir
The Mindfulness Survival Kit: Five Essential Practices – Thich Nhat Hanh
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Top 10 – Alan Moore, Gene Ha, Zander Cannon
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions – Randall Munroe

Games of 2015

For whatever reason, I didn’t beat, or even play, that many games this year. While I didn’t play any AAA games, it sounds like there were some great ones (Witcher 3, Mario Maker, etc). I was busy buying a house, transitioning into a new role at work, and dealing with some health issues. 2016 hopefully won’t have any of that, so I should be able to play more games! Unfortunately, none of the games I played stood out as games that I’ll remember in 10 years. Regardless, here’s the list!

Most gorgeous game I played: Ori and the Blind Forest

Not only was this game the prettiest I played this year, it’s one of the prettiest games I’ve ever played. I was surprised when I heard they used Unity to make it as I didn’t think Unity was capable of driving a game like this. As for the gameplay, I love me a Metroidvania game, and this is no exception to the rule. The gameplay itself isn’t that inspiring, but it’s worth dealing with to appreciate the stunning visuals that this game constantly throws at you.

Game I thought I wanted but realized I didn’t: The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth

I’ve loved everything Binding of Isaac related for several years now, so when I heard there was an expansion to Rebirth (which I played over 140 hours of), I was excited. When I finally got it and started playing, I realized that I had already played pretty much all of that game that I wanted to. It had a couple of new mechanics and game modes, but nothing really inspired me to play it the way that the previous two games did. It’s like getting an ice cream shake after you’ve already eaten an ice cream sundae. Sometimes, you just can’t eat anymore ice cream.

Game that moved me (emotionally and physically) in 5 minutes: Bounden

I only played this game for a total of about 5 minutes at GDC, but it was one of the most distinct experiences I’ve ever had with a multiplayer game. You and another person hold the same phone and contort your bodies in dance moves in order to beat levels. I played it with the guy who made it, and it was surprisingly emotional; after we finished, I felt like I had had a moment with my partner in a way that I’ve never felt after playing a video game. I danced with a stranger and felt a closeness with him that is very rare with someone I just met. Bounden is not a particularly good game, but I’ll remember that experience for a while.

Game that finally made me hate Free 2 Play mechanics: Trials Frontier

First off, this game has better controls and handling than any other mobile game I’ve ever played. I thought gamepad type controls on a mobile phone would always be a disaster, but I was completely wrong. I never felt like the game cheated me and I always felt in control. That is a HUGE accomplishment for Red Lynx. If I could have purchased this game for $40, I would have done that. Unfortunately, this game reveled in its F2P mechanics. It had timers, an energy mechanic, crafting, multiple currencies, daily challenges, a leveling system, and a multiplayer component that required constant monitoring. The game was structured so that you could do everything without paying money, but it would take you AGES to do it. Some upgrades took over 144 hours to complete. I found myself playing the game constantly so that I could collect parts to upgrade my bikes so I could compete online. Instead of advancement being based on skill, it was based on time and money spent. It felt cheap and I realized I wasn’t enjoying playing it, even though I played it more than any other game this year. Trials Frontier is a good game wrapped in shit no one wants to deal with.

Game that made my wife almost kill me: Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

I’m always on the lookout for games my wife and I can play together, and I thought Lovers would fit that bill. It’s cute, it’s co-op (instead of being versus), and it has cats in it! Unfortunately, the way this game plays in co-op mode is similar to how it feels to drive in a country that doesn’t speak your language while completely lost with no GPS. The game is quite cute and the weapons are neat, but the gameplay is a bit lacking. Because of how the spaceships are set up, I always found myself piloting and having the AI fire for me. I wish that the ship was a bit more automatic in how it responded to threats instead of having to manually dictate what should happen. Overall the game is quite polished, but just not quite what I wanted out of it.

Favorite game of 2015: Snakebird

If there was any game that I played this year that could be said to be fully polished, it’d be Snakebird. This game has to be polished considering you’re going to be spending most of your time cursing while playing it. I have never played a puzzle game that makes me feel inept on the fourth level before. Snakebird is incredibly cute and easy to pick up, but oh so fucking hard to actually beat. After playing a single level for an hour to beat it, I would feel hugely accomplished. One of the things I disliked about the game was that I often knew how to beat a level, but it required very specific movements. I would get frustrated and look up the solution only to find out I had it correct, I just had to turn left once instead of right in ONE spot. I don’t think this game is for everyone (it’s one of the hardest games I’ve ever played), but I enjoyed the time I had with it.

For reference, here are the games I beat this year:

     Knights of Pen and Paper
     Lara Croft Go
     Sky Force
     Trials Frontier
     You Must Build A Boat

     Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist
     The Talos Principle

Xbox One
     Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
     Ori and the Blind Forest

Here are the games I played but didn’t beat (or couldn’t “beat”):

     Leo’s Fortune
     The Firm

     Action Henk
     The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth

Playstation 4
     Axiom Verge

XBox One
     Life is Strange