In an age when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 can make over $1 billion in the first three months of its release, war is becoming almost a monopolistic theme for video games. Perhaps this is why Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of such classic Nintendo franchises as Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, and The Legend of Zelda, said in an October 2008 interview with U.K. television station Channel 4 that he was “concerned that many developers focus just on excessive violence in order to stimulate people’s minds.”
Consider how the depiction of violence has evolved since the first highly controversial game, Death Race, was released in 1976. In that game, the player controlled an on-screen car and earned points by running over gremlins in the road that looked suspiciously like pedestrians. Over the years, as players were introduced to first-person-shooters, bloody fighting games, and 3rd person shoot-em-ups, a cycle developed where the level of violence kept increasing with the power of technology, leading to the situation that exists today.
Video games were an emerging art form in the 1970s; they could have gone in any direction our crazy imaginations wanted to take them. But as titles like God of War, Gears of War, Army of Two, Medal of Honor, Battlefield, Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, and Call of Duty suggest, developers have chosen time and again to use war to express themselves, and consumers have supported their efforts.
Of course, there will always be games for children; there will always be sports games; there will always be weird, quirky games like Seaman or Let’s Tap. But most of the money from big-game studios will continue to market and develop the next shockingly violent titles. War has always been good for making money, and that’s not going to change in the near future.
Too often developers seem to follow a mantra of ‘wouldn’t it be cool if… .’ Wouldn’t it be cool if the player was in the middle of a gang war in Los Angeles. Wouldn’t it be cool if the player was storming the beaches of Normandy. Wouldn’t it be cool if the player was a futuristic marine battling an alien race. But I think it would be cool if the nextCall of Duty or Grand Theft Auto came out and nobody bought it. Then we really could say war is good for nothing, not even for selling video games.