Dishonored dev believes gamers are “blinded by the fear of censorship”

Monday, 14th January 2013 14:56 GMT By Nick Akerman

Ex-Dishonored dev Joe Houston believes gamers must reconsider the link between real world and virtual violence.

In an editorial on RPS, the former Arkane Studios employee considers violence within video games, and how players should react to it.

“In light of the recent gun violence in the U.S. and the resultant anti-game talk that has stemmed from it, it’s important as gamers not to simply retreat to the easy reaction, that games aren’t a part of the problem,” he said. “While I think that might be true…I think it’s a pity to stop there.

“Too often we think about what we might lose as players and developers if forced to engage in that conversation, becoming blinded by the fear of censorship. As a result we miss out on more creative and effective ways to be a part of the solution.

According to Houston, “linear games that have a lack of personal ownership in game violence actually do so at the disadvantage of society.”

“I don’t believe that game violence causes real world violence, but I do believe that it does little to prevent it. And games with meaningful – and potentially distasteful – choice just might do better because they stand a chance of making the player think about what they’re doing on screen.”

Citing the German Government’s decision to grant Dishonored an uncut release, Houston suggests this wouldn’t have been possible without the game’s intention on emphasising player choice.

“One could argue this is largely because the game can be played without killing anyone,” he said. “This doesn’t change all the things you might do in the game, but simply by knowing that it allows non-violence you find that every violent act you choose in cast in a sobering light.”

Huston is currently working on a PC strategy title called Unwritten; the first project from his Roxlou Games studio.

Cheers, GI.



  1. Ireland Michael

    Couldn’t agree more.

    If you’re not even willing to entertain discussion on the subject, it shows an extreme lack of maturity, and doesn’t really do anything to give our hobby much credibility. It only helps to add to the negative image gaming already has.

    Nobody in the White House was out to target games. If anyone read even half of what was said, they would have realised that most of the officials involved were highlighting the *positive* aspects of violent video games, such as stress relief and relaxation,

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Gigabomber

    Ah, so the decade of poor research that has failed to show even a weak correlation between punishing behavior and video game playing among college age people didn’t come up this time? Well I guess the election has passed.

    P.S. next time make a better game arkane: I couldn’t give it more than 3 hours.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. adumicic

    @1 Ditto, my thoughts exactly.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. TheWulf

    Eh. There’s a difference. I feel that we’re going to have this now as an excuse by lazy game developers to take choice out of the hands of the players, and players with a smaller understanding of how the world works are going to cheer them on.

    Games are about choice. Games were always about choice. Games should be about choice. Every good game you or I have ever played had a choice within it that changed the scope of the game. Even as far back as Pac-Man, you had the choice to use the power-pill to destroy the ghosts, or to continue to evade them in a peaceful manner.

    The sad part is is that many games today have less choice than Pac-Man.

    I don’t think violence in games is bad. I think violence in games as the only choice that the player can make is bad. Game is about enablement of player action within the story; what the player chooses to do or not do defines their role within the story. There might only be certain parts of that story that they can see depending on whether they choose to or not to act violently.

    How many people realise that the war at the end of Fallout: New Vegas can be won by talking to the enemy general and working the fear of his homeland being overrune by invaders in his absence into his head, thus making him want to retreat.

    Did you realise that was an option?

    Most people likely opted to just slaughter him, being no better than him at the end of the day. Me? I actually tried talking to him. I actually sped down the battlefield to see whether there was a way I could defuse this war without bloodying my character’s hands, and there was.

    Mods are also fantastic things, because one added a whole bunch of stun weapons into the game for most brackets. Tranq darts, stun laser guns, padded bats, and that kind of thing. You could use these to knock someone or something out and get what you need from them before retreating, allowing them to wake up later and continue to live in your absence.

    Playing Fallout: New Vegas (a game that already embraces peaceful options) with those mods meant that I finished that run with a kill count of 0.

    Another fantastic game for choice was Spore. You always had a number of routes to follow in that; but the funniest thing about Spore was how it didn’t punish you for playing the way you wanted to. Let me give you an example. My carnivores in the creature stage were like intelligent insects. Instead of eating, they’d breed.

    I did this because I wanted the carnivorous parts, but at the same time I didn’t want to kill and eat things. So I befriended everything, and whenever it was time to eat, I’d simply go back to the camp and breed a new critter who wouldn’t have that need.

    A couple of friends at the time were more than a bit amused that I was emulating the life-cycle of a bunch of insects. And that’s exactly what was going on. Living just long enough to do what you need to and mate.

    And I completed the entire creature stage that way. Befriended everyone, found all the bones. It was pretty great.

    That was my choice.

    Don’t use this to let developers be lazy, thus allowing them to take choice from you. I see what this is really about, and I call bullshit on it. I call bullshit because Dishonored, in particular, was fucking terrible in regards to its choices. The non-fatal choices were piss-poor compared to those that existed for slaughter-happy people.

    Maybe I don’t want my character to be a murderous douchebag. That’s the way I look at it. This is my character, I’m putting a lot into him, he matters to me. Do I want him to be a murderous douchebag? No, no I don’t. So I take whatever other choices are on offer.

    And there should always be choice. Always.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. TheWulf


    I had the same problem. I couldn’t keep playing Dishonored, either, and much of that was to how poor the non-fatal choices were in comparison to the fatal ones. It was almost like the game was just encouraging me to slaughter people. That’s not what my character would do. He wasn’t Jimmy “Shit-Eating Grin” McDouchebag.

    I know a lot of people like to play that, but I’m not a fan.

    I like games where the options are equal regardless of what you choose to do. This is why I keep praising New Vegas, because no matter what problems I have with it, it’ll always be a paragon of player choice. I solved damn near every problem in New Vegas by talking or using other peaceful means.

    If your game doesn’t provide equal options and choices, then your game is a bad game. And I don’t want to see this turn into an excuse for developers to make bad games. Because like I said above, that’s bullshit, and we need to call them on bullshit.

    #5 2 years ago

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