Video Game Taboos

So recently I got through playing Alice Madness Returns. Sadly I did not get to play the original even though I remember seeing it on the shelves at the local store and wanting it, but that is a different issue. When I got to the end of the story and learned of the source of Alice’s madness and desire to retreat into Wonderland it went to a much darker place than I had really seen in video games. It got me thinking of whether there was any subject that was taboo for a video game to deal with.

We often see discussions against realistic violence in video games and how video games cause problems, and I am definitely not one of those. There are plenty of people who play all kinds of games and they do not end up being mass murderers or going on some weird killing spree. The type of violence in video games can be hotly debated, but for the most part it is something that is usually divided between those who play and those who don’t. Yet, are there other subjects or issues that are brought up in video games that would be looked on as more taboo. (Spoilers for Alice Madness Returns after the jump) (Content Warning: Sexual Violence)


So I will start with the game that I recently finished because it is what I know best and that is Alice Madness Returns. I loved playing this game. I loved the psychological underpinnings of a girl who has a repressed memory and that repressing the memory is actually damaging her psyche. Wonderland is her mind’s way of coping with the terrible things that happened to her, but even that is slowly dying.

In the beginning of the game we know that Alice is the last survivor of her family and that everyone else died in the fire. It is believed her cat knocked over a lamp in the library that caused a fire to breakout. Somehow Alice got out and she ends up blaming herself for what happens. As you play the game you unlock the memories of what really happened to Alice and her family.

She remembers that her cat actually was in her room and warned her about the fire. It is the reason that she escaped. We eventually find out that she remembers a person being in the house, and it is easy to conclude that someone set the fire for some reason. When we finally get to the end we find out that not only did someone set the fire, but they locked Alice’s sister into her room to make sure she died and Alice saw the whole thing.

Now this game already has gone to a dark place, but it is understandable with all that Alice has experienced. That is not everything though. We find out that the reason the man burned down the house is that he had made sexual advances on Alice’s little sister and that the man is the same one who claims to be trying to help her. Alice also realizes that the man has been prostituting children out to the pedophiles of the town and then using psychoanalysis to make them forget the incidents. He has been using the technique on Alice to see if he can make her forget what happened to her family.

I knew this was going to a dark place, but I was shocked when it was pedophilia and exactly what they had the man doing to the children. I really did question whether the game needed to go to that extreme to make their point. Could it not have been one incident instead of this repeated abuse, or take it a different direction somehow? Now this may relate to a belief that Lewis Carroll might have been a pedophile, but it does not change the fact that I question its necessity in the game.

I find it interesting that they are never explicit about what is happening, but the interpretation is easy to understand even if it is not spelled out for you.

Sexual Violence

Obviously Alice is one, and what I feel is an extreme, example. It is the only game I have played that delved into that sort of subject matter. I have played games that have all sorts of violence, abuse of power, arranged marriage, domestic violence, etc, but one area that tends to get the most pushback tends to be sexual violence. Alice brought pedophilia into the picture, but never made it explicit. Other games definitely bring in very overt sexual violence, and although I have not played many of them, there is still a question of how necessary the violence is or if necessary what does it mean of the larger culture that feeds into that violence.

The new Tomb Raider game is coming out March 5, but the road to release has not been easy. One of the first previews I remember seeing got a huge reaction from some blogs. There was a belief by some that the preview showed a scene that seemed to be implying that Lara Croft was fighting off a potential rapist with her hands tied (about 2:20 in the above video). They questioned whether such sexualized violence was needed (others wonder whether it was really a rape or just general violence). Was it needed to make her seem more vulnerable? But, wasn’t her position already vulnerable being tied up without weapons? Why would there need to be this added threat of not only violence, but sexual violence?

Some argued that people were blowing it out of proportion and it was not what they thought it was. At the same time if you start to look at how sexual violence is used in media in general it is almost always against women. So, it does bear questioning if it was Larry Croft and not Lara Croft, a, would the same scene be interpreted the same way, or b, would the scene not have been included in the first place? Now what if Larry or Lara Croft were a teenager. How does this change the nature of the scene?

Another game that often gets a lot of negative comments along the same lines is Grand Theft Auto. Now I have not played any of these games and have never had a desire to, but I know other people who love to play them. The biggest complaint I have heard though is again the violence against women, particularly prostitutes. Now I think the one redeeming quality of this game is I am pretty sure that you can just slaughter everyone, but there is still a question maybe of why can’t there be both female and male prostitutes and female and male pimps.

Video games present another world, even when they do try to represent reality, they still have the possibility to be an equal opportunity violence machine.

In Conclusion

So I don’t really have any answers just more questions. I think we need to be careful when we say this is just the way it is and not examine why choices have been made. I think there are ways to legitimize almost any content, but it is still a question of was it necessary, did it add to the story or experience, or is it just reinforcing a cultural norm?

Do you think there is any subject that would be taboo for a video game to deal with? Do you think there are certain scenes of violence that go too far?

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