1. swift and intense force: the violence of a storm.
2. rough or injurious physical force, action, or treatment: to die by violence.
3. an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws: to take over a government by violence.
4. a violent act or proceeding.
So using violence as an umbrella term, not only would Grand Theft Auto use video game violence but so would Super Mario. Since Mario jumps on turtles, is that not a form of violence against his enemies?
Why all the Violence?
Video Games are not alone in using violence; movies, TV, comics, books, paintings, drawing and basically every other medium has used violence to capture the attention of others. Almost no one would argue that violence negates art. Many violent movies, and tv shows are critically accalimed and loved by many. Violent literature is frequently taught in high schools and universites. If you take a look at many artforms around us some form of violence is there. But why do we project all this volience into art?
Violence is one of the easiest ways to motivate and capture our attention. Nothing gets us at the edge of our seats easier than the threat of danger. We naturally want to preserve ourselves, and you can see this trait in every animal alive. Therefore, seeing someone in peril is something we can immediatly identify with. In a video game the easiest way to motivate the lead character is to set him up in a situation he/she has to fight out of. There are other ways to motivate us but the video game medium lends itself more easily towards violence. Even the controller is set up for action oriented games.
Another reason for violence is comedy. It may seem a little contradicting but violence can lighten up a game if done in a specific way. One of the most basic forms of comedy is slapstick. While slapstick alone can get tiring it can help add a layer of humor to the game. Comedic violence only comes through when the blood and gore is exagerrated. For example in Martal Kombat 3 when you preform a fatality, sometimes multiple rib cages errupt from their body. Having this over exagerrated effect lets the player know that not only is the violence on the screen not real but so ridiculous it should be laughed at. Sometimes using violence as comedy can move out of slapstick and into dark humor. Dark humor is a much higher form of comedy that gets the player laughing when he/she should be disturbed. It is really hard to pull off effectively but when done properly it can create a memerable experience. The Grand Theft Auto series nails dark humor perfectly using a violent world to make the player laugh and have fun while at the same time poking fun at our society.
Violence isn't the only solution
I made it clear that a vast majority of designers use violence as an overlaying factor thoughout their games. However, violence is just part of the puzzle, it should never be the only thing the game has going for it. Games have come out that are overly violent and extremely shallow and they usually fail both critically and commercially. Here are some examples of games that truely have nothing but violence and failed because of it:
A mindless first person shooter (FPS). Most game critics, from well respected websites and magazines, hated the game and it received negative reviews. FPS should at least have some sort of motivation beyond mindless killing. 1up.com review states that Postal 2, "is meant to be rude and crude, but it's also meant to be funny. That can make up for a lack of gameplay if done right. But guess what? Postal 2 isn't funny... In the case of Postal 2, the joke is on the game buyer. "
A fighting game so violent that it never came out commercially. But most reviewers got a near final build and it was universally panned. The game went through a number of delays and changes and eventually turned into a Wu Tang clan game. This game was also universally panned. Video game critic and comedy writer Seanbaby said, "The art direction was a combination of a 12-year-old metalhead's Trapper Keeper doodles and a crime scene."
This game is just one violent act after another with no real purpose, and stars a lead character that is immpossible to care about. A PC gamer reviewer said in their review that it was, "so tasteless that I wanted to scrub myself with Lysol after getting up from the computer." Most video game websites and magazines didn't even bother to review the game.
There are some extremely violent games that did cross over and became well recieved games. It was not because of their violence that they strived but because of the other things the games had to offer.
Grand Theft Auto
Violence as visual art? Mad World turned blood into the only color on the screen. Watching this game is like watching a black and white pulp comic coming to life. The storyline of the game also realizes how over the top it is and has some humorous commentartors that poke fun of the beat-em-up genre.
God of War
Set in ancient greek methology you cannot realistically portray the subject matter without violence. If you read any old texts that deal with the subject matter it is full of sex, and violence. God of War follows a new character Kratos and his fight against the God of War. It's a new story but it borrows so much from other greek tales and entrenches itself in the mythology that the violence fits the mood of the source material.
Of course not all games are violent but a lot of them are (at least on a very micro level). But even when a game is full of blood and guts it can still be saying something more. In fact, a game has to be more then just violence to survive, considered that a shallow game will be quickly lost in the shuffle when there are many deeper games out there. The media latches on to it because it is the only thing apparent in screen shots and short videos, but if people actually took a chance to sit down and play and look deeper in the games they would see so much more. How would a movie reviewer feel if people dismissed the Godfather just because they saw a bloody horses head?