It’s the culture, not the player says DOOM Designer John Romero on video game violence

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John Romero

Video game violence has always been a thorny subject. Ever since Sub-Zero ripped the skull out of his opponent in the first Mortal Kombat, concerned people and opportunistic vultures have always circled the medium and questioned the effect of violence on an audience. It’s a controversial subject to some, and a complete waste of time for others who claim that video game violence has no effect whatsoever on the psyche of anyone engaging in it. And now the designer of DOOM himself, John Romero, has chipped in some thoughts regarding the issue.

“I believe games are cultural and the violence that we see in the world goes beyond games,” Romero said in a keynote talk at the GameOn Ventures conference in Toronto via GI Biz and GameSpot.

Plenty of countries play games. Canada, Germany, Japan, England, Ireland… They’re all hardcore consumers of games, yet we don’t see similar outbreaks of violence in these countries. It’s not the game, it’s the gun. It’s not the computer, it’s the culture. It’s not the player.

And that somewhat makes sense. It’s not only the culture surrounding a player which has an impact on them committing terrible, terrible things to each other, but also the culture which is very quick to cast the blame on a convenient scapegoat. Something that you sadly see a lot of in the US of A, when compared to other more civil nations around the world.


Beyond that, Romero also spoke about what it means to actually define what a game is these days. “Computer games weren’t games according to people who played board games back in the ’70s,” Romero said.

While console games were not games according to computer game players in the ’80s… As we expand the boundary of games, people question whether it’s a game at all. Is Gone Home a game? Is Life is Strange a game? Is Her Story a game? Yes, I think they are.

When we push the boundaries of games, when we experiment with the medium to see what it can do, there are always those who will question if the new work at the end is still within the boundary, when in fact it has just pushed it.

It’s an interesting analysis from Romero, a designer who helped turn video gaming not just into a hobby, but an art form as well. Games are so much more than just blood, guts and excessive violence these days. Unfortunately I’m not more than that, so I just find it unbelievably cathartic to engage in a game that allows me to beat demons to death with their own severed limbs. Which in itself, is actually quite artistic.

Last Updated: October 25, 2016

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