With the news that Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge has become Australia's first R18+ game, I wanted to explore the way violence is treated.
A cursory glance at the screenshot from the game to the right should instantly indicate a prominent amount of bloodletting and general limblessness, which is entirely true, but I question the notion that a game as ridiculously fast-paced and downright ludicrous as Razor's Edge ought to be considered high in impact.
Lesley O'Brien, Director of the Australian Classification Board, said in a statement concerning the game's R18+ rating: "Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge contains violence that is high in impact because of its frequency, high definition graphics, and emphasis on blood effects.”
Now, I would consider the effects to be high in definition and they certainly do splatter a lot, but violence and its impact aren't measured so much by the quantity of blood being spilled but by the emotional resonance of the act.
Minor Spoiler: Consider the final kill in Assassin's Creed III (I won't spoil exactly who it is). Both combatants have been fighting one another on every level. They're physically exhausted, both have run out of nearby allies, both are wounded and both are strained by a protracted battle which has been enduring for years. It's a tense scene - Connor sits down at the table, barely able to stand, heaving and struggling to hold his head up straight. He draws his knife, puts one hand on his opponents shoulder and starts drawing the blade near.
There are no quick-time events, no amazing 'How cool was that?' moments. Amidst a paltry attempt to fend Connor off, the blade is very very slowly plunged into the neck of the hapless and defeated enemy, and he slowly stops breathing, being lowered to his death in Connor's arms. Spoiler over.
Compare this to the action-based, over-the-top violence in Razor's Edge.
Now, I know Assassin's Creed III has plenty of action-oriented violence as well, but the final kill scene sticks with you because its impact is heightened by its slow pace, the emotional intensity of the scene, the depth of the characters and the lack of bombastic music and other peripheral aesthetic cues.
It'd be hard to argue that the violence in Razor's Edge carried any kind of emotional weight. It has more in common with Starship Troopers than it does Saw. If you've ever laughed at the top half of an enemy's body flying off, that game is not high in impact. The black and white good guy versus bad guy plot only further enhances the simplicity and absurdity of the violence. It can't and shouldn't be taken seriously, even if it does involve blood splatter in glorious high definition.
Violence isn't and shouldn't be a numbers game. The amount of blood doesn't dictate the impact it'll have on the end player or viewer. It strikes me as being about as silly as the FCC allowing a certain number of instances of certain swear words as though it can't be said with a lot or a little hate depending on the context.
Indeed, the application of context to violence is in large part the role of the Classification Board. When violence becomes gratuitous, it can diminish its impact, which is something I feel is seldom taken into account.
Of course, having not played this latest iteration of Ninja Gaiden, I can't say there isn't a scene which mirrors the impact of Assassin's Creed III, so this can't be a criticism of the Australian Classification Board's decision per se. It is more of a question about how violence is taken to be high in impact.