It’s easy to grow desensitized to violence in video games, which is why it’s equally fascinating and uncomfortable when a game makes you realize how bad your actions are. I’m writing this after having my first experience with Pay Day 2, which is probably one of the most disturbing games I’ve ever played. It’s weird though, because despite playing through several “violent” video games, I’ve almost always walked away with my conscience unscathed. Murder and mayhem, while reprehensible in real life, have never really bothered me in the digital one. So, why is it that Pay Day 2 made me feel so damn uncomfortable?
For those unfamiliar with Pay Day, it’s a franchise that puts you in the shoes of masked criminals and tasks you with robbing banks, shooting police officers, and acquiring large amounts of cocaine. I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes and getting ready to write this off as me complaining about violence in games, but that’s not quite the case here. I don’t believe in censoring art and telling someone what they can or can’t create (in reason), but I do want to talk about how Pay Day approaches violence and how I personally felt about it.
Going into Pay Day, I knew this game was going to be a little weird. My younger brother (he’s 20) and his friends are all obsessed with this game and play it almost every night. Hearing him talk about securing cocaine, setting off explosives in a business, or blowing up waves of cops with an RPG has always made me feel a little bit weird, but I wanted to actually play the game for myself before giving a final verdict. So, I picked it up on Steam so I could play with my brother and find out what exactly is so alluring about playing as a criminal.
Well, it turns out that this might not be the right game for me. I love stealth games, especially when it’s possible to go an entire game without being seen or killing anyone. Naturally, I wanted to make my first bank robbery as quiet and low-key as possible. Unfortunately, stealth is really, really hard in Pay Day and I got us in a spot of trouble in less than 3 minutes after starting our first heist. While we initially only had to fight off a few security guards, we quickly came face to face with heavily armed police officers and SWAT teams. As I’m sitting there, backed into a corner and fighting for my life, my brother introduced me to a part of the game that really made me stop and think: we needed to take hostages if we wanted to get through this heist with our lives. There’s literally a key binded to yelling at/threatening people and we had to do this to several bank employees and customers and then tie their hands together and shove them to the floor. Yikes.
We eventually managed to get into the vault and walk out of the building with a hefty amount of cash, but I couldn’t shake that “weird” feeling from moments earlier. Killing enemy soldiers in a war game is one thing, but taking innocent people as hostage and using them as shields is another. The whole experience just felt off to me, but this was the final straw that made me realize I felt uncomfortable. However, at the same time, I don’t mind a game like this existing. Do I think it’s uncomfortable? Yes, but I don’t think it should be taken down or destroyed just because of its violent content. After playing Pay Day 2 and thinking about how its violence affected me, I want to know about you.
What video games have made you feel uncomfortable from its violence? Leave a comment below so we can continue the discussion.
– Zack Burrows