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Violence is Video Gaming's Laughter Track

10/07/2009 Family Family Gamer Article
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Violence is Video Gaming's Laughter Track Article

Violence is Video Gaming's Laughter Track

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As video games grow up and embrace a wider audience they need to learn some new tricks. This may come from letting winning formulas go to the wall. Like the loss of canned laughter from modern comedies, could the loss of violence be significant for video game's next big step forward.

Popularity can turn an imaginative idea into an institutionalised formula that is unable to change or address a new setting. If programming of any sort is to be relevant to a new generation it needs to learn how to throw off the old assumptions and take fresh risks. This is true in media old and new, books, TV, films and video games.

Consider comedy shows. They grew up with the popularity of television through the last few decades were initially odd unusual and sometime unpredictable. As they became part of the 80's and 90's media networks however a formula arose that led to programs like Cheers, Friends and Fraisure.

For them it is not laughter but violence and war that is most noticeably locked in.

Character driven, situational and plenty of call-back jokes for the regular viewers always featured. But perhaps more noticeable than these trends, the concept of filming in front of a live audience became an essential must have element, and with it the laughter track. This caned laughter, much as violence in adventure video games, became the pervasive idea in how to do TV comedies.

This worked well, but with a definite bias towards a certain type of show. Now, this was the point of the exercise - taking what made previous shows great and using it for the upcoming projects - but this go to comedy format meant that in the post-Friends era there was a distinct lack of new ideas.

It wasn't until shows started to throw off the old rules that inventive amusing formats started to emerge again. Whether the mocumentary of The Office, culturally rotund Scrubs. musically quirky Flight of the Conchords or even animal suited Trigger Happy TV, recent years have seen a revolution of the comedy format.

And all these new shows had one thing in common - no laughter track. It's a subtle difference but one that changes what works in these programs significantly. In fact, once you've noticed this, going back to old programs like Friends and hearing punctuation from the pre-recorded laughter is in itself laughable.

As we said, video gaming formats could learn a lot from this process. For them it is not laughter but violence and war that is most noticeably locked into the assumption of what makes a successful experience.

Maybe then, like these comedy shows, it won't be until people start to explore what games look like without that violent presupposition that real creativity will bloom again. It's not until we take that element away that we will see the different opportunities, directions and interactions that open up.

it won't be until people start to explore what games look like without that violent presupposition that real creativity will bloom.

It could be that the whole issue of direction will change as we saw in comedies like The Office. Perhaps we can simply replace the aggression with something else to subvert it's effect, as we saw in Trigger Happy TV's use of indie music where canned laughter was previously. Of maybe a action adventure without violence will become the setting for something else, like Flight of the Conchords use of comedy as a setting for songs.

Although not hitting the big budgets yet it's something we are already seeing on the margins. My game of the year so far in fact, Flower on the PS3, takes a hugely non-violent approach to the action adventure and comes away with some unique and awe inspiring experiences. More power to them.

Written by Andy Robertson

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Andy Robertson writes the Family Gamer column.

"Videogame reviews for the whole family, not just the kids. I dig out videogame experiences to intrigue and interest grownups and children. This is post-hardcore gaming where accessibility, emotion and storytelling are as important as realism, explosions and bravado."

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