Does Video Game Shock Still Work?

Companies rely on different kinds of tactics to draw people to their games. Considering how crowded the market can be, using such efforts can be quite helpful. After all, it shows off what the game is about and gets people talking. But, with how things are in the world today and the wide range of games available, are things really shocking anymore? Can shock value still be a selling point?

The most obvious sort of shock value comes with a game like Borderlands 3. The game has long been known for its edgy humor. There are poop jokes. Characters joke about drinking soup out of your skull. It can be crass, dark, and immature. Which somehow feels fitting with a post apocalyptic game such as this. This is a game filled with fireworks of sorts, from a cavalcade of loot to a dizzying array of swear words. 

But, it’s also a situation where that might even cause the shock value to fade. Not that it makes Borderlands 3 feel dated or any less enjoyable to its target audience. Rather, it is something we expect from the series in general. So, we expect it from this particular installment. People appreciate it for seeing how it might try to push the envelope this time. Perhaps they might even see its shock value as a means of trying to see exactly how it will differ this time around. In this case, showing that it has shock value might help reassure people that yes, this is a game they want.

This means we might turn to other means of shock value to astonish us. For example, something horrifying could suddenly put us on alert years after it was relevant. Lance McDonald, a game hacker, messed with the P.T. Silent Hills demo to investigate a secret that has been haunting people since the trial was briefly released in 2014. Why is it that the ghost, who everyone presumes is a woman named Lisa, always sounds like she is right alongside or behind you? McDonald’s camera work led him to realize that when you see her shadow or hear her, she really is right behind you in the demo. You just could never see her. The shock was a revelation and made the game relevant again in 2019: five years after it was a big deal.

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It also can mean turning to more tantalizing images. For example, let’s consider Succubus. It is the sequel to Agony, a game about hellish demons and horrors that garnered most of its attention with how brutal its character designs could be and lurid its enemies were. Its sequel is doing the same. The spin-off stars Vydija, a succubus, with each batch of screenshots clearly hoping people will be so compelled by the idea of playing as a naked woman. Will it get eyes on the game? Absolutely. This is a tactic that will work even though it is just a case of, “Oh, look! She’s not wearing any clothes.” It might not be especially shocking, but it will create an awareness (likely positive and negative) of the title.

So sure. Shock value can be a valuable commodity. With a game known for it, it can help reassure fans that it is exactly what they expect and attract them, even if it isn’t exactly “shocking” anymore. With an older game, a shocking reveal can pull people back in. Then, when it comes to games with sexual innuendo, it will definitely get attention, even if it doesn’t really surprise anyone. As long as it isn’t overdone, it can still be effective. 

Jenni Lada
Jenni Lada

Writing Team
Date: 09/24/2019

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