Pardon me for turning into your grandad, but when I was a lad and first-person shooters were fast, blocky and entirely inappropriate for me to be playing, enemies wouldn’t simply crumple to the ground like a rubber lamppost when shot. Instead, when struck by a rocket or a shotgun blast, they would explode in a shower of meaty giblets (hence ‘gibs’), as recently seen again in 90s-style retro shooter DUSK (pictured above).
In the 1990s, if an FPS didn’t let you gib an opponent in at least two different ways, it probably wasn’t worth playing. But gibs fell out of favour after the turn of the millennium. There wasn’t any obvious cause, although there’s a couple of possible culprits.
The first is technological. Gibs disappeared around the advent of ragdoll physics, which quickly became the de facto end state of dead virtual enemies. Also, trying to render the trajectories of all those flying chunks would have killed most PCs of the time.
In the 2000s, first-person shooters also moved away from the fantasy and sci-fi settings of Quake and Unreal, and embraced real-world scenarios such as WWII and modern theatres of conflict, emphasising authenticity. Developers such as Infinity Ward wanted to portray the battlefields believably. These games wanted to be taken seriously.
As such, they didn’t want to accidentally glorify the violence of these wars, so the emphasis on gore was reduced. Given that the inspiration for many of these games was Spielberg’s horrifically grisly Saving Private Ryan, this may appear an odd decision.
But at the time, games didn’t enjoy the same respect as film as art forms, hence this weird drive to represent war tastefully. That’s been the standard for the best part of 20 years, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that gibs ought to make a comeback. It’s not about virtual bloodlust (although a good gibbing is undeniably satisfying); it’s because I believe we’ve moved too far in the other direction.
For example, The Division 2 is a robust if unimaginative shooter in which you’re a special forces agent restoring order to a destroyed Washington DC. At least, that’s the premise, but really you’re just using real-world guns to shoot numbers out of people in order to unlock a slightly better gun, like the world’s worst pinata party.
I find this approach to representing violence insidious. I can understand Infinity Ward wanting to avoid glorifying historical violence out of respect for the (relatively recently) deceased.
However, The Division is set in a contemporary America, which has massive and well-documented problems with gun violence. With its guns and soldiers, The Division 2 is highly realistic, yet its treatment of violence isn’t just minimised but euphemised. It really is one step away from shooting candy out of your enemies.
To me, that’s more disturbing than any meat that fell out of the guts of even the most gratuitous 1990s shooter. I’m not saying that The Division 2 should feature explosive gibs (although grenades are kind of designed to make a mess). However, games that portray real-world military violence shouldn’t shy away from the results of said violence. Better yet, I’d love shooters to avoid realism altogether, and instead focus on being stylish, thrilling, imaginative and utterly gib-tastic.