Why Unnecessary Swearing in Video Games Annoys Me

Anyone who knows me knows I swear an awful lot. Probably too much, but hey, that’s the way I am. It doesn’t sound forced because it’s not, it’s a natural part of my speech. Video games, however, have never been able to quite get that right.

Movies don’t seem to suffer from this problem. Even films that use the F-word every five minutes don’t phase me, because it sounds normal – due to good acting, most likely. However, when I was playing the Far Cry 3 multiplayer last night, I was reminded at how rubbish games are at swearing.

In Far Cry 3, the Scottish player in the co-op mode, Callum, is incredibly sweary. Granted he is a thug, and Scottish, so you’d think the swearing would sound normal. However, his language never sounds natural. It jarring, especially the over-use of the C-word. Now, I want to make it clear that I do not particularly find the C-word offensive, that’s not the problem here, the problem is it’s one of the strongest swear word around, and consequently the hardest one to get right. Every time Callum opens his mouth during the co-op cutscenes I shudder and want to punch him in the face. Maybe that’s the point; we’re not meant to like Callum, or any of the other characters in particular. They’re anti-heroes, really. However, this doesn’t detract from the point that his swearing just sounds false and unnecessary, and I certainly wouldn’t want to play it within ear-shot of my parents.

Some could argue it suits his character, but swear Callum just doesn't sit right with me.

Some could argue it suits his character, but sweary Callum just doesn’t sit right with me.

Bulletstorm is perhaps the worst for unnecessary swearing. Every other word that comes out of General Sarrano’s mouth is a swear word. At times, the swearing is quite amusing and made me laugh, especially as the script writer had come up with inventive and unique ways to use them. But most of the  time, it felt like the swearing was just there for the sake of it. Swearing isn’t shocking or controversial to most of us any more, especially gamers. We’ve seen it and heard it all before.

So why put it in games at all? Well, some developers get it right. For example in games set in war-zones or similar frightening situations, where swearing would be rife, it feels right. Most recently, Lara Croft swore for the first time in her life in the new Tomb Raider reboot but because it’s used so lightly (and it’s just so British), it feels natural, and not forced.

The blame for poor swearing could be passed onto a number of people. Perhaps the script is at fault, or maybe the voice actor, but I think what’s most likely is that video games just don’t suit the over-use of swearing. Some of us forget that games aren’t movies, they’re often compared to each other but the two mediums differ hugely. If you want to make a character the player really hates, don’t use swearing, make the character in question cruel. Borderlands 2 is a great example of how they make Handsome Jack an incredibly evil character, without the use of swearing. In fact, Jack constantly corrects those who do swear. Swearing can be funny, but there are other ways of making gamers laugh than over the top swears. In Ni No Kuni, the language is very child friendly, as a result many words are used in replacement of swear words. Drippy often calls Oliver a “plonker” for example, which is much more funny than any swear word would ever be.

My point is, if you don’t need the swearing, and if it sounds false or forced, it’s better off leaving it out. I love my “sweary” movies but swear heavy games hardly ever get it right. Are there any video games you can think of that use swearing in a good way? If so, let us know in the comments.

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  1. Darth_Mooo

    It’s true, if you’re going to put swearing in a game, you need good voice actors, a good script, plot and the right circumstances, and just, well, the right atmosphere. Most games don’t handle it well, and we just end up cringing, or rolling our eyes at how poorly it’s been put together.

    I’ll tell you a game that has tons of swearing, but it works well though – The Walking Dead. It’s got all the above, and it feels real. When they swear there’s always a reason, and you can feel the character’s fear, anger, or frustration.  It usually works fairy well in the single player for Far Cry 3 as well, considering some of the things that happen.

    Swearing can be good for comedy as well, if they’re inventive with it and have the right timing. No games spring to mind for good usage in that repsect though.

    • Belzer

      Actually, the unnecessary swearing in The Walking Dead ruined it for me. In particular I recall two characters cussing like sailors in front of a little girl during a normal (non-heated) conversation, with no zombies around, and I thought, no, *nobody* would do that.

      Ask yourselves this: even in games where you think the swearing is ok, would the game be ruined if all of the swearing was removed? I can honestly say that I’ve never had a game where I thought, wow, great gameplay, plot, dialogue and characters, but what a shame the characters didn’t curse every other word–it totally ruined the experience! But I sold Far Cry 3 without playing it and got rid of The Last of Us as soon as I’d finished it because the off-the-chart level of swearing ruined them for me.

      Game developers are just pandering to adolescent boys, who think swearing is the coolest thing going. I hope it’s something they’ll stop doing, but unfortunately I think it’s here to stay.

  2. Why So Serious

    Laura V. I agree wholeheartedly! What is going on here? The counter posts on IGN regarding this matter are so mindless. “If you don’t like it, don’t play it”. That not the solution I want to hear. I’m 55 years old and have played video games since pong. GTA V I understand is a parody of real life however I still don’t understand why games of this magnitude can’t contain an alternate track of Non-Swearing? Throw us a bone here. The violence, guns, sex, blood and prostitutes I can deal with. It breaks all the rules of the real world and makes for very exciting game play. It’s the colorful language that may add to the gritty ambiance however is not necessary and may increase sales exponentially. It does not have to be at the level it’s presented. I grew up in an extremely rough neighborhood and I’ll tell you, if a parent heard their own offspring drop the “F-bomb” the way they do in these games a SMACK upside the head would follow immediately. It’s not realistic and it’s nothing that should exist outside of a comedy club or an R rated movie. Yes the game is an equivalent to an R rated movie however a movie even has a certain level of decency on profanity use. I don’t need it blasting out of the TV every SECOND for my teenagers especially when their grandmother drops by. Yes there are a lot of indecent things which occur in the game however the indecent language goes too far. It’s extremely unrealistic and is way beyond Richard Pryor, Red Foxx indecent. Rock Star just made $800,000,000.00 on the GTA V release. Can’t they spend a fraction of that to give us a extra track or profanity patch? Hip Hop and Rap artists make alternate tracks for the airwaves why can’t games?

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