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.