With the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., still on the minds of many Americans, President Barack Obama recently outlined a $10 million plan to study the effects of violent media on our children. Around the same time, a bill was introduced to Congress to address what is often perceived as one of the biggest sources of violence in media — the video game industry.
Some of the top-selling video game franchises are among the most violent. The Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty franchises have sold well over 100 million copies of their games each. These series feature games rated for adults and include what the Entertainment Ratings Safety Board (ESRB) refers to as “blood and gore” and “intense violence.” Based on the ESRB rating and video game sales figures by industry tracking firm VG Chartz, these are the best-selling violent video game franchises of all time.
An analysis of the top-selling video games of all-time shows that recently-released violent games are quickly climbing the charts. New violent games such as Diablo III and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 have broken short-term sales records. Five of the top 20 video games for global retail sales, based on numbers from VG Chartz, are “mature”-rated games showing blood, gore and intense violence. Most of them have only been released in the past five years. Of the other, nonviolent top-selling video games of all time, many are from more than 15 years ago.
The debate over whether video games have a direct impact on children continues to rage. Some studies appear to show an increase in violent tendencies among adolescents who play violent games compared to those who do not. Others appear to show that games featuring blood and killing actually serve as a release for troubled youth and can prevent them from lashing out in real life.
Whether they have a destructive impact or act as a release, there is little question that games have become increasingly violent. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., iStrategyLabs CEO Peter Corbett explained that with so many devices competing for our free time, developers have to distinguish themselves with extreme violence. “The game publishing platforms have decided,” Corbett explained “that the best way to break through the clutter is to explode someone’s brain with a shotgun.”
Even if they wanted to, Corbett added, it isn’t in the interest of game developers to slow the escalation of the violence in their games. “It’s an arms race. You can’t back out of an arms race.”
To identify the top-selling violent video game franchises, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed industry analytics group VG Chartz’s list of global retail video game sales. First, we selected the franchises that had a least one game in the top 150 games sold of all time. We then reviewed all franchises with a top-selling game that was rated “Mature” or “Adult only” by the ESRB and was also designated as having “blood and gore” and “intense violence.” Because VG Chartz only counts physical sales, digital downloads for some games were considered based on company reports. Diablo III has sold at least 12 million copies alone, according to Activision, which makes the list. The franchises are listed in order of total global sales.
These are the seven best-selling violent video games.