A Copious Amount of Killing

Dynasty Warriors 7

I’m a nice guy.

I keep to myself and always try to help people out when I have the chance and can spare the time. I don’t like conflict, because it slows down what I’m doing and it’s generally exhausting. Conflict sucks.

But why then, do I decide to sit down at home and turn on a game that’s centered around what I’ve been cutting through all day? Why do I feel compelled to entertain myself with a medium that stokes this very same fire?

Uncharted: Golden AbyssRecently, I’ve played through Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the PS Vita. It was an entertaining distraction for a while. The game portrays itself as an adventure where you must rub charcoal and take photos in order to solve a larger mystery that looms over all of the characters in the game. With this adventure comes conflict.

There are bad guys trying to nab the treasure first. If they get rich then a war is bound to follow. They must be stopped along the way.

After around 25 chapters of running around South America, I suddenly got sick of it.

The game was impressive. It gave me a lot of value for my time. I quite enjoyed ledge-grabbing my way across all of the portable vistas on the PS Vita. The story was good. It gave me a reason to care and it gave me a lot of opportunities to get to know Nathan Drake and all the rest of the characters.

But there was something nagging at me. Something that wouldn’t stop until I stopped playing the game altogether.

I realized that I was simply sick of killing people. It wasn’t fun anymore. I started to think about how it was ever fun in the first place. Then I looked further and came to a telling conclusion.

I don’t feel a victim at all. I only feel a victor.

Video games do a good job of telling stories of conflict. They do an even better job of making you forget that you’re a killer. For your character, and in turn for you, killing people is a necessity. You need to kill people in order to progress, in order to reach your goal, in order to do that ultimate good. Killing is a temporary means to an everlasting end.

Very few times are we not rewarded for killing. It’s commonplace to see an achievement or trophy for the different tiers of murder that we accomplish during a game’s completion. Heck, we even get rewarded when we kill people in certain ways.

It’s a little ghastly if you dwell on it too much.

Orcs Must Die!

That’s why video games don’t. Dead bodies disappear, leaving only a score as a reminder of the player’s deeds. A number signifying how terribly efficient we’ve been when dispatching these little AI programs. Blood stains go away when a scene changes. Protagonists amble forward, forgetting all the conflict that led up to their point of victory.

Killing is an important part of many games. In fact, it’s the most important gameplay aspect of a lot of established genres. You can’t have a proper FPS with rubber bullets and you can’t have a proper RTS with ceasefires. The MOBA genre even rewards you for timing kills properly. Action-adventure games aren’t quite the same if you can’t hang from a ledge and pull someone off of it. Heck, action-adventure games are expected to come with a host of baddies to get rid of.

An endless supply of enemies don’t give gamers like me much pause. We take up our arms and mow them down, sometimes without a thought as to why we’re doing so. Many have stopped kidding themselves entirely, opting to make their game titles reflect the main gameplay goals:

Shoot Many RobotsKilling has become such a casual gameplay element. It gets overlooked when we consider how a game works. Does a game have enemies of some sort? Well then it’s understood that we end up killing them in some way.

Would it be possible to wean ourselves from this violence at this point? Would we even want to?

Minigamers (what I call the children) slowly get caught up in these games by starting with something as benign as Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. It has all the killing facets there – a multitude of foes, melee attacks and guns of all sorts.

Sure you may be killing robots or zombies in some of these, but they don’t behave much differently from the human enemies we slay on a daily basis.

I’ll steer clear of the whole ‘violent video games beget real life violence’ at this point because it’s a bit tired. That and I don’t quite agree with it.

At the same time, I feel like everyone should take a step back and reflect on the kind of games they’re playing. We can all use a break from the murder. I recommend trying out a more benign game like To the Moon, Journey or Touch My Katamari.

As for me, I think I’ll refrain from these kind of games for maybe another day or two. I’m finding that puzzle games like Lumines: Electronic Symphony and racing games like MotorStorm RC are great for cleansing the palate. Then it’ll be back to the meat grinder – the exhilarating but numbing meat grinder.

I blame the Power Rangers.