gamesVSlife: Killing’s been done to death
posted on 11.14.12 at 03:38 PM EST by (@admeady)
It's an awesome pun. I know.

Killing, as video games know it, has grown tiresome: I’m tired of wading through countless foes, each as forgettable and soulless as the last; I’m tired of leaving levels covered in death and decals; I’m tired of killing something identical to the thing I killed just moments before – and I’m tired of cleaning the blood off my barrels and blades.

In an industry with such a singular focus, killing has been done to death.

Indeed, taking a digital life has lost its kick. Developers know this. It’s no longer enough that we merely save the world, massacring hordes of alien beasties as we do so. We need experience points, we need upgrades – they know it isn’t what it used to be. We’ve become so accustomed to being unstoppable ‘win’ machines that they’ve had to incentivise being the hero – they’ve had to incentivise saving the world.

In a weird twist, then, developers empower us by throwing ever-growing groups of foes at us. “Oh, look! You’ve just taken on two hundred bad guys.” And yet with each new enemy, with each new kill, any meaning – well, as much meaning as killing in video games can have – dies with it.

But perhaps it isn’t the act itself that has become tiresome. It’s the indiscriminate nature of it all. I can’t choose not take the life of a grunt in Halo or an opposing soldier in Call of Duty. It’s only in, say, Dark Souls, that I’m able to exercise this right. And it’s because I have that choice, it’s because I can make that simple decision, that I feel empowered.

And so killing only carries weight in a world where it can be helped – in a world where it’s not an inevitability.

Metal Gear Solid is a fantastic example. Not only does bypassing an enemy make me feel like the smartest Snake that ever lived, it’s the mere fact that I could kill them but choose not to – that’s the kick. From a narrative perspective, too, it’s vaguely possible to identify with a hero who doesn’t murder everything between here and the credit screen.

To me, Metroid Prime’s beauty lay with its choice to put the shooting part, the conflict with Talon IV’s wildlife, in the background. It was still there, of course. But it wasn’t my primary drive. I was concerned with being in the world, exploring – that was my kick. Although it was a small shift in focus, it was a profound one.

As I grow older, killing for the mere sake of killing in video games is beginning to wear thin. Once I begin to see that killing is the sole answer to the world’s problems, the entire experience falls apart. Game by game, level by level, foe by foe, it’s appeal fades. Developers, show me a game where killing is a conscious choice – not an inevitability. Or a conflict where I don’t kill. Show me an experience where the hero can’t effortlessly slay the villain.

Because in a world where death is cheap, it can be incredibly difficult to feel alive.

gamesVSlife is a column dedicated to video games, life, and how games relate to life. Feel free to leave your comments and stories below.

Read More
Blogs,
  • Revorse

    I don’t really mind the killing. And it’s pretty easy to sort of justify in my case. I play games besides for fun, to usually reach the end of something. Whether it be a simple goal like, Flower, or something more complex like Save the World. But it can’t be easy, I need some opposition. And opposition just tend to come in hordes of faceless henchman. It’s just something that is what it is.

  • Willgaea

    I feel so alive in dark souls. Sometimes my hands begin to dampen.

  • xMCXx

    The beginning reminded me of “Gentlemen, I love war!” xD
    Anyway, it’s not just mindless killing that’s been done to death it’s those whole (world) war scenarios. CoD, Battlefield….they all need to go away.
    Like you said, a game in which you’re not THE super trooper über soldier would be nice once in a while.

    • Luna Kazemaru

       I don’t know how you can be a super trooper in CoD or BF when in the last few you die…lol oh boy.

      • xMCXx

         Yeah, you die after killing approximately 50000000000 dudes.

        • Luna Kazemaru

           my god I love this type of logic its a shooter you kill people ‘ YOU DON”T SAY’ but you aren’t a supper trooper or whatever the hell you wanna call it but hey you can keep the wishful thinking about saying both need to go away because they aren’t

          • xMCXx

             I seriously don’t know why people defend those games.

            • Luna Kazemaru

              And i don’t know why people put tin foil hats on bashing on them god forbid people enjoy them.

              • xMCXx

                 I don’t mind people enjoying them.
                But don’t act surprised when people call those game out on what they are: The same thing every year with expensive DLC and so on.

                • Luna Kazemaru

                  And the same damn thing can be said about a number of other games yet no on says anything when pokemon and mario does it. Right like i said blind basing

                  • xMCXx

                     Actually, I also hate those fucking Mario games.

  • http://gematsu.com/ Zero

    How about games that allow you to save someone? I think that puts an interesting spin on all the killing. Some games flirt with this, but others really give you an interesting set of choices. A specific person dying might change the game, etc.

    I think the choosing not to save someone approach is interesting, not many games actually do this, and while I’m heavily reminded of one of the ending scenes in Batman Begins, I think not saving someone in a video game is the tougher choice.

  • Sewon Yoon

    Ironically enough, Black Ops 2 actually did an interesting take on this,

    What do I mean in that a Call of Duty game actually does killing differently? (y’know as opposed to the bajillion other FPS games)

    Well, in certain parts, there are actually times where not only you can decide whether or not someone can live or die, but also THAT specific choice actually determines the ending.

    Yes I sound like some bumbling idiot in Marketing, but at least hear me out.

    You know how in TellTale’s The Walking Dead Games, each episode’s story is determined by how you play the game and what choices you make, all leading up to the last Episode of who follows you?

    It’s actually kind of like that, just (for lack of a better word) weaponized a la FPS.

    For example: if you’re given a sniper rifle (wait…) and have to kill someone, you actually DO NOT have to kill them. You can just shoot them in the leg or anywhere that isn’t fatal. So basically, getting a headshot actually has “consequence” and legitimate emotional impact.

    I can’t believe i’m saying this, but I think Call of Duty may have actually done moral choice better than say, Infamous.  

    And yes, despite me defending a (possibly overrated as all hell) FPS game with something beisdes killing, depending on enjoyment value, it may leave something to be desired.

  • new_tradition

    (I love that last line in the article ♥)

    As for the actual topic, not sure how I feel…I can understand the tedious feeling of grinding/killing field enemies for the sake of taking on a story boss, but as for the fact you HAVE to take on the story boss, that doesn’t really bother me.

    Though I’m mostly drawing from my experience with RPGs, hack n’ slash, and other action games. Guess it’s a genre thing?

  • Aldridge517

    I agree with this article. One of the only reasons why I still want to try Way of the Samurai 4 is because I saw you can dispose of enemies with the blunt edge of your sword. I’m gonna play like Rurouni Kenshin :P

  • http://twitter.com/RaiuLyn Raiu

    Give me a good reason why I should start killing otherwise, what motivation is there to be a hero and not to be a merciless sociopath???

  • MosquitoLemon

    Mirror’s Edge all day. Disarm, toss gun, run away.

  • http://soundcloud.com/tet-chan TetsuyaHikari

    Sounds like someone needs to play Heavy Rain.

  • http://twitter.com/AceOfCakez Ace

    I like this. A lot. 

  • KingOptimusOrigins111

    Portal

  • Hinataharem

    I agree with this article. Killing shouldn’t be all there is to a game.

    I still enjoy slaughtering thousands in Dynasty Warriors, though ^_^

    • Tre W

      I disagree. “Kill everything in sight and that’s it” is a fundamental thing that works out just fine for a number of games.

      I mean, let’s take Dynasty Warriors, for example. This is a game series where the overall design philosophy has more in common with the side-scrolling beat em ups from the 80s and 90s (re: Double Dragon and its ilk). You take a character of choice, and beat up everybody else on the screen, all in efforts of clearing the stage.  The only difference between those classics of yesteryear and Koei’s games now? Koei perhaps did a better job of translating the hack-n-slash/beat-em-up for a home console market better than most (before the likes of the Musou series, replay value was a very rare thing). They’ve even tried to interject a bit of a narrative, in recent years. But DW is still the same thing it’s always been. And for fans, like myself? We wouldn’t have it any other way.

      But the basic thing is, killing everything goes along with the power fantasy that embodies 98% of video games past and present and is as much a part of the medium as super heroes are to comics. And if that doesn’t gel with you somehow, it might be a sign that you may need a new hobby…

      • Hinataharem

        No, I said I agree with this article, but I feel that games like Dynasty Warriors are fun BECAUSE I’m killing so many. I love the series because of that, don’t get me wrong.

  • http://twitter.com/Sieghardt Sieghardt

    I think it’s possible to identify with a mass murdering “hero” if the writing and setup is good enough. Characters like Caim from Drakengard and Guts from Berserk might dice everything they see with a demented grin as giant as their sword but you can still kind of identidy with them because the world view is so messed up it pushes them over the edge.

  • IGN_aleZ

    I suggest you pick up Spec Ops: The Line – gameplay mostly sucks but the story really makes you feel guilty of killing people, and the multi-ending rocks.

    Great article, anyway.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ida-Spinder/100000152421262 Ida Spinder

      The problem with Spec Ops is it does not give you choice. It gives you the illusion of choice.

      So it becomes a broken aesop

      • IGN_aleZ

        Well, at the end you have three choices and it’s already more than almost every shooter out there. IMO the real issue with Spec Ops is the cookie-cutter gameplay which really brings the whole experience down.

  • Kobracon

    Good article, although I question the authors selection of video games. Sounds like he needs to play Journey and relax.

  • Adam Meadows

    Thanks for the feedback guys. Will keep it in mind. 

    • http://gematsu.com/ Zero

      You know I enjoy reading these, keep posting them. =)

  • Budgiecat

    Yeah it was pretty stupid in Ninja Gaiden 3 when the enemies give up and are pleading for their lives and you can’t even grant them mercy sometimes and walk away

  • PrinceHeir

    wish more games like Metal Gear Solid, Deus Ex, and Hitman!!!

    i want a Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex game!!!!!!

  • Freesun4

    While Metal Gear Solid gave the option of not killing the enemies, I think Solid 2 and Solid 3 did it better by featuring more relatable protagonists. Unlike Solid Snake who is what everybody wants to be, Raiden and Naked Snake show multiple doubts when it comes to killing enemies, especially the latter in the final boss fight where the player is forced to make the plot progress. 

    I wonder what was Meadows’s reaction to Ninja Gaiden 3 where the player is unable to stop Ryu from killing a family man who is beging for mercy. God of War is another example from where I thought my character was an asshole who had little reasons to kill every being from Greek mythology (and he is even a war maker within humans).

  • Freesun4

    Something I forgot but nobody would check is Mortal Kombat 9. There they rebooted the story and made the heroes likable characters: they take part in the tournament to protect their world but they are against the idea of killing their opponents. Liu Kang and Cage are examples which made appreciate the story.

  • xxx128

    The most basic and simple gameplay is that of elimination. Pull the trigger, turn a 1 into a 0 before the 1 turns you into a 0. Awesome gameplay, definitely worth millions of sold copies. Guess who the joke is on?

  • gamelayer

    Does Mario Kill Goombas when he jumps on them?
    If so, do they feel agonizing pain as their brain is crushed inside their bodies?
    Do the ghosts in Pacman die when they are eaten? As they are ghosts,
    do they feel the pain of death all over again, as they transform into a pair
    of floating eyes?