He Who Fights Monsters
Friedrich Nietzsche. Though my first experience with the quote came at the beginning of Baldur’s Gate, when I was an impressionable twelve year old. It made a profound impression on me, because it started a game I thoroughly enjoyed as a child.
What does it mean? Well, Nietzsche was a philosopher, so he wrote books about it. And then other well meaning people wrote books about his books, though that never made a lot of sense to me. What’s the quote mean, though? It means that I hate zombies. And Nazis, but not quite so much.
How’s that for a non sequitur? I’ll explain, of course. There’ll just be a click between you and that.
But it was an anecdote in the middle of the piece that really struck me. Chris Breault talked about how, while writing dialog for The Punisher, how he was supposed to change dialog used in the interrogation scenes. Things that would make the victim seem like a human being were to be cut, because it would turn into sadistic violence. Hurting someone who wanted it was seen as less controversial. Those people deserved to die, for wanting the pain; people who tried to get you to stop by talking about their wife, their kid, their pet cat Bootsy who would starve to death if they died, they would cause some sort of sick, sadistic reaction in the player.
This wasn’t really the point of the article. It was an anecdotal remark to a bigger point I recommend reading about. What it made me think about was, how true it is of all games. Think to the video game you last played. Odds are good your enemy fit one of four categories:
It’s very hard for me to think of a video game where this isn’t true. Even where you don’t think it, it’s true. Bowser, for example, is a classic terrorist. He’s destroying the Mushroom Kingdom’s way of life, and then develops Nazi characteristics as time passes (in the modern games) and endeavors to reshape the world. Kefka was a Nazi. Sephiroth was a terrorist with grand plans. Every shooter ever featured one of these, and usually with their specific names.
The point is, can you think of the last video game that portrayed a realistic villain? That is, someone who isn’t mindless, or possessed, or a destroy the world egomaniac, or a terrorist whose actions are portrayed without any cause? I can think of a couple, but they always end up friends, or party members. Cyborg Ninja was misunderstood. Magus was misunderstood. And when villains are misunderstood in video games, that always means they will forgive you for killing all their underlings, declare you right about everything, and join your ranks unflinchingly. And if someone betrays you, they rarely have a good reason for doing it. They betray you for the fuck of it, because they’re evil.
Grand Theft Auto IV is interesting, in that it comes closest to trying to make us sympathetic. When you (choose to) kill Playboy, he talks about all the good he could do in the world, and all the things you’re depriving from the world. Of course, he’s full of shit, and you know he’s full of shit. And that’s the closest it comes to giving us a rounded villain who isn’t just out to kill everyone. Dmitri’s goal in that game is to kill you. That is his only job, his only aspiration. His life must be awfully empty when you see the game over screen.
You are always the most important figure, and you are always a monster, who enjoys the prospect of killing. You kill hundreds without once wondering, or being informed about, what these people do for fun. Why you’re killing them, even. I mean, they’re shooting at you, and that is the universal symbol of it’s okay to kill these blokes but why are they shooting you?
It has the strongest effect in Half Life 2, and it’s weird that they never explored it. The Combine are, basically, police officers. Humans, who’ve been employed to keep the peace in a city under alien control. Admittedly, not all are humans with their sense intact. Some have had invasive surgery performed (thanks, Half Life Wiki!), while others are synthetics. However, it is established to us early on that all of the combine enjoys cruelty to humans, and for what reason? We don’t have one. Aliens just hate humanity. There’s no why to it. Looking for a why will get you nowhere, because there isn’t one. The only callback is irrational, Nazi-like hate.
And what have we become, in fighting monsters who hate us for no reason? We’ve become people who think that games exist for us to act out homicidal fantasies in. Where less than half its purchasers beat Grand Theft Auto 4 because they were satisfied going around the city, shooting people in the head and shouting triumphantly. Or driving their cars down the sidewalks. Or people who bought Just Cause 2 for the sake of grabbing people with a grappling hook and dangling them off of an airplane.
Why? Because they were there. Because we hate them.