Just thinking about how much games have changed within my lifetime is kind of bewildering. There was a time when I booted up the original Half-Life and stared in wonder at how realistic it all looked. It’s a bit quaint to think of it now, but I couldn’t believe how a game could ever look better than The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. If we were being kind we’d call these games aged classics. If we were being a bit crueller we’d probably say they’re butt-ugly now.
My point being that the past two decades has demonstrated an inexorable march toward realism. Texture resolution, animation quality and lighting have improved to such a degree that today’s games are unrecognisable from how games are stereotypically thought of. Earthbound’s King looks like no more than a pixelated blob of a dog. Red Dead Redemption 2’s Labradors look damn near the real thing. I’ll leave it to you to decide which made me feel profoundly guilty when I accidentally unloaded an explosive shotgun shell in its rear.
We’re at that stage now where the lines between fiction and reality are ever-so-slightly blurring. Games are designed to evoke emotions from us, and visuals are a key component on this. What was once some harmless slaughter now looks like a crime scene. Of course, deep down we all know it’s just lines of code, digital wizardry designed to fool us. But we’re human beings; we’re fickle things prone to tricks.
Developers will be intensely aware of this, and of the feelings they can evoke. It’s cheap but that doesn’t really stop them from exploiting it for emotional gain. Look no further than the recent spate of The Last of Us: Part II previews, a large chunk of which chose to focus on the attack dogs which can be brutally put down. We’ve all probably killed plenty of dogs in games over the years, and yet in heightening the intensity, the realism, and the brutality of the event, Naughty Dog is tapping in to something which makes a lot of people feel very uncomfortable. This won’t be the last you hear of it, either. The more we push toward absolute realism, the more pertinent the question of what is and isn’t acceptable.
A lot of games don’t tend to get too hung up on the idea though, even if what they’re asking of you is a tiny bit strange. I’m pretty much responsible for elk genocide in Red Dead Online, while I’m definitely guilty of skinning a badger or two in Far Cry just so I can have a bigger wallet. Screw the sustenance I could gain from that badger corpse, I need an extra slot for my Costa loyalty card.
Personally, there haven’t been too many games which have made me feel overly uncomfortable with the act of killing but there have been a few stand-outs. Specs Ops: The Line springs to mind immediately, as does just about any game where my horse can meet a grisly end. But for some reason, it’s Monster Hunter World which really got to me. These monsters are fantastical. They’re non-existent in reality. And yet I can’t help but feel a little bit strange for tracking them down in their home, hacking them apart for 20 minutes, and then carving up their skin to make a pair of snazzy new boots like some sort of colonial Gok Wan. The series never really bothered me before but there’s something about MonHun World, and its plot which is all about claiming territory, which sat a bit awkwardly with then.
So then, over to you lot. Does digital murder ever make you feel uncomfortable, or is it all just for giggles? Are there any games which made you feel particularly uneasy about what you were doing? Let us know below!