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Nothing is Sacred: Meaningless Enemies


Resistance, Left 4 Dead, Ninja Gaiden, Gears of War, Killzone 2, Halo, any given WW2 shooter and virtually any action game ever made have one thing in common: hordes of copy/paste adversaries. Sure, this enemy over here may wear a different suit of armor or look marginally different than that enemy over there, but in the end they are still just meaningless meat walls we have to sledgehammer through.

One question that nagged me to no end when I played both Gears of War games and Killzone 2 - where are their women and children? In Gears 2 and Killzone 2 you invade the home turf of each foe, but never encounter a single Locust woman or Helghan child. The simple reason for this is: there are none.

Perfectly acceptable.

This also makes them boring as hell. One could argue that for the Locust, they are genderless aliens and they reproduce by some other method. But there is a locust queen, so that destroys that theory. Are we to believe that she alone has birthed all of these hyper masculine locust hordes? I donít really buy it if thatís the case.

In Gears, you invade these ornately built Locust structures beneath planet Sera, and they certainly are impressive. But where are the Locust Art museums? Locust churches? It's almost as if they have no culture whatsoever other than a war culture. This is no mistake, it's by design. Epic Games wants you to feel no other emotion than violent catharsis. They donít want to clutter up the gameplay with moral and ethical quandaries. ďDestroy the Locust StrongholdĒ is a much easier objective than ďSet fire to the Locust libraryĒ.

Itís the same deal with Killzone. I'm led to believe this is an entire planet comprised of bloodthirsty, bald men?

I havenít played the first killzone, but according to the wiki page the Helghast are just mutated humans. Mutated to the point where they no longer need women to procreate? There are no helghast children? The game never answers these questions, because if the Helghast do reproduce, suddenly the player would be making orphans of those children.

The distinct lack of women, children, and any semblance of culture other than war and death are tactics used by the game makers to spare the player of any guilt for murdering hundreds upon hundreds of people; all for the sake of creating a more fun game. More fun? Thatís questionable. Less interesting? Absolutely.

There are games that at least attempted to accomplish what Iím talking about in one way or another:

Did you notice when playing Uncharted several of the enemies in the beginning of the game are very shabbily dressed? Not so much towards the end of the game where they get more advanced and start dressing like private military contractors. In the early chapters you are fighting individuals who are clearly poverty stricken. How depressing.

My point is, I actually took time to consider the individuals that comprised the pile of bodies I was producing. Did I just kill some guy who became a pirate out of desperation to provide for his starving wife and children? Whether the game makers intended me to consider this is irrelevant (although they most likely did not). I still felt guilty for what Nathan was doing. For what I was doing. And I think in this way it (perhaps unintentionally) made Uncharted a million times more interesting for me. Iíd heard that Naughty Dog was questioned about whether or not Nathan Drake is a sociopath given the cavalier attitude he retains in the game despite murdering countless people. Iím sure these are levels of depth Naughty Dog did not intend for Nathan, but it at least got people asking questions. I donít think anyone asked Cliffy B. if Marcus Fenix is a sociopath. Because nobody cares.

Shadow of the Colossus is not exactly a fair game to use as an example since the colossi arenít throwaway enemies. I mention it only because it perfectly encapsulates my thesis here: I questioned my motives the entire time in the game, and felt sympathy for the giants I was killing. The game didnít cram this emotion down my throat, however; it allowed me to feel it on my own. I canít think of another game that created so much cognitive dissonance in such a smart, subtle way.

Fire Emblem is a series that will sometimes make you think before you act. Often you will be forced to battle with a country or people you have come to know through the course of the game. Or in a rare instance ***semi-spoilers about Radiant Dawn*** sets of Characters that you control from warring countries are forced to fight each other. This created a wonderful WTF moment. Unfortunately (and at the same time, fortunately) the game takes the easy way out and lets you avoid killing any of your own units. Regardless, it was a very interesting aside in an otherwise uninteresting entry in the series.

Bioshock, Metal Gear Solid 4, and several others have similar ideas going on. Jim Sterling had a brilliant idea for a WW2 FPS from the perspective of a german soldier. Can you imagine your hesitance at shooting American troops?

The lesson here is: be brave, game developers. The market is saturated with games featuring faceless hordes. Try giving weight and meaning to the enemies Iím supposed to fight. Make me question my own motives. Make me second guess pulling that trigger or swinging that sword. Iíll thank you for it.

And no, I don't think this should apply to every game. There will always be a place in Gamerdom for the escapist male power fantasy that a Gears or Killzone provides. Sometimes you don't want to think about the violence you're inflicting; you just had a shitty day and you want to massacre some civilians in Prototype. That's fine.

I'd just like to be made to think about it more than I currently do.
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About copilotlindyone of us since 11:46 AM on 08.07.2009

20% gamer, 80% misanthrope.

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