After 3 decades of gaming, my body count is probably higher than many wars. I have killed soldiers of all countries (specially Nazis and Russians), mercenaries, terrorists, criminals, police officers, hookers, pedestrians, my own character own purpose and my annoying AI partners, on purpose. And that is just the human count-down, without counting robots, aliens, animals and inanimate objects that for some reason are alive.
And I never felt regret for any of those deaths.
It makes sense. They are all just lines of codes that compose an image in my screen. I don't kill them, I just input a line of code through the controller and the program generates lines of code that will be transcript in an image of a virtual character being killed. It is not real; it is most of the times unrealistic, even. In my brain, they aren't nothing more than targets that resemble human beings.
And that makes me Death.
Death doesn't care who you are, how you live your life, your background, your social status, your race, your ideologies and faith. Death just doesn’t care. Good people die horrible deaths everyday. Bad people die from old age, peaceful in their bads everyday. Death doesn’t care about your life. Death just takes your life away. Therefore, I am Death.
But of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't feel bad for a death of a fictional character. Take Bambi's mother or Simba's father deaths. Many cried in those scenes, despite being just fiction. Many cried when Dumbledore died in Harry Potter. Or the most famous death in videogames, Aerith's death. The death of a fictional character can have a weight on someone.
But what makes you feel sad by the death of someone that isn't real?
It is feeling a connection with the characters. To feel like they are old friends that you knew for long and that have an importance in your life. It is to have any form of connection with them. It is starting to care about what happens with the characters in the next scene. To feel that their death will have consequences, and above all that, that their absence would have an impact on the audience.
But of course, those deaths aren't brought upon the characters by the audience. They aren't Death. They have no saying in those deaths. It is not them the ones that finished that virtual life. Therefore, while there is sadness, there is no regret. When the ones responsible for that death is finally brought to their ends, the audience will feel satisfied. Or if they escape punishment for such crime, they will feel enraged.
Games, on the other hand, have a different bringer of death. The character the players control is the one bringing death. If you let your controller aside, death will not happen. But when you move, it is you bringing death. It is you pulling the trigger or slashing someone with a blade. And you probably, like me, don't care.
Those are faceless enemies, or when their face is visible, they are just one of a hundred enemies who look exactly like each other that you killed. They don't have any backstory, no family, no dreams or hopes. They are there to kill you. And you are Death; therefore you end their existence without thinking twice. You don't care, because you don't know them.
They don't have a family, because you never knew they had. They don't have a wife waiting for them in their homes, a dream of seeing their children graduate and be successful. You don't know why they are trying to kill you. You just know why you must kill them, but not why they must kill you. What sequence of events led them to the moment they must kill you to see their objectives come true.
Maybe you have an insight in the biggest villain plot, probably the only enemy you know the name and a bit about who he is and why he is doing what he do. Everyone else is just random soldier #4 and shotgun wielder #2. They are not different than that series of platforms will need to jump to reach the one enemy you know the name. The one enemy you may know some of his past. The others are just obstacles to be surpassed.
Would you feel the same way if, after killing a faceless AK-47 user, his family all appear and start crying for the dead? If they told you how they were drove off their lands by the same people you are working with and that the man you just merciless killed was trying to feed them and maybe recover their home? Probably it would have a different impact.
What if, after walking side by side with one of the supporting characters, after starting to really like that virtual person, you two are forced to fight each other because of a difference in ideology, in what must be done? If all of sudden, this person that have being fighting by your side, that shared his story and his dreams with you, due circumstances, is forced to fight against you? Would you be as merciless as you was with that nameless enemy back then?
Would you be more shocked if instead of seeing Aerith's dying by the hand of Sephiroth, it was you the one who should kill her? And I not talking about being mind-controlled here, but knowing you should be the one killing her, because otherwise you would fail to achieve your objectives?
The fact is that taking the virtual enemies' lives in games has no real impact. They are just lines of codes. They aren't different than ants. You have no connection with them. You are Death, and as such you don't care. They are just obstacles, just objectives that you need to accomplish.
I am Death. Because Death don't care about the dead.
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