Thursday, 3 April 2014
It occurred to me while playing an online shooter that videogames have birthed the most reprehensible notion in the history of mainstream entertainment: kill-stealing. How in God and Jesus did we allow this to happen? No matter how frightening, bloody or well-dramatised a videogame murder could one day be, while we still conflate killing with winning, our beloved medium will never be artistically acceptable, and rightly so. In good fiction, the death of a person doesn't feel like a victory, either to the audience or other characters. Sonny Corleone, Omar Little, Desdemona. These deaths are detrimental, vicious, a tectonic change in the direction of narrative. But in online games, what we have are men and women arguing about killing in the same way they'd debate who'd deserves the larger half of a pizza. It's lower than trivial. It's plain ugly, like two sharks fighting over a length of intestine. The act of killing isn't about point-scoring or victory. It's about the very ugliest of human emotions, the lowest of low points. Since Space Invaders, videogames have instructed us that the more we kill, the closer we get to winning. And now we're at the zenith, where in our most popular games, people are fighting over who gets to be the murderer, as if chasing pennies scattered across the floor of an arcade. We haven't just made killing fun or spectacular - we've made it life-affirming. We've cultivated an audience of pure sadists, who kill for positive emotional feedback. At this point, even games like Spec Ops: The Line, where the more the character kills, the more insane he becomes, are not enough. On a ludic level, killing in Spec Ops is still the point of the game - it's still the one thing you have to do over and over in order to resolve the narrative, i.e. win. Compared to the symbiotic relationship between killing and winning that lies at the core of videogames, the decent writing and authorial intent in Spec Ops are ignorable. The pattern still repeats itself, in Spec Ops and elsewhere. What can be done?