When killing matters
I have killed a lot. I’ve rarely felt bad about it during or afterwards.
In videogames, success depends on the death of others, whether it’s an infinitely respawning slime in a cave or the fictional President of some South American country you have to snipe from a mile away. Generally, no matter how realistic the situation, the people you’re killing just don’t matter.
There are two occasions when I have felt genuine remorse, revulsion and regret upon dealing out death in games. I’m going to tell you about one of them:
In Grand Theft Auto IV, you kill a lot of people. There isn’t really any other way to interact with them other than through violence. You can shoot them, hit them with a car, engage in fist fighting or simply hurl a cup of coffee at them. Your choice is limited to VIOLENCE or NO VIOLENCE.
After engaging in violence with one gameworld character and chasing him round the block a couple of times, I ended up colliding heavily with an innocent lady. We both fell over. I was first to rise and in doing so I accidentally sent her tumbling to the floor a second time. Again she went to retrieve her coffee cup and get up. But this time, on purpose, I manoeuvred my character into her. She fell onto the steps to her own front door. She uttered something, an expletive perhaps. I was menacing this woman without actually hitting her.
I noticed that the game hadn’t treated my actions as a form of aggression. No one else in the game world was paying any attention to what I was doing.
I continued to push the woman over. Each time she tried to get up I would walk or run into her. I stepped on her back as she struggled on her hands and knees. I stood there humiliating her. She forgot about her coffee cup. She managed to stand, tried to run away, screaming. I chased her and knocked her over again. Police cars drove casually past, people on the street ignored her desperate pleas. Over and over again I sent her sprawling, over and over again she screamed.
Eventually, she stopped trying to get up. She was dead.
I felt terrible, sick. I felt nervous, that if someone had been watching me play, somehow, over my shoulder, through the curtain, they would know what a monster I was. That I’d cheated the system made it even worse. In a game world where life is cheap, her death hadn’t meant anything at all.
To the anonymous lady. I offer you my apologies and also my gratitude. Your life meant nothing in your world, but it resonated in mine.
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