It turns out I write more on forums than I do blogging, so I’m considering posting the more interesting ones here.
Today’s topic: Homicidal maniacs in video games – why do we love them so?
I think what’s interesting with the GTA games (along with stuff like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Dusk Till Dawn, etc), is that the lead characters still have a strong moral code. Sure the player can go on a killing spree; but in the game story, none of the player characters are sadistic or psychopathic — they’ve been thrown into a situation that forces them to fight, and the people they attack are usually other criminals or corrupt cops and politicians. On a moral front, the game justifies it by saying something akin to “I may be a bastard, but I’m not a ****ing bastard“. The same is true with John Marston as well — he’s a criminal, but he’s seeking redemption, so in terms of the story it’s okay (even if you got that dastardly achievement).
It’s the same with Alan Wake and Max Payne — they’re both dicks (especially in MP2), but they’re in impossible situations, and under tremendous physical and psychological pressure. But above all, they’re not bad people — they might be flawed, but they have redeeming features. Which means you can identify with them and their cause — at least in the game fiction.
Kratos I’m not sure about — even Riddick, under all the fatalist bravado, shows some levels of remorse. But Kratos is actually psychopathic (I read an article that convincingly suggested that Lara Croft was too). I haven’t played the sequels, but in the first one he has absolutely no regard for anyone’s life, feelings, or goals, except his own. He’s not even aware of them. The game makes it really difficult to like him, except for the fact that, 99% of the time he’s fighting monsters, and in combat he’s a badass.
Perhaps Kratos can be forgiven because he’s so morally shallow, that it’s actually quite comic to watch, in an absurd way. It’s like you’re waiting to see just how far he’ll go. The same can be said about Mortal Kombat — it’s pure comic-book fantasy and so over-the-top, that it just about gets away with it. As others have said – I think humour helps.
But these games aren’t really sadistic, either — which is where I draw the line. When I was younger I liked the Postal 2 demo; but growing up, I realised it was just sick. Of course kids are going to dig it — again, it’s so absurdly divorced from reality, that you can’t quite take it seriously (e.g. using a cat as a silencer). But at the same time, there’s some real underline malice and bigotry in that game too. Well, I’m not going to preach — you have to make up your own mind on these matters; but personally, as someone looking for a career in the games industry, I wouldn’t proudly put that kind of thing forward as an example what this medium is capable of.
There’s also quite a good article on IGDA which considers GTA3 from various different morally philosophical viewpoints.