One aspect of video games that set them apart from all other forms of media (other than those often disappointing Choose Your Own Adventure books) is the ability to create a story, to form a narrative through choices and actions. Even though it may provide limited choices, a good game allows players to immerse themselves into a story in a uniquely intimate way. One thing that a game loves to do with this connection is empower the player and imbue a sense of badassery, righteousness, or what have you. Much less often than the former, a game might make you feel like crap, feel like a horrible person. It could be through your own actions and choices or through a predestined storyline, but at a certain point the sense of fun vaporizes and is replaced by horrible feelings. After the jump, the staff of Twinfinite will tell these stories, choosing those that most stood out to them.
I’ve talked about this moment in Cave Story before, and if you haven’t read about it or played the game yet, it can best be summarized as the moment where reality crushes all of the hopes and dreams built up by the, up to that point, cute and lighthearted Metroidvania platformer.
For the first three sections of the game, my main motivation was to save the adorable little Mimiga (think anthropomorphic bunny) Toroko and defeat the evil Doctor. At the end of Sand Zone, everything goes to shit. The Doctor gains control of the dangerous red flowers, two of my friends died (one by my own hands), and at the end, I was deposited into an “inescapable” labyrinth.
After this moment, I was shocked to the point of tears. Never have I ever been made to feel so useless, such a failure. Everything goal that I had, I failed to meet. Everything that I had done was pointless, and I was forced to kill my own friend in order to survive.
For the entire game prior, I had felt increasingly empowered, so for the rug to be pulled out from under was devestating. I knew that I could have done something different. There was no way that they could actually beat me. I… sucked. I was a failure as a hero.
As gamers we’re accustomed to being awesome and killing lots of baddies. Be they zombies, thugs, or unmentionable horrors, we end up stuffing them full of lead and pulling the trigger until the gun goes *click*. There was however only one moment in which wave after wave of enemies and my survival via their death caused me some hesitation.
No More Heroes 2 was that game. As I recall, partway through the game involved a long segment in which the enemies seemed to come in waves and waves of endless torment and as Travis Touchdown I had to dispatch all of them.
It was terrible.
They just kept coming and coming and I just kept cutting and cutting and were it not for the fact that the bodies disappeared after awhile, I’m pretty sure there were enough corpses to stack five stories high.
That segment was put in there to deliberately exhaust the player of killing. To draw attention to how taxing all of the senseless violence was. To make the player stop and ask “Why am I killing so much?”
It was a particularly poignant part in the game and one I won’t forget anytime soon.
Number one shame on every gamers’ head: This. Yes, it took me all these years to finally learn that very interesting tidbit from one of my most beloved childhood games. All those innocent Mushroom Kingdom inhabitants… I was so ruthless, trying to get every single coin. It’s the most violated I’ve ever felt with a game and I didn’t even know it was happening. I wonder if I had read the manual all those years ago, would I still collect the coins from those blocks. Probably.
I have another shameful moment that actually happened tonight. Muaz, Tyler, and I played through Marvel Ultimate Alliance and if you haven’t, there will be spoilers in this next paragraph.
When it came to choosing who lives or dies, we saved Nightcrawler and let Jean Grey drop to her fiery doom. So quickly in fact that it sparked laughter from us. We didn’t even second guess it. When we finally got through the game and saw the consequences of all our actions, I was shocked (which by the way, Mass Effect? You could learn a thing or two from MUA). There were so many things that I didn’t even know were choices that the game took into account.
One of the more obvious ones was who we chose to save. We were treated to a small anecdote that told us what became of Jean. She didn’t fall into the lava and perish, no, she came back as Phoenix. Driven by revenge she sought to kill those that didn’t save her. Now, I’m not one to be so remorseful with games, but that actually made me feel bad. Scared as hell because a crazy bitch was basically going to kill our characters, but mostly bad. When she shows up on our characters’ doorsteps, there will be nothing we can say to make things better. The truth is the only response to give her would be, “…Well… Nightcrawler is cooler.”
As a youngling weaned on Atari games and text adventures, I was largely shielded from the harshness of pixelated death. Though before long, games like Contra had eradicated that nascent fear and I was mowing down bodies left and right. To this day I think nothing of a game where it is my sworn duty to lay waste to hundreds of nameless enemies.
However, there is a line in the sand. Modern games typically feature a component altogether new to me: relationships. I can be seen cavorting with any sex or species in a game, but I cannot cheat on that person. I did it once in Dragon Age 2, and I was completely ridden with guilt – I had to start a new game and correct my mistake, because Merrill didn’t deserve that. Can I really explain this feeling? Nope. Like I said, I’ve murdered and maimed without the slightest hesitation. But as a human, loyalty is a virtue dear to me, so perhaps that’s all I need to find a personal connection in a game, too.
I’m sure there are other people at Twinfinite (or maybe they’re just all heartless monsters) who felt uneasy about harvesting Little Sisters in Bioshock. The first time I ‘liberated’ one from a Big Daddy, I saved and chose ‘harvest’ because I wanted to see what the big deal was all about. I did it, reloaded my save, and never did it again. I’m the father of a little girl so that kind of thing just struck a little too close to the bone, which I suppose is a compliment to the game’s developers that they made such a thing so effective.
A case of feeling guilty during a game was one of the missions in GTA: San Andreas. The setup is that some guys at a construction site were wolf-whistling at C.J.’s sister. In the mission, you are supposed to get into a cement truck and trash the site. The part that really got to me was the last part in which the foreman runs into a porta-potty to get away. You have to move it into a hole and fill it with cement from the truck. Normally, I gleefully take part in the carnage of games like GTA, but that part just felt really calllous and messed up.
Tower defense games rarely lead to anything shameful or at the very least, they don’t elicit any kind of emotion in a positive or negative light. That’s the ease that the strategy genres give people.
To be fair though, Guns n’ Glory didn’t initially create this response for me either. It took a few levels to really find myself annoyed by the actions I had been taking through this game.
Guns n’ Glory is a glorified murder simulation. You as the ringleader and organizer for a bunch of wild west thugs are tasked with killing as many innocent settlers as you can. You get extra for killing the groups of them.
There is no sense of good in your deeds. It is all mindless killing. Wave after wave of defenseless men and women walking forward in caravans and on horses.
It’s not overly ruthless in the approach. Guns n’ Glory is simple. It is in its simplicity that my shame grew as I didn’t really catch what I was doing for the first few missions. It was such a simple twist that made each subsequent wave harder and harder to play through.
I’m not one to enjoy games that task me with murdering people without purpose. I feel that it is shameful and I believe it is the only game I’ve ever owned that I don’t want to play because of this.