The morality of killing in games

I was having a discussion with someone the other day about games and they mentioned that they enjoyed the Call of Duty series, up until the infamous airport scene where civillians are massacred by the group that you are undercover with. My colleague at work was generally appaulled by it, as were many others. Personally I thought it went too far with the body count, waaay too far, but the actual concept wasn’t too obscene. We see scenes of this ilk in TV shows and films all the time and on this occassion, you had the choice whether to kill or not. In the end I shot a few people, but only those who had god awful voice acting (a pet hate of mine) as I like being the good guy, the hero, in games. However I do understand where people are coming from. Providing you with the opportunity to slaughter masses of people is morally objectional. Sure, Infinity Ward say that they wanted it to be disturbing, but do they seriously expect everyone to see it from the artistic point of view? Do they really think that their target audience is playing to encounter these moral dilemas? No. They are playing to shoot things, to shoot people… in the head.

Of course if this was zombies no one would batter an eyelid. Left4Dead has you gunning down hordes, blowing their heads off with shotguns and charging through them with chainsaws. Dead Rising goes even further and sells on the merit of the depth of rather gory ways to kill zombies. GTA IV (and its predecessors) were much more heavily criticised despite having a lot less gore and violence.

I know when developing APB there were concerns over certification as you could run over pedestrians as both sides of the law. Due to the lack of AI intelligence, it was a bit of a forgone conclusion that you would so the penalties for an Enforcer weren’t particular heavy. I’ll be honest and say I enjoyed running them over. They were so dumb and pointless that it was just something mildly amusing to kill them. It took me back to the “Gouranga” days of GTA. Whilst obviously I wouldnt go running down a bunch of Hare Krishnas in real life, it was fun to do in the game. In truth, I never viewed the pedestrians (or Living City as we called them) as really human. They were just AI Living City there to make the world look more alive. I know the difference between them and REAL pedestrians. Therefore for me, it isn’t a question of morality about “do I kill them or not?”. Its just part of a fictional game with “objects”.

Within APB there was talk about introducing zombies at a later stage. Whilst I felt zombies was an old card, they would lend well to the game. Everyone enjoyed hitting them, it was a little like running over cardboard boxes in a 70s cop show, so to turn them into zombies and provide an objective could have provided some interesting playing style. Who knows?

Why do we find is “ok” to maul zombies (or infected) but not humans? Because they are dead? Because the zombies are a fictional being? In a game the entire scene is fictional. At their root they are still human bodies, human appearance. The only real difference between blowing off the head of an “innocent” human and a zombie is the direction that they run (zombies towards, civillians away), the texture and the audio. The act of the player is just the same.

So whats my point? I don’t really have one. I just find it interesting that both designers and players are able to get away with incredible acts of brutality if their enemy is a zombie in a game, but make it human and that is unacceptable! The more intelligent the AI, the more morally objectional it is to kill them. Its quiet curious really.

One final note. Whilst discussing this topic with my colleague we agreed that killing zombies is okay and he added on “an Nazis too”. Hmmm…

Leave a Reply