Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Death in Gaming

Wes Copeland is the father of two, husband of one. Gamer, writer, retired pro-wrestler. Resident of the UK.
You can check his stuff out at  www.VideoGamesInteractive.com & www.Newbsround.com


Death is a natural part of life. It's something that everyone, at some point, comes into contact with. Yet our understanding, and relationship with death is still very much a taboo subject. Myriads of people see death on a daily basis. It's in our lives, it's on our TVs, our cinemas. Even walking down the street is sure to end in a case of mass-insect-homicide.

Video games on the whole are given a bad reputation when it comes to how death is portrayed. The media is always looking to condemn gaming as an evil pastime that Satan himself created as a means to morally corrupt the youth of today.

Admittedly, death in video games is somewhat of a quagmire. Gaming, as a platform to tell a story, can generate some beautifully realistic relationships, resulting in some truly harrowing deaths that generate real emotion.




Whenever I think gaming and death, the image that comes to mind is of Dom and Maria. I know all of you are saying “Who?” so I'll elaborate.

Gears of War is the story of humanity's last stand and war against a horde of humanoid monsters known as The Locust. The Locust are of a greater number than the humans, and have caused pure devastation as they attempt to wipe out and enslave all life on the planet Sera.

During the first game we are introduced to two characters. The main character, and his sidekick Dominic Santiago. Dom has enlisted to fight the Locust and do anything humanly possibly to stop them. As the story unfolds, we learn that when the Locust first emerged from the ground to begin said war, Dom and his wife Maria, both lost their children to the attacks. The next revelation is that Dom's wife is missing, and he's enlisted in a desperate bid to find her.

You, the player, spend the first game (six hours long) and the majority of the second (another six hours) frantically searching for her, hoping that along your travels you'll find a lead that could shed some light on her whereabouts.

Towards the closing moments of Gears of War 2, Dom is finally reunited with his estranged wife Maria, but the happy reunion doesn't last and quickly turns bitter-sweet. He finds Maria trapped inside a pod-like cell among several other pods each containing another prisoners. The angelic beauty from his one remaining photo is gone, and in place is an emaciated shell. Her hair has been ripped out, she can't stand unassisted, and there's obvious signs of abuse.

Incapable of speech, what life Maria had has been all but extinguished. All she can do is stare pleadingly into Dom's eyes as he cradles her limp body.

After years of searching, Dom finally finds the only living family he has left. After years of searching, years of carrying the burden of his children's death, and years of wanting to hold his wife and tell her it'll be okay, Dominic Santiago makes the grievous decision to euthenise her. He kisses her on the forehead, tells her he's sorry, and that he loves her, then proceeds to pull the trigger.

In a world where gamers are desensitised to death, the story of Dom and Maria – and the fallout as a broken Dom tries to piece himself back together – stands tall.

If gaming were real, I'd be serving 145,935,845 life sentences for murder and manslaughter. When gamers play popular World War II games, we don't think about the cannon-fodder that attempts to stop us.

A random guy runs in front of me with a knife screaming “Die cur!” I shoot him, and within ten seconds I've moved onto my next kill without a thought for this man's children who no longer have a daddy, or wife who's now a single parent and going to have to go out and get a job to support her family during a time of war.

Gaming gets a ton of bad press for how death is portrayed. Yes, we are desensitised, but we're NOT devoid of emotion. Death may be forgettable, and meaningless when it's someone you don't know. But when it comes to someone we've taken the time to get to know and care for, death hurts.

Back in the real world, the faceless deaths of the unknown affect us less, whereas the deaths of people we've gotten to know and care for, hurts.

The similarities of the previous two paragraphs demonstrates that video games mirror real life deaths as closely as the medium can. Sure, I won't be waking up in the middle of the night and bolt up shouting Maria's name. I'm aware that video games will never be able to match the level raw emotion that death brings. But what I will say is that gaming treats death as realistically as it can. We understand what it's like to be a soldier, we understand loss, and if anything, video games can help people to empathise with others who are going through a situation that we cannot begin to fathom.

So next time your kid asks to play the latest game that's on the news because it's full of death, and you think it's a bad idea, perhaps think twice. Sometimes video games can help the player to gain a better understanding of death.
Sometimes, emotion without the loss has a positive influence.

6 comments:

  1. Excellent look at death in video games. Though I haven't played Gears of War, I've heard about the Dom and Maria storyline, and it sounds really moving.

    I think you're completely right when you said that video games should mirror real life, and make us look more closely at death.

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  2. This is similar to my experience with death in table-top RPGs (such as Dungeons & Dragons). My players will hack and slash through multiple creatures and people to get to their goal, but they still take me to task for "killing" their favorite non-player characters--imaginary people that they actually cared about and miss now that they're "gone".

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  3. I really find this interesting. I'm not a gamer, but my kids have a Wii. Granted, they're only playing Mario at this point, but there is death.

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  4. I don't play video games (other than video solitaire when I need to get sleepy) so I don't know much about what you're talking about it. It makes sense though that if the game represents life or an alternate version of someone's life, that death would be part of the cycle. I think the problem most people have is with the mindless faceless killing of one being after another and moving on to kill more. The process might become somewhat numbing.


    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  5. Thanks for the comments guys 'n' gals!

    Hope y'all enjoyed it. ^_^

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  6. I was never opposed to my kids playing games as long as their homework and chores were done.

    As my sons grew older ( late teens and older ) they became involved in gaming in a more serious way. They built relationships with other gamers much like us bloggers do.

    I saw them grow attached to characters that they developed. And when those characters got hurt or died the kids would be genuinely upset.

    So I agree with Wes Pamela there are some real life and death lessons to be learned in video games.

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Comments are welcome and appreciated!