Greetings, and welcome to the first installment of "The Morbid Gamer", in which I, the titular character, provide an accounting of all the lives taken over the course of popular videogames. Today's subjects are: Lost Planet, Gun, and Just Cause.
In addition to a simple numerical listing, I'll be offering commentary on the context of the violence, detailing the cruelty, realism, plausibility, and morality of the playable character's actions.
Lost Planet offers sanitized, utterly bloodless violence. If it weren't for the cutscenes assuring me that I was, in fact, killing humans, I could have just as well been fighting an army of parka-wearing robots. Why would a robot be wearing a parka? It's just that cold.
Is it plausible that one person could do this kind of damage? Actually, yes. The plot very carefully explains that the main character is some kind of super-powered cyborg capable of enduring both the frozen Earth's harsh weather and truly cruel-looking laser fire. Also, nearly half of those murders were committed while piloting a giant robot, which obviously simplifies the whole process of ending someone's life.
And what about the context? Even with the lengths that the game goes to keep the violence palatable, the story does a fairly miserable job of justifying said violence. The fairly straightforward revenge plot gets things moving nicely, but beyond wanting to get rid of the specific monster (and person) responsible for his father's death, the main character lacks motivation for most of his actions. I was told in the broadest terms possible that rival Snow Pirates and the New Venus Corporation were evil, but never actually saw them do anything specially objectionable over the course of the game, beyond standing between the main character and the large piece of machinery he wants to blow up. It would be nice if there were some victims around for the snow pirates to prey on, thus establishing their evility, but as far as I could tell, the entire population of the planet boiled down to Pirates, Corporate Mercenaries, and my rag-tag group of resistance fighters. And the fact that the main villains of the game identify themselves as members of a corporation (as opposed to a government or crime syndicate) seems like more of a craven sop to the pervasive anti-corporate environment than anything legitimately story-based.
Should you feel like a bad person for playing it? No, not at all. While there might be some twangs of guilt involved with gunning down one faceless corporate drone after another, for the most part the game does a decent job of covering up lack of storytelling with intense gameplay. All of the game's gunfights are so desperate that even as I killed my two hundredth human being, I still felt like it had all been in self-defense, as improbable as that is.
(* Obviously this number would be much higher if I included Akrid, the alien monsters that make up the bulk of the game's killable enemies, but I haven't. Despite the fact that they can clearly feel pain, I don't believe that Akrid have souls for two reasons. First, when killed, they turn immediately into solid ice or stone, depending on their breed. Secondly, rather than born through any sane or rational process, they seem to be extruded whole from cancerous growths in a way that defies the laws of both nature and physics. So even if they did have souls, they would still deserve extermination and to have their numbers forgotten, so as to better speed the process by which their existence is wiped from the history books, once and for all.)
Kills – 1256 (Villains – 1201, Innocents – 10, Horses – 45)
Gun's violence is unflinchingly brutal and unpleasant. Blood splatters out from banditos as they're gunned down, and each and every headshot is rewarded with the sight of a section of skull and brain being expelled from the victim's head. Not even animals are safe from the violence, in addition to a selection of hunting missions, when it isn't practical to shoot an enemy off their horse, it's always possible to just shoot the horse dead, and watch as it pitches forward and flips, crushing the rider under its weight.
Is it plausible for one person to be doing this kind of damage? Not even a little. Colton White, the game's main character, while a talented gunman and scrappy fistfighter, is still merely a human, and shouldn't be nearly as bulletproof as he manages to be. No matter how many bullets find their way into his torso and arms, taking swigs from a bottle of whiskey always manages to set things right. From a historical standpoint, even the deadliest gunfighters on record rarely made it very far into the double digits, so seeing one murdering his way into four is a little preposterous.
And what about the context? The game is nice enough to establish most of its villains as a monstrous anarchic force, bandits and assassins with no clear goal beyond the immediate gratification of their basest desires, be they monetary, carnal, or, most frequently, murderous. The villains are free radicals, careening about a environment full of timid people trying to find stability and civilization, destroying everything they touch. Every once in a long while a few of the villains are plot-related, killers bent on finding a secret cache of gold, but the vast majority of the enemies Colton encounters are unaffiliated marauders.
Should you feel like a bad person for playing it? No, not at all. After the lengths the game goes to in its attempts to portray its enemies as the worst scum that humanity has to offer, it's nearly impossible to feel guilty about killing them. No, a thousand more of these ne'er do wells could pop up, itching to be murdered and I still couldn't manage to well up a tear for them. There's the occasional questionable murdering situation, such as slitting people's throat's while they sleep, urinate, or sing ribald camp songs, but given the loathesome nature of the people being killed, the manner of their death just isn't that upsetting. Even the unfortunate deaths of ten civilians don't weigh on the conscience too badly, as all of the kills were the unavoidable consequences of brutal, large-scale gunfights. Especially when the civilians in question have the nasty habit of running out into the middle of the street when the gunfire starts, as opposed to ducking into buildings, behind cover, or just throwing themselves to the ground until it was all over
Kills – 3779 (Police – 423, Soldiers – 1647, Black Hand – 462, Montano Cartel 1182, Civillians – 65)
Just Cause features relentless 80s action film-styled violence, the kind where the kills come so quickly and frequently that it's almost impossible to think of the individual people killed as people, rather than just targets. Blood plumes out in clouds whenever someone is shot, and bodies disappear just moments after they hit the ground. Add to that the fact that maybe a third of all of the kills happen through the medium of massively elaborate explosions, and I was very happy to discover that the game offered a death counter, because keeping track of all the murders would have been quite a chore otherwise.
Is it plausible for one person to be doing this kind of damage? Good lord, no. Although the plot offers no explanation for the ability, the hero is able to withstand dozens, even hundreds of bullet wounds without flinching, let alone suffering any permanent damage. No, a simple trip to the health pack is all it takes to keep him shooting indefinitely, while opponents fall like tenpins all around. Things are so cartoonish that it's even possible for the hero to use a grappling hook to hijack helicopters, allowing him access to the kind of rapid-firing explosive weaponry that only high-end attack craft allow. To be fair, though, flying around in a helicopter and blowing up cars accounts for both the exceedingly body count as well as the unusually high number of innocent bystanders murdered.
And what about the context? This is where things get really silly. The hero is an independent contractor (soulless mercenary killer) dispatched by the CIA to help Marxist guerillas overthrow a fascist Central American military strongman, which is about as likely as the Gestapo dispatching an agent to help Jewish settlers establish Israel. Whatever their politics, at least the policemen and soldiers seem like horrible enough people that they need to be taken out of the picture, and the game makes the argument that members of the evil Montano drug cartel deserve to die, simply due to the fact that they work for a drug cartel. I'd feel a little more comfortable with that if all of the murders hadn't been committed at the behest of a rival drug cartel, though. The most clear-cut villains are the The Black Hand, a "Terrorist" organization. I use quotes because, in one of the game's more cartoony conceits, they're a terrorist organization only in the James Bond sense of the word, an army of black uniform-clad soldiers with access to futuristic assault rifles, stealth trains, and biological weapons. So obviously it's impossible to feel bad about killing any of them. The civilians seem decent enough, so when a number of them are inevitably gunned down it's saddening, but only to a certain extent-it's hard to feel too sorry for people who run towards gunfire, rather than away from it.
Should you feel like a bad person for playing it? A little, yeah-in addition to the fact that not all those cops could have possibly been pure evil, there's the uncomfortable central message of the game-namely, that if a country's politics are uncomfortable for America, it's best just to kill the leaders of that country. More than that, it suggests that simply killing those leaders and replacing them with socialist commandoes, and more than that, that killing the leader and beheading the army suddenly is going to somehow leave the country better off than it was before. The game even recreates one of the most unpleasant bits of the Iraq War, in a mission where the hero is sent to murder the two sons of the dictator. Of course, this is partially mitigated by the fact that the game isn't meant to be taken seriously, and quite a few of the comedic touches actually work, such as the fact that the game's developers cast the late Robert Mitchum as the hero's CIA boss. Really, it's hard to get too upset at a game that goes out of its way to announce that there are two possible ways to enjoy it right in the title. 1: Why are you shooting up that army base? "Because I'm fighting for a Just Cause." 2: Why were you firing rockets at every car on the highway? "Just 'Cause."
The Safe, Sane Slaughter
Being the morbid gamer isn't just about coldly calculating the human cost of gameplay, so here at the end of the article I'd like to offer a game suggestion to anyone looking to commit wanton acts of violence without considering the moral consequences.
This time, that game is Bullet Witch, the story of an elaborately-dressed hellcat who, using a Gatling gun, magic, and, every now and then, a magic Gatling gun, cuts a bloody swath through demonic forces. The demons aren't just evil spirits, no, they're the ghosts of the worst people who have ever lived-so vicious and immoral were they that when it came time for Satan to invade the Overworld, he brought them along with him so that they might resume their vicious murdering. They're evil enough that it's just possible that killing them may actually make the gamer a better person.
Play it in good conscience.