Note: Some spoilery discussion of major plot point in The Last of Us
Incidentally, what it is with you and knives for everyone, anyway?
Knives! Knives for everyone!
Guns or bows are nice, but I guess I just prefer the hands-on touch you only get with sneaking up behind someone and stabbing them in the neck.
Speaking of that, have we discussed how this game is pretty hardcore with the deaths of people you kill? All those choking noises when you strangle people, and the way Ellie will jump on someone and just stab repeatedly at them until they finally collapse. Which is a pretty realistic attack for a small person with a knife trying to overcome a larger, stronger person.
I feel weird saying I LIKE this, but I guess I like the way it gives the deaths some weight. You’re not just wandering around bloodlessly wiping out faceless enemies: you’re working hard to kill other people, who would certainly otherwise kill you, but who are nonetheless recognizably human like you. (Or, in the case of the infected, at least formerly human.)
We have not, but let’s, cuz it’s timely.
I DO like how it gives things some weight. And it sure is gruesome. Even the way YOU die is gruesome. And we should be revolted, but we’re not.
Unlike Hatred. Heard of Hatred? Well, it’s a game about killing people. Anyway, here’s a refresher:
So people are looking at themselves this week saying “How come TLOU is good killing and Hatred is so yucky?” (Cuz it sure is yucky. Don’t watch the trailer. Don’t.)
We like to call BS on the people who use realism as an excuse to beef up their form of offensive in gaming. Should we be so quick to call realism on violence?
Ooh, that was timely!
Interesting article. I think I can say that I will not be playing Hatred. Or watching the trailer.
Why is TLOU good realistic killing and Hatred bad realistic killing? Lack of a comforting narrative justifying it, I suppose. In TLOU, you’re trying to save your own and your traveling companions’ lives. You don’t go around killing people because you like to kill people, you do it because you have to, and I think you–as Joel anyway–feel yourself to be in some measure a worse person because of it. The realism in TLOU serves to bring home the fact that you’re basically a murderer, not that much different from the murderers you kill, and it doesn’t ask or expect you to glory in that fact.
It sounds simplistic to say that violence is OK as long as you don’t enjoy it too much…but that’s kind of where I’m coming from, I guess. Or no, that’s not quite it, you don’t have to feel BAD about it, but you shouldn’t be making light of it, maybe that’s more what I’m trying to say. TLOU’s graphic deaths add weight to the idea of death and the common humanity of those who die, while Hatred’s graphic deaths make light of the suffering and death of other people.
Are the characters just as dead either way? Sure. But I could live with myself as Joel a lot more easily than I could live with myself as a hate-fueled mass murderer.
There’s certainly much artistic exploration to be done of the line between hero and villain, and I could see interesting stuff done with a game that forced you to just BE the villain that you kind of are (but aren’t really because of story justifications) in plenty of games. We usually do lots of ‘bad’ things in games (killing hundreds and hundreds of people for a start, shamelessly looting and stealing for a close second). We don’t (generally) do it for the sake of doing bad things, but it still gets done.
There could be a certain refreshing honesty in a game that just says, “You’re a horrible person! Get over it and start relishing the suffering of innocents!”
I personally would probably not play that game, even if it was generally perceived as good, thought-provoking, a valuable addition to the conversation, whatever, because I have a strong sense that if you’re taking pleasure in the whimpering pleas of your helpless victims, that’s pretty gross, and feeling gross about myself is honestly not why I play games. I felt bad about killing the unarmed, featureless drummer in the convoys in AC3: I’m not going to enjoy killing vividly detailed strangers out of ‘hatred.’
I only kill people I know out of hatred. It’s the personal touch that’s lacking here, that’s the real problem.
Awwww, that’s why you’re a real friend. I know if you ever kill me, it’s based on that personal connection.
Yeah, that’s not one that’ll have me missing the PC.
One does not get the sense that Joel really enjoys much of anything. I think that’s why David appears slightly more monstrous; he seems to be liking all of this. Which is just not right.
But is that ok? I mean, are we being desensitized by the way the game presents death? I mean, we see Lara cry and retch the first time she kills a bad guy, who was trying to rape her, and that gives her (and us) carte blanche to basically murder a few hundred other dudes who really just want off the island? Shouldn’t we feel a little bad about them? About the guards?
I think one of the things that bothered me about Hatred wasn’t so much the violence, though that was pretty wrong. It was the idea that the devs, seriously or not, and it may have been a bit of both, argued that this was the “ultimate in gaming pleasure” or something, like the best part of games was the killing, and this just distilled it out. Which isn’t the case at all. That’s a shortsighted view of things. Hell, the WORST parts of TLOU and TR and Infinite were the shooty bits.
And there could be interesting exploration, but it is funny that there has been pretty much universal revulsion at this game across the board. This from people who play violent games, enjoy violent games, and pretty much bristle at the non-playing world trying to ban violence or blame game violence for the ills of the world. I was disgusted, and I’ve been an apologist for violent games for years.
Well, it’s like you were saying a couple of weeks ago that someone figured that what people mostly want to see in driving games is car crashes, so they’re making a game that’s all about crashing cars with less boring driving. A crash simulator!
Apparently someone else figured that what people mostly want to do in video games is kill other people, so they’re making a game that’s all about killing people with less boring explanation. A murder simulator!
As it turns out, many people apparently are saying “wait, actually there are non-murder parts of games that I quite like,” but I guess it’s on the same principle. “Get to the good stuff!”
Strip the game to its essence, as you said, and if for you the essence of games is the killing, well, yeah, I guess Hatred might seem appealing.
I think maybe the ‘murder’ part is also a problem. I mean, I’ve enjoyed a violent game in my time. I like setting enemies on fire or blasting them with a shotgun as much as the next person. And I like hurling knives at them possibly a bit more than some.
But the thing is, the huge, glaring difference between Lara Croft killing every dude she came across on that island after the first one, and you killing every person you come across in a murder simulator, is that those dudes WOULD have killed Lara. Sure, oftentimes if she could she’d shoot them from a distance, so they never really got the chance to PROVE they’d try to kill her, but we know they would have. If you’d wanted to do the honorable thing and announce yourself to every dude you encountered to give them a chance to NOT try to kill you, you know they’d go ahead and try to kill you.
We forgive a lot under the ‘self-defense’ justification. Or, as in Assassin’s Creed, the “this Templar stooge deserves it” justification. Or, really, any freaking justification at all. But if you offer NO justification other than ‘hatred’, sure, maybe you earn some points for honesty with people who are really just in it for the murder, but you also wind up making a lot of people feel kind of gross.
Because even in games where I, by any logical definition, commit lots of murder, I don’t think I’d say that murder is a significant part of WHY I play the game. I play it for challenges, or role-playing, or story, or skill development, or adventure, or trophies, and I commit murder (or, you know, justifiable homicide) because that’s the mechanic the game uses to advance these things. I don’t pick up a game and say “ooh, lots of killing in this one, looks good.”
I mean, like you, I’m not going to say “I deplore the violence” or anything. I have fun with the violence. I certainly derive satisfaction from the depicted deaths of others, as when successfully killing a tough enemy, or stabbing someone in the back in just the right spot, or wading calmly through a mob of randits who apparently didn’t realize that I’m now 57th level–suckers. I also enjoy artistic blood spatters and dramatically exploding enemies and so on. But there’s that justification piece that has to be there: these people were trying to kill me, or they’re trying to take over the world for the Templars, or they’re trying to kill someone else, or whatever.
You have to give me a reason, I guess. I personally don’t want to play the evil-for-evil’s-sake villain. We all play for different reasons, of course.
Thing is, it’s been done. It was called Postal. It got a lot of shock value, the press went nuts, etc. There were two sequels, no one bought them as they were boring. This is nothing new, even. It’s just Postal without the post office.
And Yup. We like to be justified.
I also think that the outright cruelty of it rankles. I might have mentioned, the one thing I did in a game that led me to reload the game and NOT do it just because I was NOT doing that was telling a kid that his parents were ashamed of him and making him cry. This in FO3. Not the violence, not the contract killing, no. Having a kid beg me “please don’t make them send me to military school, I promise I’ll stop wetting the bed, don’t make me go!” Nope. That got a nope. Because he was innocent, and it was cruel. (Three fucking hours I spent looking for another way out of tranquility lane, and found it when I punched a vase out of sheer frustration).
Or even it’s the difference between liking violent films, and seeing that Schindler’s List or Clockwork Orange or the Godfather are some of the best films ever made, and being outrightly disgusted by Hostel or Saw 7. All violence is not created equal. Use it to tell a story, good. Use it for sheer shock value, bad. Ditto for sex and profanity, for that matter.
Ah, but clearly the problem with Postal was bad graphics. With modern technology you can REALLY enjoy your victims’ terrified cries and pleas for mercy!
Every generation needs its murder simulator.
I also think it’s interesting that the article mentions you can do all the same basic ‘killing random strangers for no reason except that you can’ in GTA, and how he tries to work out the difference there. I haven’t played GTA and don’t find it very appealing (I don’t much like driving games, is a big thing), but I guess we could argue that at least there ARE other things to do in those games? Like, you don’t HAVE to murder bystanders to progress in the game?
But honestly, maybe it’s just giving you enough non-murder things to do in between murders, to take the edge off, that’s the difference. If I have a game that’s nothing but murder, I feel gross and also I get bored. If I have a game that has a lot of other stuff going on, “oh and by the way here’s this mission where you murder someone” it’s more…palatable.
Boredom is probably the greatest sin of all, though. So many times “getting to the good stuff” backfires because what makes the good stuff good is context and anticipation. Yeah, we all wish we could eat nothing but frosting when we’re kids, but as we get older we realize that this makes us feel sick, and that also the thing that makes frosting really enjoyable is having it as a part of the cake–or maybe straight from the container, I don’t judge–but at any rate not as the only menu item in every single meal.
Even if the thing you like most in games IS the murder, you’ll probably like it more in GTA, where you can go off and do other things and work up your appetite for another massacre, than you will in a game where that’s all you get to do.
As for me, watching bits of GTA5 over Mr. O’Ladybrain’s shoulder was enough. There was this bit where you had to torture some guy for information, and you couldn’t complete the mission until you’d used all of the various torture equipment lying around, and another bit where you kidnapped some guy (I think also in relation to information) and left him in the trunk of a car on a railroad track to be smashed by a train. That’s not a kind of violence I enjoy.
I think probably another part of ‘justification’ is the idea that the person you’re killing is dangerous and could potentially kill you back (so to speak). I like sneaking, and a good stealth kill is very satisfying, but to be honest I feel more “OK” about killing someone in an open fight. If someone has a chance to fight back, and is capable of fighting back, then that’s “fair.” You earned that murder!
Killing bystanders and civilians and people who aren’t equipped for or capable of fighting back, who don’t pose a threat to your character, feels way more questionable, and that’s where the “gleeful mowing down of pedestrians” in GTA fails for me. I get that’s it’s fun to see them bounce across the street and all, and swerving to run into them just right is a skill, and I’m not saying everyone who runs over GTA pedestrians is a sick and horrible person. It’s a game, duh.
But it’s a game where you are, in that case, choosing to pick on people weaker than you are, and I guess I’d rather play a game where I pick on people more my own size. Because apparently my morality comes from the playground.
Which is appropriate, since we’re talking about games. Ha.
That’s true about Postal being held back by its graphics. I didn’t buy this fancy PS4 to kill in low def.
Well, story, I guess, not just any non-murder thing. I mean, if it was tennis, murder, tennis, murder, that would get boring and annoying (or strangely fascinating in a surrealist way). But GTA WAS praised for character and story. We’ll never know.
It’ll be very sad when I get bored with shotgunning people. You know? It’s the little things.
Yeah, violence against the helpless, not so good. Although, I did just watch Joel torture some dudes. Wasn’t fun to watch, though.
And while we’re on that…..you mentioned very accurately that the combat violence in TLOU is very graphic. Has a weight to it, you could say. And yet, in this torture scene, you don’t… see it. Sure, you know Joel has just put a knife in that guy’s knee, but they don’t show the knife or the knee. When he’s about to kill the other dude, pipe swings offscreen, fade to black. Those bits didn’t have the knife to neck/board to head oomph of…..like everything else in the game. So I guess Naughty Dog thought that ok, there IS a line, and here it is. Showing Joel pull a guy’s throat out with a shiv in combat, ok, showing Joel pull a guy’s knee apart when said guy is tied up, not ok. So there’s the line.
I see that, about picking on people your own size. It’s why we always go so paragon, I suppose. That’s us. Heroes.
We are so very paragon. I mean, aside from the fact that I’m currently the head of the Dark Brotherhood in Skyrim.
Yeah, the torture wasn’t fun. Killing: one thing. Torturing, even for a noble cause (rescue your kid): something else.
Also, you only watched, right? (Unless I’m blocking something out.) You as a player didn’t actually have to take any action, or even make the choice to act, so you could distance yourself from it that way. The cutscene gives you some space, lets you remind yourself that this is Joel and Joel does what he does without consulting you, and you’re not Joel. And, as you say, it backs off from the actual depiction of violence as well.
Is this a simple act of mercy toward the player, or a cop out? We don’t want to see that or be responsible for that, so the game lets us off the hook. Would it be more honest if they made us watch, or made us push buttons to actually use the shiv? “Look, this is what you’re doing, so you can live with the icky feeling it gives you if you value the information that much”?
I think probably backing off was the right call as long as this was the only way to proceed. If you had a choice–torture the guy, or just start walking and hope you get lucky–then it would be fair to make you watch if you chose to torture, but if it’s not really a choice, I (very much) appreciate that they didn’t go all torture porn on the pain and suffering.
So, do I think it SHOULD have been a choice? No, not really. I don’t need to think of TLOU as a game where you can choose to torture people and then watch it in loving close-up. Leave that for Hatred.
You do not act. Total hands off controller scene. Let’s you back off.
I lean towards cop out, I do. I also think it tacitly implies there is “fun” violence. If this violence is so un-fun as to be hidden, then the stuff they show must be the “fun” stuff, right? Cuz that’s when you’re playing.
I was rather shocked by the fact they didn’t try to shock.
But wait wait, torture PORN implies you’re supposed to enjoy it, a la Hatred. This, I think, would have been a chance to do what they attempt to do with dialog: show that Joel is also a monster. Or, at least raise the question they did with David: if you’re doing what you have to to protect your own, ARE you a monster? We see David’s awful acts in all their gore, why forgive Joel? Is he not as bad because he’s the hero? If you’re going to draw parallels, have them be parallel.
Agreed, though: Don’t make one choose. Especially as if I had chosen not to torture, more snow sneaking, probably.
I can see your argument for it being a cop-out not to make the torture more graphic–as graphic as any of the other violence, at least. I’m still going to vote for the backing-off technique just because I really didn’t want to see that, but I get that this lets the player/viewer off the hook, and therefore also in a way lets Joel off the hook.
Letting us step back lets us avoid confronting that “Joel is a monster” fact (again–I mean, we’ve confronted it before) and blurs the parallels between David’s monstrousness and Joel’s.
Maybe this is a case of the game being only as strong as the player’s stomach.
Oh, don’t get me wrong I don’t WANT to see it per se. But if you’re going to make an upsetting game, then upset.
I mean, this game goes out on a limb to be gritty, depressing, and thought provoking. Why hedge? I mean, it is what it is.
It is interesting. And it’s not that they’re trying to gloss over the fact that Joel can be a bad guy. I mean, if that’s what they were aiming for, they could have skipped the torture entirely. Had the guy just tell him, or had him hear a noise, or any number of things.
But they specifically included the torture, to remind you that Joel will do anything he thinks he has to to get what he wants (like David!), and then they back away from it as if to let you think “well, that wasn’t SO bad.” (Not like David, who IS so bad?)
Exactly. That scene is obviously there for obvious reasons. Why add it to pull the punch that adding it brings?