Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
What Is the Matter with You People?

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 29 Nov 2011 16:00
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Because it always seems like not being able to kill the children in huge, open-ended games is something that gets complained about with alarming regularity by a certain demographic of hardcore gamer, and it's often the first thing to get modded in - after the nude patch. And I can picture in my head an argument with a non-gamer who comes into the room to see you throwing nine-year-olds off a mountain. "Oh my god, that game looks absolutely monstrous," they might say. "No it's OK," says the modder. "It's not a game about killing children. You're never told to do it and it's never necessary." Which would then raise the obvious question, "Why the hell did you go out of your way to mod it in, then?"

Because of realism, is the usual argument. We don't need no immortal kids ruining our immersion. But if we're playing that card, you could also argue that it's unrealistic that you can't lash a bunch of swords together to make a sporty go-kart. And if we're talking Skyrim, if realism is your concern I'd think you'd want to start with making all the characters look and act like actual human beings.

Alright, maybe that's a flawed argument, because the code for killing things already exists in the game, and you just want to extend it to every living thing. Okay. But let's recontextualise this. What if Skyrim had standard controls for making love to people? Say, left click to deploy a bunch of flowers, right click to stick it in. Would you mod the game to allow players to also fuck children? Not because you want to, you understand, but just for the sake of realism. When you set out to seduce every single person in a town you don't feel properly fulfilled unless the neighbourhood kids have also been ticked off the list. Of course not. This is a horrible notion. But why more so than murdering them all?

You see, even in a game as open as Skyrim, the designers still exercise a certain amount of control over the general tone, that's why there won't be any helicopters or rainbow ponies available right off the bat. The designers of Skyrim are trying to create a setting in which you forge an epic fantasy story. And whether your story is one of a fine upstanding swordsman, or a neutral mercenary, or a morally flexible assassin-thief, pausing on your way to work to methodically slice your way through a row of innocent schoolchildren is going to turn that story into something it doesn't want to be. For the same reason you can't stop and exchange insurance details in Saint's Row. The range of roles available may be wide, but there are still some things the game's agenda will not permit. You are an adventurer. You are not an accountant. You are not a circus lion tamer. And you are not a child murderer. Alright?

Anyway, everyone knows children never die in fantasy stories, even if everyone else in the village does. 'Cos then the child is expected to go off and train for fifteen years until they're built like a bullock barbecue and can take revenge on the dark lord who orchestrated it all. It's pretty much the law.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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