The Needles

The Needles
Grasping At Immorality: A Tale of Two Games

Andy Chalk | 17 Nov 2009 21:00
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( Warning: spoilers inside.)

For years, videogames have made players the hero. Even when you're doing rather unheroic things, like mercilessly butchering your way from one end of the galaxy to the other, you're generally doing it for a good cause and presumably saving humanity (or something perhaps more worthwhile) in the process. Even "story-lite" affairs from Doom to Crysis have managed to turn epic mass murder into a tool for the greater good. In videogames, the end always justifies the means.

It's all very well and good as long as those "ends" remain, in some broad sense, positive and desirable. A few innocent civilians might get roughed up along the way but, like my dad always tells me, if you want to make an omelet then you gotta break some faces. But what happens when the greater good goes sailing out the window and what's left behind is something more akin to committing crimes against humanity for a blood-soaked payday?

That, in a nutshell, is Far Cry 2, which I just wrapped up, in case you're wondering what brought this on. It was decent, although certainly not great: fantastic action in a sprawling, open world that is deeply marred by some strange design choices, in particular the inability or unwillingness of Ubisoft programmers to bother cooking up friendly AI. It would be altogether unremarkable, really, but for the fact that this is the first game I've ever played in which I was given a hefty payment of conflict diamonds in exchange for blowing up a pipeline in order to deny fresh water to the suffering civilians of neighboring African nations. For what I'm pretty sure was the first time in my gaming life, I had actual moral qualms about what I was being asked to do.

And then I went ahead and did it anyway. Not because the rational, dispassionate part of my brain reminded me that it was just a game, but because it occurred to me that I'd probably already done worse things in game. Murdering police officials? Check. Blowing up an antimalarial drug manufacturing operation? Check. Helping the local gun dealer keep his profit margins fat by butchering the competition? Check.

It was like the game was purpose-built to bring out the worst in me; in a matter of just a few days I was killing guys in the designated no-fire zones just for bumping into me on the street. I'd gone from one of the most consistently neutral-good gamers you've ever met to a gleeful and well-paid harbinger of death, destruction and woeful misery.

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