234: Kill Billy

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Kill Billy

Brendan Main has killed thousands of faceless enemies during his videogame career. But the one he remembers most wasn't an enemy at all. Main ponders the meaning behind his propensity for virtual goat-slaying.

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still as funny and touching as the first time, though i said i would try the game the first time it was published i haven't, something about playing games older than i, much older in fact, doesn't sound like much fun, maybe if it gets the monkey island treatment.

anyways congrats on being the best of the best.

I'm very glad this was re-posted!
I vividly remember this article, because I played KQ1 at a young age, and the memory of stabbing the goat was strangely etched in my head. I did it, and I felt terrible.
Great article, even the second time around!

Great article - but I have felt remorse for charaters in other ways.

I find that if there is something incredibly simple, like a name, attatched to a character, then you feel like they have their own life, their own stories, and you've just heartlessly killed him - a main game for this is Morrowind, where you can go into a random house and begin the slaughter for no reason, and often with no repercussions.

So, let me get this straight, you killed the goat...because the game's interface sucked and wouldn't let you do things. So, the goat had to die, so that you could feel like you did something?

Ahh, text adventures. I always hear stories of such frustration. A genre I will avoid, even though I did play the Escapist's own "Phantom of the Arcade 1".

I registered only to say how brilliant is this article. I think I've read it at least 5 times since its original publication and it's not only the best Escapist article of the year, but easily one of the best gaming articles I've ever read.

My only gaming regrets come from WoW. No, I don't mean investing time in it, but quite the opposite. I played from just before Ahn'Qiraj (so the end of 2005) to the end of 2007; almost 2 years exact. I was a bit of a newb starting out, as we all were, and was pretty useless with keeping my money.

I distinctly remember a level 60 Gnome Warrior, on Jubei'thos, offering to sell a 'blue' weapon around my level, which was mid to high 20s, I think. I asked him how much he wanted, and he said "20g". Crap, I only had like... 80 silver. That's .8g, for those who don't play WoW. I explained that I couldn't buy the weapon, and apologised for wasting his time.

"Screw it" he said, "I'll give it to you anyway. I only picked it up when running a guildy through an instance, it's no big deal."

And he gave it to me. Being a massive newb (I was only 13 when I started, so yeah), I only really got exasperation and impatience from people, and for someone to just be nice was unheard of. Then later on, when I got to level 40, he helped me pay for my mount. He was a friendly guy to me, and from what I got was that he was older, probably around 20s or something. Typical WoW player. The patience he showed to a young lad of 13/14 was remarkable.

Anyway, I took a brief hiatus a bit later from that point, and when I came back, he was gone. Character deleted. Bummer.

Anyway, after I quit in '07, I eventually came back, about 3 months ago (about). I already had 2 level capped characters in BC, so I knew the mechanics of the game, and I picked up the rest very easily. Being so 'leet', I tended to be impatient and even a bit rude with newbies, because, hey, I didn't want to waste my time with em, despite starting on a new server. Well one day, recently I was being a bit of a douche to a person who took a sarcastic remark as a serious one, and thought I needed their help. I remembered this guy from 3-4 years prior, and I simply felt ashamed for my actions. This guy, my in-game role model, was kind enough to randomly help a lowbie, even at his own expense. Here I was berating one for no real reason. I changed my tune after that, and now I go out of my way to help new people to the game. If someone asks a question in Global Trade chat, amongst the myriad of rude and inaccurate answers, I always whisper them the right one. It's the least I can do.

So here's a shout out to you Guga, level 60 Gnome Warrior from Jubei'thos. I remember you, and I appreciate what you did for a lost kid.

still one of the best articles ive ever read on the escapist.

[pats Brenden on the back]

Animals carry with them an aire of innocence whereas it is easy to assume that people are assholes. In Splinter Cell i always tried making a point of not killing the guard dogs because i didn't want to kill a dog, yet i gleefully puddle shocked guard after guard.

This article reminded me of another piece of pointless farm animal cruelty, Warcraft III, click on the sheep relentlessly and they detonate.

Very well written, held my interest the whole way through. :)

This article reminded a lot of "the Men Who Stare at Goats"; don't know if you've seen/read it already, but you should if you haven't. The goat becomes a symbol of guilt (and possibly grief and despair as well) for one of the characters in that movie/book. That character at one point compares his situation to that of the mariner in S. T. Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner".

Oh. My. God. This is brilliant.

I love the conclusion, "the only true morality games are the ones we play against ourselves." <3

I never realised that you could kill the goat. If you stick with him long enough, he runs off: goes on the lam after knocking off an innocent troll.

Really, you did the right thing.

Well done, sir.

I am truly glad that the animals (goats) were not real. I love animals and could never, ever
do any harm to them.

Angerwing:
My only gaming regrets come from WoW. No, I don't mean investing time in it, but quite the opposite. I played from just before Ahn'Qiraj (so the end of 2005) to the end of 2007; almost 2 years exact. I was a bit of a newb starting out, as we all were, and was pretty useless with keeping my money.

I distinctly remember a level 60 Gnome Warrior, on Jubei'thos, offering to sell a 'blue' weapon around my level, which was mid to high 20s, I think. I asked him how much he wanted, and he said "20g". Crap, I only had like... 80 silver. That's .8g, for those who don't play WoW. I explained that I couldn't buy the weapon, and apologised for wasting his time.

"Screw it" he said, "I'll give it to you anyway. I only picked it up when running a guildy through an instance, it's no big deal."

And he gave it to me. Being a massive newb (I was only 13 when I started, so yeah), I only really got exasperation and impatience from people, and for someone to just be nice was unheard of. Then later on, when I got to level 40, he helped me pay for my mount. He was a friendly guy to me, and from what I got was that he was older, probably around 20s or something. Typical WoW player. The patience he showed to a young lad of 13/14 was remarkable.

Anyway, I took a brief hiatus a bit later from that point, and when I came back, he was gone. Character deleted. Bummer.

Anyway, after I quit in '07, I eventually came back, about 3 months ago (about). I already had 2 level capped characters in BC, so I knew the mechanics of the game, and I picked up the rest very easily. Being so 'leet', I tended to be impatient and even a bit rude with newbies, because, hey, I didn't want to waste my time with em, despite starting on a new server. Well one day, recently I was being a bit of a douche to a person who took a sarcastic remark as a serious one, and thought I needed their help. I remembered this guy from 3-4 years prior, and I simply felt ashamed for my actions. This guy, my in-game role model, was kind enough to randomly help a lowbie, even at his own expense. Here I was berating one for no real reason. I changed my tune after that, and now I go out of my way to help new people to the game. If someone asks a question in Global Trade chat, amongst the myriad of rude and inaccurate answers, I always whisper them the right one. It's the least I can do.

So here's a shout out to you Guga, level 60 Gnome Warrior from Jubei'thos. I remember you, and I appreciate what you did for a lost kid.

thats probably one of the most touching stories to ever come out of wow

I remember when I played Fable and was at the decision wether to kill the main char's sister (for the supposedly best weapon in the game, which it turned out not to be) or let her live.
When playing RPGs I sometimes decide at the beginning whether I'll be good as usual or try to be evil and wicked for once. So I killed her and a friend of mine who was watching didn't take it easily.
"How could you do it?", he asked. "Kill your own sister. Your own flesh and blood!!"
'But it's just a game', "No it isn't!"
I tried to explain to him how I play RPGs and that I tried to be the evil and wicked one this time but he only replied "I'm disappointed in you"

Btw, how could you kill the goat? It's like kicking your own dog who loves you anyway. Cruel.

Insightful column; I've noticed in the past when I play RPGs (as with Dragon Age now) that I find it very, VERY difficult to play an evil, or even a rude character. And as you pointed out, we're just talking pixels here, no real person, no real world. And yet, I usually cannot go through with acts that are evil or at least morally questionable. And choose the smart-ass answer in a conversation? Nope, not gonna happen--I figure that even evil characters don't have to be rude.

Anyway, one question that I've been pondering lately is what do the choices we make in a RPG say about us as people? Anything? Nothing? At least for me, I apparently have a deep sympathy for pixels--even if they do have funny goat eyes.

@tysonius
I have noticed the same. I wanted to play an evil char in Fallout 3 recently but I could not.
Maybe it's because the games have become advanced enough for us to fear (ingame-)repercussions for bad behaviour.

I hadn't read this before but I must say: "Wow." That was simply amazing. I personally really like this kind of articles and the ending was one of the most epic ones I've ever read or seen:

There is an old proverb that says "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." In my case, when all I had was a dagger, everything looked like a goat.

I must send this article to couple of my friends who don't visit Escapist (for anything else except for Unskippable and Zero Punctuation).

econael:
@tysonius
I have noticed the same. I wanted to play an evil char in Fallout 3 recently but I could not.
Maybe it's because the games have become advanced enough for us to fear (ingame-)repercussions for bad behaviour.

Some of my friends have the same "problem". I personally can play evil character in Fallout 3 without any problems (going around Megaton killing every one of 'em before finally blowing the whole place up is no problem for me) but I really doubt that I could kill the helpless goat just like that. Humans (characters) tend to have way to annoy you one way or another which makes it easier to kill 'em but something like simple goat which does nothing to you is just adorable, something that I would like to protect (well maybe first kill it couple of times but still..).

So very true. Nowadays, the good and evil system is up to the game, rather than the player.
Imagine, stabbing the goat, and suddenly your lightning bolts are slightly more red than before. Or you hear, "Stop right there, criminal scum!"
However moral you think you are has no effect on your numeric in-game karma level. No, the omniscient and omnipresent game god watches you. It watches every move you make and judges you for it.
Very good insights in this article!

Seeing "Kill Billy" in the Best Of issue put a smile on my face. It's one of my favourite articles of the year - possibly my absolute favourite - and I really enjoyed reading it again. Bravo!

...
This..This was possibly the best piece of writing I have read on the Escapist. Nay, on the internet in it's entirety.

It resonates on so many levels, whilst retaining that thorough ridiculousness that makes certain aspects of life great.

Congratulations.

Touching story, that has happened to me too.
Metal gear solid 2 one of the guards why you hold him up against the wall. You have a choice to make, either kill him or knock him out. I felt so terrible after shooting the guy every time.

Also, this has to be one of the best written pieces on the escapist.

Wow, I don't know how, but I managed to miss this article when it was originally up. That is a shame, as it was absolutely fantastic, well written, and thought provoking.

Wow, that was the best gaming related piece of writing I've ever read. *Book Marks article* I intend to share this article with some friends :)

That was interesting. I wonder how the creator of that goat in King's Quest had its purpose in mind?

Is the goat named Pilgor?

This is my first time reading this article. I teared up reading it.

On a personal note, I sigh inside every time I see or hear a player senselessly killing a critter in World of Warcraft. When a patch would later add an achievement for killing an assortment of pests (rodents, insects, etc.), I did so with a twinge of sadness.

I think that this moral dilemma demands further inspection than merely the assumption that irrelevance makes a moral choice more captivating. While it is true that morality will ultimately boil down to consequential thinking if you twist the available options enough (in situations where you can either kill one to save all, or let all die, for example), this doesn't mean that a moral choice has to be irrelevant in a wider scale to sustain impact.

It is not the relevance or irrelevance to greater consequence that creates moral impact in games from any particular action, but rather the comparison (identification) or contrast (alienation) the player experiences between their in-game actions, and their real-life approach. Both identification and alienation are useful depending on the genre of the game and the optimistic or pessimistic tone it is planned to express.

The mistake made by games with morality systems that give full relevance and consequences to "good" or "evil" actions is not that they give consequential relevance to an action, but rather that the choice between those two extremes is always apparent and available. The very essence of moral dilemma, and excruciating decisions that really shake the player's world and bring them into the game, is always found in the restraint of choice but to go ahead and do something they would similarly hate doing in the real world. In essence, the moral dilemma is about priorities, and the philosophical search for what one truly values (and ultimately, what one should value).

There are games who have achieved very impressive, immersive and thoughtful morality systems. Look at Dragon Age: Origins and similar examples like Knights of the Old Republic. While moral actions in these games may not be measured on a scale like in Fable or Infamous, the opinions of those in your party act as a gauge of your own moral outlook, allowing for less alienation or preachy judgement for people who don't have the "vanilla" (in the Western designer's point of view, at least) Christian belief system, and therefore giving these games wider appeal.

Furthermore, in the most successful moral systems, choice is not always supplied (think of Conner's fate Dragon Age's town of Redcliffe), and despite it being a minor inconvenience for the player not to always be a saint when they want to be, the fact that there may be no high choice really allows them to step into the game world and away from their assumptions about what is moral and what is not. It shows them a more complex side of themselves, which they may never have known about before engaging with the dilemma.

The restriction of the full spectrum of moral choices, and the creation of a more complex system of moral consequences, are the finer points where a game ceases being a mere game, and becomes art, because it potentially enriches the player's very soul or ethical consciousness. That is why it is very exciting to see BioWare's work - they understand this fact, and it is still an appeal that is almost unique to them. Let us hope, though, that this approach catches on.

That's pretty well said, Silva. I'm hoping that part of what is done with Mass Effect 2 is that the 'smaller' moral choices you made in ME1 come into play. Maybe the guy who you gave the autograph to became a member of his planets militia (or something). The friendly or unfriendly relationships established with crew are reflected when you run across them again. Etc.

For myself, in Mass Effect, there's a chance to essentially commit genocide. My second playthrough, where I was trying to be more of a self-interested, dirty dealer...but I still couldn't chose to destroy an entire species that was begging for mercy.

I realize that's just me, I get that it's a game, and that I'm acting in some way. It's not real.

I still can't engage in genocide. I couldn't become a slaver in Fallout 3. Even if I was being a dick, (and the morality system there was pretty broad) there are some things that I just can't condone.

I don't condemn people who can go through games like this on 'evil' mode. They're having fun and nobody is being hurt. What's to condemn? I'd actually like to have a beer with 'em and talk about it.

I just can't do it, personally.

That said; I'd like those moral choices to become a bit more subtle; the evil not being Stalinesque, the good not being Gandhi. Playing an anti-hero would be fun-but it means that sometimes you break the nose of someone who doesn't really deserve it.

It looks to me like that point is that Killing the Goat happens on an internal morality scale, whereas most games use an external one.

With the external one, you get told "this is right, this is wrong", and you feel the need to assert your own views if it disagrees with you. Doing "evil" isn't wrong, you're just sticking it to the man. Take that, Karma!

With the internal one, your conscience gets engaged. No one comes to yell at you for killing the goat, no omniscient deity knocks you down the moral-o-meter. You have no man to stick it too, no one to argue the logic of morality with, only yourself and a goat carcass. Thence the guilt.

I see what you did there:
"One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic." -Joseph Stalin

Quite an insightful article.

That was hilarious and in a few cases,true. I do feel guilt at times for sensless killing. But my compass is rather odd. I will leave a field of burnt, tortured rabits in Warcraft, and with a huge grin on my face as well. But I feel a huge amount of guild as I stand over the corpse of a Yaoi Gui or rabid dog in Fallout 3.

metalcore42:
I see what you did there:
"One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic." -Joseph Stalin

Quite an insightful article.

Actually, Stalin never said that, but the sentiment remains true nonetheless.

lodo_bear:

metalcore42:
I see what you did there:
"One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic." -Joseph Stalin

Quite an insightful article.

Actually, Stalin never said that, but the sentiment remains true nonetheless.

Thank you for informing me of my error.

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