Tuesday, November 25, 2008

If You Can't Kill the Children, It's Not Fun

I'm sure this is familiar to some of you, but I need to type it out anyway.

Bethesda released a new Fallout game, which is a good example to use, although the same complaints can be aimed at a wide variety of games. In Fallout 3, you can't kill children. In the earlier games, you can. In fact, it's something that can happen by accident, especially if you're having a firefight in the middle of a village. Using plasma cannons and missiles. Which happens fairly often, actually.

Non-gamers (and probably most gamers) will stare at you in horror when you say that the game is not as good because you can't kill children. "You want to kill children?!"

Tch, that's not the point. This is not a matter of programming children to be killable. This is a matter of programming children specifically to be exempt from death in a world where you can kill anything and everything else. It's roughly the equivalent of going to see Blade Runner or some other beautifully atmospheric movie, only to have a corner of the screen filled with a cheerful cartoon animation doing the Macarena. For the whole movie. But it gets bigger when the movie is at its darkest and most atmospheric. After all, you wouldn't want anyone to get depressed by the dark and atmospheric nature of the movie!

Let me see if I can explain it in another way.

You want to live in that game's world, at least for the moment. You want to live in that world, but THE CHILDREN AREN'T LIVING IN THAT WORLD. They are exempt from the world. They are immune to its dangers, pressures, etc. They are the equivalent of a comic book character breaking the fourth wall, and that's not always suitable.

So, YES, if you can't kill the children, it's no good. Not because killing the children is good or even because I want to. It's because if they're immortal god-beings, it completely ruins the immersion. Destroys the reality of the game. For the sake of some little old lady's heart?

It's rated M, lady. Kill the children.


Ellipsis said...

I agree. The next question is why they made children unkillable - because they were suffering a lot of pressure to censor their game, and it was something they could hold up and say "look, we drew the line somewhere," knowing full well that for many players, whether or not children are killable has no impact on gameplay because the situation doesn't arise anyway.

Craig Perko said...

Yes, because that's precisely censorship's job: to make art have as little emotional effect as possible.

My problem isn't that they caved to the ESRB's nanny-squad. It's that they did it so stupidly. Shooting a kid is way less offensive than many of the arbitrary acts of murder they didn't bother to block. It's just a ploy to say, "fine, we'll weaken our game's reality so the censorship board feels they did something useful."

Anonymous said...

I thought I read somewhere that they did it before even contacting the ESRB'rating system. Because they, as parents felt it would be 'wrong' to kill children. They felt it was their moral obligation.

Can't you just use the 'ghost' console command on them? Oblivion had that one.

Why do otherwise rational people always get irrational when children are mentioned?

Craig Perko said...

Needing to hack the game to enjoy it is a sign that the designers screwed up somewhere along the way...

The problem with rating's boards - all rating's boards - is that they are targeted at the lowest common denominator. Which means that if some loud people whine about a fake child that could conceivably be fake killed, the rating's board listens. Even though that person IS NOT GOING TO BUY THE GAME, IS NOT THE TARGET AUDIENCE, and DOESN'T HAVE ANY KIDS THAT ARE THE TARGET AUDIENCE.


Anonymous said...

Ano here:

I constantly hacked oblivion. You had to many spots where you could get stuck in clipping. Simple console command fixed that.

There where also some quest issues. Some of which you could fix using console commands.

Bad design perhaps. But not very strange considering the size of the game. Very difficult to test.

Craig Perko said...

I understand buggy games needing a bit of massaging, but this is not a bug: it's a fundamental design decision.

I modded Oblivion every which way as well, everything from new graphics to radically rebalancing everything. (I wanted to play an archer that could kill things!) But there is a difference between mods and hacks, in my mind. Hacks imply blowing past the design decisions of the original developers, while mods imply expanding on them.

Ellipsis said...

You could totally kill things with arrows in Oblivion. You just had to tip your arrows with poison is all. I guess that means you're really killing them with alchemy, and arrows were just the means of delivery...

Duncan said...

There's a middle ground that could be reached for certain "questionable" situations. Give the kids enough smarts to get the hell out of the way.

If I'm remembering correctly, Crazy Taxi did this. You could drive as wacky as you wanted and never hit a single pedestrian. Excruciatingly frustrating when you've been raised on GTA and and expect pedestrians to crumple under your vehicular assault. But it solves the problem of actually murdering virtual people.

The problem is to make it smart enough so that the kids can dodge, escape or run away before the player has a chance to take a shot. In a post-apocalyptic world all the kids should either be brazen daredevils (and therefore suicidal anyway) or scared shitless of their own shadow.

Pull a weapon and kids are simply gone in an instant. They're small, know all the hidey holes, and are damn fast. Disappearing them during a fire fight wouldn't even be noticeable.

Then their invincibility is just self preservation.

Craig Perko said...

On the other hand, that would have radically changed the feeling of the game...

It's a tough call, but the right decision should never be "cripple our game so an arbitrary ratings board doesn't give us a different arbitrary rating".

Joseph said...

Er, the problem surely isn't with the game, it's with society. Particularly American society, which deifies children and mythologises childhood altogether. As if children aren't simply stupid animals on their way to becoming human, but are in fact wise, wonderful and uncorrupted beings. You see it in films, books and television - the kid that's cleverer than the adults, the kid that can see the ghosts.

Not that I'm some kind of hater of children, but that you can't blame the game designers for being the products of their society.