You Are Not a Bad Person (Probably)
I like to think that I’m a nice guy. Sure, I can be a sarcastic arsehole who judges people fairly harshly for the most basic reasons, but on the whole I think I’m kind and helpful. I aim to make people happy. I’m always willing to lend a hand. And I have a good sense of humour – wait, no, I’m mixing this up with my dating ad.
My point is that I like to be seen as a good guy and, more often than not, I translate this over to when I’m playing games. Not shooters, obviously; it’s made pretty clear from the get-go that everyone I’m killing is implicitly bad and therefore I’m doing a good thing. But when there’s morality at stake, I’ll often take the path of light.
Take Knights of the Old Republic, for instance. From the first time I picked that game up so many years ago, I strove to be the kindest Jedi in the galaxy. Getting roughed up for falling behind on his payments? I’ll give you the cash! Bounty hunters getting you down? I’ll help you fake your death! Every nice deed that could be done was done with a smile, no matter how broke and under-equipped it left me. I would spend hours pandering to the needs of every person who desired my help, and it gave me a warm glow inside to know that I was changing people’s lives for the better.
And then when I got my hands on Fable, I got into the hero stuff even more. If there was ever an opportunity to show off how benevolent I was, I’d take it. The people of Albion would cheer my name as I walked the streets, dressed up to the nines in my bright, non-threatening mage robes. Crowds would gather to watch me pose heroically, and women would fall madly in love as soon as they set their eyes on me. For a thirteen-year-old boy (I would have been eleven when it actually came out, I picked it up a little late due to my mother’s insistence I wasn’t mature enough to handle 15 rated games) it was a dream come true. Finally, people were showing me the admiration and respect I deserved.
I’m not going to be all soppy and downer-y here, but I was bullied at school. I was an overweight nerd with big goofy hair, you know, all the good stuff. But I never used games as an escape from that, or a revenge tactic. I still wanted people to like me, even if it was just pixels on a screen. It didn’t mean anything really, but it helped me feel better about myself.
But, as is often the case, I finally snapped. I’d had enough of taking shit from idiots at school, and I decided to take it out on the stupid little pixels that couldn’t do anything to prevent it. My main game of choice was Black and White, a game I had previously been playing nicely, helping out my villagers. But no more. I started a new save and began to brutalise my population. I poisoned the food supply. I trained my creature to eat villagers. Hell, I once drowned a woman, threw her fresh corpse in front of her sick brother, who died of shock there and then, and finally trashed her house with a boulder.
And it didn’t stop there. Me and a friend went on a killing spree in Fable 2, killing every single innocent bystander in Bowerstone and slaughtering wave after wave of coppers trying to take us down. I went back to KotOR and beat down the folks I’d previously helped out. I reduced Megaton to rubble in Fallout 3. I helped the Origami Killer get away with it in Heavy Rain. I let a man commit rape in Army of Two: The 40th Day, just for a few thousand dollars. And I liked it.
Granted, all this was spread out over the years, but there was a definite mean streak running through me for a long time. When once I would have gone out of my way to prevent evil and save the world, I had chosen to say “fuck it” and care only about myself. And, particularly in the early days of my turn to the dark side, I could tell I was transferring my new found evil to real life. I stopped giving a shit about other people. I became numb to insults. This may seem like a good thing in some ways, but it cost me a few friends and at least one relationship. My dickish alter ego had somehow rubbed off on me and made me the uncaring arsehole I never wanted to be.
Did the games make me mean? Or did I play games because I was mean? I’ll never really understand what was going on, and instead I’ll just chalk it up to puberty and hormones and all that teenage crap. But somehow, how I acted in real life and how I acted in games became intertwined in all the wrong ways.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that games aren’t always just an outlet. They can be an extension of who you really are, whether good or bad. And I’m not saying that just because you massacred a village in Fable means you’re likely to repeat your antics in real life, but maybe the next time you’re given the choice of good or evil, think about what you’d actually do in that situation. You may surprise yourself.
Last five articles by Ric
- Doktor Ric: Video Game Character Love Doctor
- The Hidden Controversies of 2013
- Best of 2013: Letters From Gamescom
- Best of 2013: The Hidden Controversies of 2012
- Best of 2013: Auto Cannibalism Is Not The Answer