Welcome to Gameological Q&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. It’s extremely similar to The A.V. Club’s AVQ&A feature. You might even say it’s exactly the same. If you have a brilliant question that would make a fun Q&A, send it to brilliantquestions at gameological dot com.
This week’s question comes from a reader named Claire:
I have found that while playing through games, I will inevitably come across a creature that is automatically hostile which I really don’t want to have to kill. This seems especially true for me in open-world games where you can’t control your random encounters, and in which virtually any carnivorous animal is an enemy. For all the satisfaction I get from killing a Deathclaw Mother in Fallout: New Vegas, I feel guilty wiping out families of coyotes who weren’t bothering anyone until I showed up. Thankfully, I can take the “Animal Friend” perk early on so that I don’t have to kill all those coyotes. In Skyrim, carnivores are hardly at the top of my list of “least pleasant to indiscriminately slaughter.” That title goes to the giants. Only if I absolutely must in order to satisfy an important quest will I provoke and kill a seemingly peaceful giant or his mammoths. What enemy creature do you wish you didn’t have to fight?
I love this question because the feeling of “I don’t really want to kill this inoffensive creature” has hit me countless times over the years. In so many games, I get the impression that the monsters I’m slaughtering were just minding their business before I showed up to unleash hell. I think the enemy that leaves me the most conflicted is the Cactuar from the Final Fantasy series. It’s not just that this dancing cactus is cute, although it is. But on top of its cuteness, I admire the little guy’s pluck and the fact that it can surprise you with its viciousness—for instance, by hitting you with a barrage of 1,000 or even 10,000 sharp cactus needles. Alas, in many of the Final Fantasy games, an opportunity to murder a Cactuar is worth a whole bunch of experience points (or offers the possibility of rare treasure), so it’s not a chance I can reasonably pass up. Then again, the skittish bastards often flee at a moment’s notice anyway, saving me the bittersweet trouble of slashing my gun-sword through their succulent insides.
In Undead Nightmare, the zombie-themed add-on for Red Dead Redemption, the landscape is littered with mythical creatures—horses of the apocalypse, the Chupacabra, a unicorn. In a mission called “Birth Of The Conservation Movement,” John Marston must help a settler by hunting down rogue sasquatch (or whatever the plural is), who Marston is given to understand are terrorizing the countryside and eating human babies. After killing a handful of these hairy beasts, Marston comes upon the last sasquatch, crying against a tree. This “foul creature of the night” begs Marston to kill him, as some maniac has been running around and murdering his kin, leaving him as the last of his kind. Marston confronts this blubbering missing link about all the baby eating, and he’s informed that sasquatch are strict vegetarians, subsisting primarily on mushrooms and berries. (It seems there were some myths and misunderstandings floating around.) The humane thing to do would be to honor this being’s last wish and put a bullet in his brain, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, in a page straight out of the O.J. playbook, I vowed to find those responsible for killing his family, saddled up my horse, and rode off into the sunset.
I feel sorry for pretty much all of the creatures great and small dwelling on the PETA nightmare that is Far Cry 3’s Rook Island. After all, surviving in the wild is hard enough without having to worry about being blown away by some trigger-happy mercenary or being run over by an inattentive local. Rook Island is also shockingly bereft of commerce, with nary a Target or Wal-Mart to be found anywhere. Which means you have to collect plenty of animal pelts to construct such useful accoutrements as grenade slings, ammo belts, and leather pants. My favorite animal out of Rook Island’s many species is undoubtedly the majestic Asian black bear. They’re lumbering, peaceful, beautiful creatures, just minding their own business and foraging in the depths of the jungle. The first time I snuck up and blasted apart a hapless Yogi with a shotgun, I felt a little sick afterward. The humans of Rook Island are total scumbags, but the bears—they’re just innocent creatures trying to get by. Sadly, on Rook Island, the circle of life usually ends in the crosshairs of an assault rifle.
Plenty of critters have lost their lives because they were in the wrong place when I activated an area-of-effect spell in World Of Warcraft. I can tell myself I’m not a bad person for killing a cute wandering skunk or squirrel because it was an accident, but I do feel awful when I actively have to kill a baby animal. I’m okay with getting a quest to take out some tigers that are mauling refugees or killing a worg for some meat. I’m even down with going after the biggest animals in the area just for the achievement. After all, the big game hunter/ubiquitous quest-giver Hemet Nesingwary and I go way back. Unfortunately, plenty of animals have cubs nearby that will impotently attack your character until they’re put down. I respect their familial devotion, but I wish they would just let you kill their mom, mourn the loss, and then go off to grow up and have their own adventures, Bambi-style. Though maybe that’s a bad metaphor, because I’ve killed plenty of fawns when I needed animal blood and didn’t want to take the time to get it from their heartier parents. The cubs don’t help me fulfill an objective, so they really didn’t have to die! I’m a bad person.
I’ve always felt bad for killing so many Grunts during my days spent as the Master Chief, the super-soldier star of the Halo games. They’re just so weak and tiny, and when they get scared, they run away while screaming their heads off. It might be cartoonish, but it’s one of the few times I’ve seen an “enemy combatant” actually flee and cry in terror. Sometimes you’ll even come across them while they’re napping, and they have just the cutest little snores. But one false move and I’ll wake them up. Then they’ll start screaming, and their bigger, nasty overlords will show up to shoot me full of plasma. So it’s either them or me. Sorry, Grunts. You might be cute, but I’m going to have to crush your skulls with the butt of my gun.
There is certainly an argument to be made that Mario is the greater monster in most of his games, running through forests and stomping willy-nilly on the heads of the native inhabitants. To an extent, I’m willing to accept the premise that many of these beasties are grunts for big bad Bowser, particularly the ones throwing hammers or boomerangs directly at the plumber’s head, but I just can’t bring myself to attack the Wigglers. They’re just so cute and happy, wriggling their sectioned caterpillar-like bodies around the wooded glades with nary a care in the world—until Mario stomps on them, which they find infuriating. Your head-stomps hurt nothing but their feelings! Even in Super Mario Galaxy, where the Wigglers are enormous and Mario is the size of a worm by comparison, the Wigglers are content to just keep on marching in their straight lines with a doofy grin on their faces, oblivious of Mario’s trouble-making schemes. How could anyone hate on such a carefree critter, let alone one with a flower coming out of its head?
The early arcade versions of Mortal Kombat made it very easy to dehumanize the people you were turning into bloody puddles of goo. You really had to go out of your way to learn the characters’ backstories. However, even before the latest console reboot of Mortal Kombat offered a story mode that fleshed out the characters and gave reasons to care about their lives off the killing floor, Baraka was always the hardest creature to put down. He’s a mindless killing machine, but in a way, his animal instincts made him feel like a domesticated dog turned feral whose circumstances forced him to become a creature that disembowels first and asks questions later (assuming, of course, he can even complete full sentences). It’s not his fault that nature gave him retractable wrist spikes and teeth that can slice through bone and gristle. Powerful forces bent on evil simply exploited his power the way that some greedy con-men turned the once lovable and admirable White Fang into an mistrusting, cynical canine combatant.
Anthony John Agnello
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic has a child’s sense of morality.The only shades of grey in the entire game are on the robes worn by the bad guys. Talking your way through conflict is always the right choice. If a stranger asks you for anything, you should give it to them without asking questions. And it’s only okay to kill people if it’s in self-defense. In fact, there’s no way to just send dim-bulb bounty hunters into a Force coma to spare their lives. When it comes to its relationship with animals, though, this black-and-white view is a strange one. It’s only occasionally bad to kill animals. If you’re wandering around the high plains of Dantooine and an alien goat gets all up in your Jedi business, the game passes no judgement on you for lightsabering it right in its goat face. On Manaan, though, killing some ancient shark and its babies in order to reach your goal will earn you Dark Side Points (the game’s way of telling you you’re a dick). The thing is, I don’t like to kill any of these animals in KOTOR. Rancors, Krayt Dragons, and all kinds of other beasts get in your way, and it sucks that I have few options when it comes to not killing them. I’m a space wizard, for crying out loud. Can’t I just knock them out or convince them we’re friends?
First of all, I don’t want anyone to think I’m a Bowser sympathizer. I know that green bastard has been nothing but a pox on the great Mushroom Kingdom ever since he began his insurrection. However, I have been feeling a little guilty lately when I stomp some of his soldiers to death. I’m talking about Koopa Troopas. These little turtle guys have never had any issue killing me, so I’m sure they’re not particularly nice, but since New Super Mario Bros. and its sequels they’ve added a new move to their repertoire: dancing. It’s not much—just a little step and pose in time with the background music—but it shows that the Koopas aren’t quite as heartless as their boss. How could something that loves dancing be evil? They don’t ever go out of there way to hurt anybody, and there’s one less little yellow dancer for each Koopa that I kill. It’s very tragic. Of course, Mario himself shows no such qualms about it, so maybe it’s just me. Or maybe Derrick’s right, and he’s just an asshole.
I’ve always felt uneasy about the carnage that ensued on my way to becoming a master Pokémon trainer. In every game, it’s always the same. To beef up my own team of monsters, I’ve battle tons of trainers and their own death squads. When that’s not enough, I turn to the free beasts of the Kanto wild. Your pokémon only get the strengthening benefits of a fight if they savagely knock out the feral critters. Sure, shrieking man-sized bugs with swords for arms exist to be put down, but what about the pathetically cute monsters? An overgrown caterpillar is simply no threat to my fire-spewing lizard. You’re not able to kill your opponents, but what happens after you strut off victorious, thirsting for the next battle? With no potions or health clinics in sight, that poor little caterpillar is doomed to a crippled life, if it isn’t immediately picked off, killed, and eaten by a giant bird monster. That thing’s death might be on me, but my fire-lizard can fly now!