The idea, and act, of killing in video games is peculiar thing. Something that is deemed so morally and ethically abhorred is so common in games, to an extent that one might consider it a focus theme in gaming. Face it, other than your morals, and the ethics of society, there are an entire myriad of emotions that make the very concept of killing difficult to face. Yet, we sit at our desks, relax on our sofas, and play games about just that; having fun all the while.
Is this the fault of games and how they portray death? Probably.
Dean Hall, the man behind the popular ARMA II mod DayZ, spoke to Dork Shelf earlier this week about the only time he ever killed another player in his game. I by no means wish to imply that most of the deaths are caused by players killing each other; the article states that only about 10% of deaths in DayZ are player-kills. Yet, this is a game where – regardless of all the other dangers – encountering players you don’t know is the single most terrifying experience in the game. After all, these are people, not AI’s. You have no way of knowing if they’re friendly, what their intentions are, whether they have any interest in you. And of course, if they kill you, you have to start again.
At the airfield, Hall spotted another new player cluelessly running around in the open. The troupe tried calling out to him, but, seeing the size of the group, the stranger tried to run away. “I started firing some warning shots,” said Hall. “and I just kept firing. I don’t know what compelled me. The next minute, I see him fall over.”
“I struggled, trying to understand why,” said Hall. “I did it out of morbid curiosity. I wouldn’t say I was revolted — at the end of the day it’s still a game, but it didn’t make sense to me.”
Most people have killed in DayZ at some point, but there’s something there that (for most people) makes the act of killing other players a painful experience. A friend of mine killed a player during his first days in the game, and while the whole 1 minute and 37 seconds of the video may be amusing, the sense of grief and shame he is trying to express is very real for many players.
In a lot of ways, I think many of us play games to feel emotion in much the same way as we like we enjoy a good book. A well written and well presented piece of work can help us feel emotions relating to experiences we are both familiar and unfamiliar with. So the question then becomes one of why DayZ, a game with no story and people you have no connection to, has so much more emotional impact on people than that of other popular games?
We could argue that the idea of losing everything certainly adds to the suspense, what motivation do we have for not attacking other players? What drives the emotion that stops players from killing each other, when in other games they readily do so? All I can think of is that perhaps the idea of treating others how you wish to be treated has some weight here, especially combined with losing your hard earned equipment after death, but if that doesn’t stop people from being rude or aggressive in reality, I certainly can’t see it working online.