Am I the Bad Guy..? How Video Game Developers Make YOU the Villain
I've recently completed Gears of War 3. As was my experience with the previous entries in the series, I found the single-player experience to be a laborious trudge from one shootout to the next, with only the occasional obligatory vehicular section breaking up the monotonous running, covering, gunning and then running again gameplay. However, even though I have never been a fan of Gears' story mode, nor its plot, I still found the ending to be perhaps one of the most controversial in modern video games, and am thoroughly surprised that no one has made a bigger deal out if it.
At the end of Gears of War 3 it is revealed that our supposed heroes, the COG, are actually not really heroes at all. In fact, in selfishly defending themselves from the unfairly maligned Locust Horde, by the end of GOW 3 they've committed a mass genocide of a species whose only wrongdoing was that they put too much faith in humanity.
Y'see, the planet Sera on which the series takes place is infested with a deadly parasite called Imulsion. The Locust (not the real name of their species, I should add: the humans never bothered to find that out before shooting them) were a subterranean species, living underneath the surface of Sera and never causing harm to the humans who lived above ground. However, as the Imulsion started to spread and threatened to wipe out their species, it became clear that they would need to come above ground if they were to survive. With this knowledge, their Queen approached Professor Adam Fenix, who promised that he would make a cure for the parasite so that the Locust may continue to live peacefully underground.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen; Fenix instead became preoccupied with a civil war that was taking place on Sera's surface, indebting the time that he should have been using to find a cure to save the dying Locust to instead build the Hammer of Dawn, a devastatingly brutal weapon. With no other choice the Locust took to Sera's surface and, thanks to Fenix's betrayal, distrusted humanity enough to consider them an enemy.
Fenix's neglecting of his promise to the Locust is briefly mentioned at the end of Gears of War 3, but for some inexplicable reason his admission is greeted with empathy rather than sheer horror. "Don't blame yourself", his son Marcus says to him, before questioning why his father feels sympathy for the species whose demise he is almost solely responsible for. The game ends with Adam Fenix deploying an energy wave which eradicates all Locust from the planet, thus destroying the species.
However, rather than reflecting on the atrocities they have committed under the guise of heroism, the COG instead look towards the sunset at a brighter future, free of those ugly bastards who had the nerve to want to co-exist with humanity. This has led me to believe that developers Epic Games either inadvertently turned the humans into the bad guys or, far more unlikely considering the brashness of the GOW series, they were fully knowledgable of the fact that they'd created one of the most powerful and, considering a certain unjust war currently being fought in reality, relevant plot twists in video game history.
If it was the former, then Epic Games aren't the first developers to unwittingly place the player in the shoes of the bad guy. Take Infinity Ward and Modern Warfare 2, for example. In the infamous 'No Russian' mission, player-character Joseph Allen is assigned to go undercover and accompany baddie Vladimir Makarov while he murders hundreds of innocents at a Russian airport. At the end of the mission, Makarov kills the player-character – "when they find that body, all of Russia will cry for war", he says, indicating that US ranger Allen's body at the scene of the crime will lead Russia to believe that America was responsible for the horrific terrorist attack.
However, as Allen was ordered by US military officials to participate in the terrorist attack (whether or not he shot a few bullets into the civilians himself was the player's decision), surely the US were responsible anyway? Regardless of whether or not they were the ones who planned the attack, or how reprehensible they believed it to be, they ordered one of their men to stand idly by while hundreds of civilians were slaughtered, and then had the gall to be enraged by Makarov 'duping' Russia into believing the US to be at fault. What would Russia had done had they known the US had participated in the attack but didn't believe themselves to be responsible for it? Would they have understood that the US had willingly witnessed and took part in the slaughter of their citizens, but did so for the 'greater good'? It's doubtful.
On the less violent end of the video game spectrum, the Pokémon series has continuously made a habit of promoting peace through violence. Pokémon Black/White saw the player up against Team Plasma, whose mission was to free Pokémon from their human captors and have them viewed as equals. The player was then faced with the task of stopping Team Plasma and their 'evil' plan of equality by capturing defenseless animals. Likewise, the Donkey Kong arcade game saw players assume the role of Jumpman (later renamed Mario), who was trying to rescue his girlfriend Pauline from the antagonistic, eponymous Donkey Kong. The only catch was that Kong himself was previously held in captivity by Jumpman and was simply trying to escape from his master, who had been mistreating him.
Players continuously and unknowingly assume the villainous role in video games even though they are told that they are the good guys, simply because the supposed 'enemies' are different in appearance to the player-character. Whether these enemies are monsters, animals, aliens or foreigners, the player is ordered to defeat/destroy them on the basis that they are different.
So next time you're playing a game and you're busy putting a bullet right between the eyes of an enemy, take a second to consider this: was the guy you just shot evil? Or did you just assume he was evil because he looked uglier than you?