Just a few weeks ago I wrote an article about Princess Debut. In it I touched on how easily games can get you into the shoes of playable characters, as I prettied my virtual finger nails and trampled over every woman in sight to get the men that belonged to me. Even if most games don’t have an elaborate branching story, the fact that you are acting out certain scenarios can make you say “oh, I did this.” However, occasionally a game wants to force your hand, making every player’s action the same. Which can create a conflict between the player and the experience.
What made this topic come to mind was when I checked out Ninja Gaiden 3’s demo, which is one hundred percent in line with and totally not a complete shift in gears from Princess Debut. I’m sure they have the same market demographic in mind. But at one point in the demo, there’s a scene where Ryu approaches an every day grunt as a bloody battle winds down. The grunt takes off his mask and starts begging for his life, talking about how this was simply a gig for some extra money to help take care of his family, and all that sappy stuff. The game zooms in on Ryu and gives the player two options: walk toward the grunt, or kill him. The more you walk toward him, the more he pleas.
Eventually, he’s against the wall and you are now limited to simply killing him. Being the vulnerable sappy jerk that I am though, I did not want to do this. I felt sympathetic for the man, and I tried everything to avoid killing him, but the game simply wouldn’t allow any other outcome. I put my controller down for a good few minutes and just stared at the screen. Eventually, I gave up. Ryu wasn’t going to budge. I killed the man, and I felt awful. Any real positives I had with the demo was overshadowed by this scenario.
“So, guy writing this article, you basically ripped out the eyeballs and danced in the entrails of every grunt leading up to this point. What’s the difference, minus his begging and pleading?” Well reader, my name is Benjamin. I had a reason to kill those people. I had a goal to get from point A to B, and they were in my way and willingly fighting to keep me away. This guy simply wanted to go buy cupcakes on his way home for his kid. There was no gameplay mechanic behind it and there was no reason for him to die. The scenario was simply made to make you feel like a bad ass. “Well, Ryu Hayabusa is a bad ass, so it makes sense. Right?” Honestly, if they put it in cutscene form, I would haven’t been bothered by it so much. But the fact that they force my hand to do so, is what pushed it over the line for me. Ryu didn’t kill him. I killed him.
This scenario isn’t something that happens often in games, but it does keep me from wanting to get into series like God of War, where at the end of the demo of III I just felt like a huge ass because the developers forced me to play like Kratos. They required me to murder everyone within a ten mile radius as innocents were conveniently placed in my path with no way to get around them, other than ripping them apart and throwing them off the ledge.
Asses are fine in gaming. Keep using them and keep allowing players to live out the fantasy of being an ass. But make the main character a complete ass on his own, and let me decide if I want to be an ass in gameplay. Don’t rely on me to push their assitude forward.