Good day, Lusiponderers! I come to this article with my mind open to my own psyche to proclaim that I have been desensitized almost completely to human violence within the confines of media. If it is the main character’s goal in a video game to save a human life, I will. However, given enough freedom in a game, I will not hesitate to go on a rampage in the middle of a busy town, cutting down everyone in my path. Doing so brought an incredibly satisfying end to my playthrough of the frustratingly poor game known as Fable.
However, the same murderous indifference with which I treat simulated human beings does not extend to other creatures. For example, a friend of mine recently showed me Skyrim. After I watched him play for some time, he informed me that his character was a lycanthrope, and that he could change form once per day of his own accord. I told him that he was obligated to show me by massacring the nearest town. I was almost gleeful as he tore through villager after villager, and I actually laughed when he discovered that he could recover health by devouring innocents. Soon, though, he came across a lone horse in the middle of the settlement. As he approached it, I asked him what he thought he was doing. He responded by cruelly slaughtering the horse in the middle of the street. I called him many unkind names and made sure that he understood that what he did was wrong. I made sure he knew that horse had done nothing to him, and did not deserve to die like it did. He responded that it was just a horse. I told him that I knew that animals could be important in Skyrim, and that one example of the importance of animals in the game was that a player could adopt a stray dog as a companion. He then informed me that he had no idea. Whenever he ran into a stray dog, he killed it. I told him that was messed up, and cruel, and pointless. I then had a realization that I have had many times before: I care about animals in games more than I care about humans.
When rationalized, it makes sense. In most open-ended games, very few townsfolk are given anything resembling a background story. The player is given no reason to care about the people within the game other than the fact that they, like the player, are human. The player does not know their hopes and dreams, nor does the player know or understand their emotions (other than fear). They are soulless simulated automatons, destined to die by the player’s hand. Animals, on the other hand, can be different. Many people find small animals, such as dogs, to be adorable. How could someone be so heartless as to kill an adorable little puppy? Even larger animals have reasons to be left alive. Horses are pack animals in some games, and are almost always used for transportation. They are living creatures who know nothing other than to faithfully serve their master, who is most likely the player. The game means them to be companions, and most people would not knowingly kill a faithful companion.
Some might argue that this reasoning is flawed. They would say that Skyrim has human companions for the player and most players do not think twice about them. I would disagree about how much compassion should be extended toward these companions. Perhaps they are loyal, but it is incredibly difficult to feel compassion for anyone that decides to run directly in front of oneself while one is tossing a rather large fireball or firing a poisoned arrow. It is as if a player seeks companions who willingly go to their deaths, young men and women with nothing to their name but a death wish and a new-found means to commit suicide.
There are other ‘people’ in games who I have more sympathy for than humans. Nonhuman people, like Elves and Dwarves, often appear in video games as minor or major characters, lost in a world full of humans. More often than not, these characters are rare in the context of the game that they are in, and they are given extensive background stories and are often main characters. I find it much more difficult to kill an Elf whose parents were killed by wolves and who actually has a name than some nameless human I find walking the streets of Whereversville.
In the end, I have come to believe that the human psyche is conditioned not to care too much about people we have no emotional attachment to. Likely this is for our own protection, for if we cried over every human that we heard died or saw dead, we would probably find it impossible even to get up out of bed in the morning. So, kill away in your video games, readers, for I believe your indifference (and my own) toward simulated personalities is indicative of a healthy individual!