2009/01/18

Making Murder Less Satisfying

I haven't ever seen this done before. What if there were a game, a violent game where you shoot your enemies to incapacitate or kill them, but instead of collapsing or exploding when shot, these enemies fall to the ground screaming and writhing in pain, like worms in a frying pan?
  • I would never put a worm in a frying pan. In fact, I'm starting to feel horribly sick just thinking about it... *shudder*
In most games, the visceral feedback of a kill is satisfying because there is a finality to it that tells the player they've accomplished something, that there is now one less danger to worry about. But what if the incapacitated enemy did not simply transmute into a passive, inert background prop but instead continued to thrash violently, screaming and crying out in agony? Despite now being completely worthless in gameplay terms, this enemy would remain, loudly demanding the player's attention. I imagine such a reaction would render the act of killing much less satisfying.

As writhing, wailing enemies accumulate on the screen, tension would increase almost unbearably, like the music in the game Lucid State Dreaming. I wonder how easily a player could become desensitized to such disturbing consequences. Is it inevitable? Could you design a game to prevent such desensitization?

*image from the sublimely horrifying Madness Combat 4: Apotheosis*

11 comments:

TedHoward said...

Play Postal.

axcho said...

Hmm, Postal? I just read a review of it, and I think I'd rather not play it, really... But yes, thanks for bringing it to my attention. I'd be very curious to hear what the developers intended in making this game. It seems quite satirical, but at the same time it sounds like the violence is something to be appreciated in its excessiveness more than to be disturbed or irritated by.

I find that I'm more interested in creating and highlighting explicit tension between game elements (such as the reward structures encouraging you to kill, and the visceral feedback punishing such actions) in order to drive formal experimentation within the medium. The way I'd go about this experiment is with a simple 2D Flash game, twisting the format like You Have to Burn the Rope, for example. Flash gamers are becoming more accepting of such experiments, which I find very encouraging.

Duncan Smith said...

That's actually quite an interesting idea. I wonder how difficult it would be to modify/theme some pre-existing FPS to support this.

Krystian Majewski said...

Intriguing idea.

I already had some scrouples shooting the zombies in Resident Evil 4. They react very realisticly to the specific body part you shoot them in. This little detail already successfully creates the illusion that they are feeling pain.

I'm also reminded of GTA4. I don't know if it is just the German version but it is very difficult to totally kill guys there. They fall to the ground but after a couple of seconds, they get up and limp away from the scene. You can shoot them again but there is no point as they won't hurt you. Also, in certain missions the people you are supposed to kill will beg you to spare their lives and you have the option to let them live.

Generally, I was surprised how the treatment of murder was slightly more mature in the newest GTA.

Aaron Miller said...

The characters would have to be cartoonish. Otherwise, players would be waiting for the wounded to shoot them in the back.

I would think all enemies remaining alive and writhing, screaming would be annoying. Better to just make it a possibility that enemies will remain alive. Then allow players to execute them on the ground, but discourage them from doing so by creating some sort of authority figure who disapproves of killing already beaten foes.

axcho said...

Hey Duncan! It's nice to hear from you. :)

I haven't really played many FPS games, but I would be interested to see one modded with such a feature. If you're reading this and you make mods, feel free to do something like that!

Reacting specifically to how you shoot, using some sort of ragdoll-ish physics, does seem like it would be important, especially for writhing and such. Also interesting to hear that GTA4 does something like that, thanks for letting me know. I guess there's hope after all. ;)

Just to clarify, the writhing and screaming is supposed to be annoying - that's kind of the whole point. Rather than an external authority figure or some sort of scoring system by the game, the disincentive comes directly from the visceral feedback, the irritating, annoying, disturbing sounds and motions that distract you from the "real" dangers yet to come.

I think allowing the player to finish off the incapacitated enemies, silencing their cries, could be interesting if it is handled well. Perhaps there is a special weapon that will fully kill them, but its use is limited so you have to consciously weigh the tradeoffs to using it. Or maybe you can silence enemies with a normal weapon, but it takes some time such that you can only really do it in a lull between waves and you must silence them one by one. That way the player has to pay attention to the contrast and the details of the transition between the silence and screaming, so to speak.

yhancik said...

It's in Staker.

From this excellent piece by Jim Rossignol :

I reload, go back out and shoot them both. It’s disappointing, and strange. There’s less meaning in the deaths of these two than the death of a fly. Yet, because I’d swatted them due to a simple accident, I felt bad. Stalker has some of the most excruciating deaths, where NPCs are injured, but not dead. They writhe on the ground in agony. If you have allies they’ll often finish them off with a pistol shot – something I assumed was scripted when I first played the game, but now I’ve come to realise is the natural behaviour of the people of the zone.

axcho said...

Thanks for the link, yhancik, that does sound just like what I had been thinking of. I wonder if there would be any need to make a game like this in Flash, if it happens already in these console games...

yhancik said...

PC game, PC ;)

And I'm sure there's more than a single way to do this !

axcho said...

Oh, Stalker is PC-only? Okay then, these console/PC games (including Postal and GTA4). :p

I guess I have a few ideas that might be worth exploring still. I'll certainly keep this in mind the next time I make a violent game. :p

Aaron Miller said...

I suggested moderating the annoyance because I suspect few players would put up with much before believing whatever lies ahead in the game isn't worth it.

In films, the audience can be exposed to great unpleasantness, but nothing is required of the audience for such scenes to pass. Sadness, guilt, and similar emotions sap motivation, rather than inspire it. All a film goer has to do is sit there and wait for these scenes to pass. A gamer, on the other hand, must actively push past unpleasantness. Draining-type emotions have a greater effect, and must be moderated or offset with inspiring emotions.

Games can't push as hard as movies in the way you're suggesting because games require more of the audience. It's one thing to have to absorb an unpleasant scene. It's another to have to participate in something unpleasant.

I think the idea of NPC wounding is a good one, but it could be easily over-emphasized in gameplay and make many players lose interest.