Thursday, 3 June 2010

On Killing

What if ...

your fantasy world was all humans, intrigues, politics and naturalism above ground ... and only in the Underworld did monsters dwell?

And those monsters were there in large numbers, and killable without remorse, because ...

  • they were less than human, and you needed their gold and experience points.
  • they were intrinsically evil and needed to be wiped out.
  • they were threatening the world above, and you needed to save the village.

I'm working out these three implications in a different context than games - an article  I'm co-writing in psychology, about how  terrorists, extremists, and other supporters of violence overcome the natural impediments against direct killing of another human being. I suppose there are other answers, such as ...

  • the characters are sociopaths, born or made (viz. Raggi's fighter class in Flame Princess)
  • the characters are heroes who need impediments to overcome
  • the monsters deserve it; they chose to be monsters
  • the characters do feel remorse; they lose Sanity or Humanity each time they have to kill a sentient being
  • the whole situation is an ambiguous allegory in which each of these possibilities can be considered
I realize this topic has been broached before in a rather unsubtle style. Ultimately, of course, our visceral ban is against the physical act of violence. But the blur between imagined or viewed violence and actual violence has become deeper with technology; a man in Nevada kills another in Afghanistan. If reality is made a game so that violence may more easily be done, does this taint our games, or make them an even more vital moral arena?

I want to find the balance that Umberto Eco found, in one of his essays when he contrasted the very physical war games he used to play as a boy with the cold sadism of the entirely bloodless genocide, the future Auschwitz commandant playing with the Erector set.


  1. "It is ordinary individuals, like you and me, that commit extraordinary evil."

    "Becoming Evil" by James Waller, a study of genocides and how they are rationalized by the perpetrators.

    Dehumanization of the victim to legitimize the brutality is pretty much the final stage.... whether you're calling them infidels, camel jockeys or terrorists.

    I think many only lose SAN afterward (inappropriately applying a gaming term to reality), sometimes long afterward... judging from the VA hospital.

  2. I found a very interesting treatment of the whole question of evil, murder, the biological drives behind it in Lyall Watson's Dark Nature (lost my copy, must get another one from Amazon)

  3. Listen, monster shit contaminates the groundwater for everyone. Not a lot that can be done about that, short of forced relocation or extermination.

  4. Those books look interesting - I'll put them on the long term list. My main influence is Grossman's book that contributed the blog title, together with Daniel Bar-Tal's 1990 article on delegitimization.

    Bulette guano in our precious bodily fluids? Not a chance! It's them or us!

  5. Jim Raggi got it more right than you can know, unless you've been there and done it.