Uncharted and Violence in Video Games

One of the very first things I ever heard about Uncharted, before I even knew what kind of game it was or what it involved, was people calling out main protagonist Nathan Drake on the number of people he killed. Some called him a monster jokingly, but others were far more serious in their criticisms. This idea, this reputation, has followed Nathan Drake through multiple entries in the series and inspired numerous derivative works riffing on the subject.

The question that I have, is whether this is truly unusual.

For the longest time, video games have been focused around two main ideas: Accomplishing some manner of goal, and killing any and every enemy in your way. Exceptions exist, of course, but this has held true for the vast majority of game over the years. Shooters, RPGs, platformers, action games, all feature the player character slashing and shooting their way through hordes of enemies. Some of these enemies are less sympathetic, like demons and zombies and monsters, but many feature you tearing through humanoid or otherwise intelligent enemies.

One game that always stands out to me as having sympathetic enemies is Final Fantasy VII, and the average Shinra soldiers. The game’s story suggests that Midgard is a run-down hellhole with no job prospects, and that Shinra is the only viable employer in town. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where someone opposed to Shinra would still work for them, if only to feed their family and pay their rent. The game even has some small humanizing moments for the Shinra soldiers, suggesting they aren’t satisfied with their lot in life either.

Then Cloud Strife comes along, and bisects them in an instant.

Nobody weeps for the soldiers cloud cuts down, or the goombas Mario stomps on, or the “terrorists” you gun down in every Call of Duty. Little thought is given to the hordes you trample underfoot, even as you mercilessly butcher them and toss them aside. Some stories may show the protagonist feeling remorse, but many offer no such sympathy.

The issue many take with Nathan Drake is that he shows no small amount of joy and glee in gunning his enemies down. While I can understand this mentality, it still rings hollow with me. In this scenario I am left to ask why it would be any better had he not enjoyed it. If Nathan Drake was super-serious and remorseful about every man he killed, would it make it any more excusable that he was doing it? Would if pardon the game for forcing you to do it?

There are a few games which actually acknowledge the massacre of enemy soldiers, and integrate it meaningfully into the game. One series which has done that repeatedly over the years is Metal Gear. The stealth gameplay encourages avoiding confrontation by default, but certain entries have gone beyond that.

During the boss fight with The Sorrow in Metal Gear Solid 3, the player must walk through an endless river filled with the spirits of enemies they have killed up to that point in the game. In Peace Walker, you can spare enemy soldiers and bring them back to base with you, later recruiting them. The game also has a “heroism” ranking, and killing soldiers detracts from that as punishment. The entire story of Metal Gear Rising focused on the dehumanization of enemy combatants, and how hypocritical it is to use violence in achieving peace.

Dishonored is another example of a game that incorporates enemy death into the game as a whole. Killing enemies will cause the overall state of the world to get worse, while sparing them and running through the game nonlethally will avoid that.

If Nathan Drake’s glee at murder makes you uncomfortable, then maybe it’s time to sit down and have a frank discussion about violence in video games. But so long as games reward players for mercilessly cutting down their foes, I can’t see Uncharted as anything more than a reflection of video games as a whole.

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