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Killing’s too good for them.
As well as being a masterpiece, Halo is also a good example of a violent game that sidesteps moral dubiousness about slaughter with a simple, traditional gaming ploy: you kill aliens. Carnage is OK if the victims are alien aggressors – it has been ever since you bravely defended the Earth against those Space Invaders. Subsequent shooters further exploited this archetypal game plot, with Duke Nukem also presenting ultraviolence as save-the-Earth heroism, while Quake and Doom tweaked it slightly with heroic marine fighting interdimensional demons.
Halo and Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Alongside aliens, zombies and Nazis, there are also enemies whose killing neatly sidesteps moral qualms. I particularly enjoy seeing games designers picking and mixing these three basic enemies. So, in the Castle Wolfenstein games you get to kill not just Nazis, but also Nazi zombies, while in Halo you splatter not just aliens but zombie aliens.
Of course, some recent hits have shifted the violence into a more recognisable, real world, but you can still freely kill! kill! kill! the Nazis of Medal Of Honor with impunity. And games developers have reaped further controversy-cum-publicity by murdering Sikhs in Hitman 2 and killing people while disguised as a BT engineer, in the original version of The Getaway. Then of course there's the running down of innocent bystanders and the slaying of prostitutes in the GTA games. But hey, those games are witty and satirical so that's OK too, not least because the bulk of the violence therein is of the criminal-scum-on-criminal-scum sort.
These crime genre games are great, but there's a potentially deeper satisfaction to be had from living out a violent fantasy that involves you saving humanity from evil marauding alien zombie Nazis. The noble virtues are so much more immediate, and the moral questions are so neatly contained. Daniel Etherington 13 June 03
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