Can Games Make You Feel Like a Bad Person?

(Image credit Gamesradar)

Has a game ever truly made you feel like a despicable person?I like to think about this question, because I think it helps to frame the classic entertainment/art debate: If games are solely entertainment, then their only goal should be making them feel good, whereas if games are exclusively art, their goal should be to make the viewer reexamine a facet of life. So to further frame this question, I want to establish that I’m not talking about games where being cruel is integral to the game’s enjoyment (the Overlord Series, Saint’s Row 2, Zoo Tycoon.) I want to examine games where you’ve actually had to put down the controller and think about whether you’re any better than the game’s antagonist.

One example for me is at the very end of Remember Me, which I will explain in purely emotional terms to reveal as little about the plot as possible. There is a part at the climax where the game puts a button in the middle of the screen, as it sometimes does, which allows the player to manipulate somebody’s memory. In this particular instance, the scene directly preceding the sequence was clearly a sympathetic examination of the character who would be the subject of the Remixing. It was clear to me as a player that something had gone horribly wrong in this person’s life, and the game had gone to lengths to show how dangerous it is to rely on memory manipulation as a form of therapy. Yet the button in the middle of the screen only gave me one option, and there was no other way to progress. I grit my teeth and went through what was normally the most fun part of the game feeling disturbed and, honestly, kind of filthy. Yet this was the only way to progress.

Afterwards, I wasn’t angry that the game had taken my agency away; I was happy that it had made me truly feel something, as too few games do. Stealing my agency may have made the experience extremely unpleasant, and I found myself liking Nilin a lot less afterwards, but the game had done its job. It had made me question my use of one of the core mechanics, and by doing so I felt a deeper connection to the world of the game.

So colleagues; Have you ever felt like a terrible person performing some function of the game? Was getting through that sequence of Remember Me (or the entirety of Spec Ops: The Line) easy, or were you made uncomfortable knowing you were acting against your own morals? Feel free to comment below.

0 thoughts on “Can Games Make You Feel Like a Bad Person?

  1. I’ve actually never heard of the entertainment/art debate and find it quite fascinating. It confuses me solely because of the fact that it would exclude lots of things from the entertainment category that are very traditionally considered entertainment like most non-comedy movies.
    On another note, playing Papers Please was morally a very difficult experience for me. Coming from a family of immigrants, I found a lot of the stories hard to hear. When the policies became stricter, I had to remember it was just part of the game to reject more and more of these foreigners. It made me come to the super uncomfortable realization that many of these border patrolers tell themselves “it is just a part of their job” just like I told myself “it was just a part of the game.” That was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve had thus far in the course.

  2. I generally stick to the RPG realm of video games and there have definitely been a few cases where I hated the choices I was making, but there was a large distinction between those games and those that you and Marina are talking of. It was my decision to make the choice that made sense for my character, I could have had a morally-good character, but I decided to be a bad guy hero. And, incidentally, I failed to complete the game. Because I can’t make myself make the decisions I know that that character would make, because it is going to hurt the pixel people.

    Another game where I didn’t have the agency to decide that was actually a DLC (Dragon Age: Origins’s Darkspawn Chronicles) where you play as the bad guys. You have to kill all of the characters you come to love in the base game and the ending is a very depressing cutscene of the villains winning.

  3. I definitely have, especially when playing RPGs and MMOs. Sometimes the narrative would take a turn that, even when I was given multiple options, I didn’t like any of them. Most recently I have had this occurring in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

    A place this happens a LOT actually is those stupid little Facebook “which ____ are you” games/surveys/things. So often, even when presented with choice, I feel there is no choice available that represents what I would actually do / feel.

  4. I think games that just make you FEEL are truly incredible. For instance, the end of The Walking Dead nearly made me cry. I was so invested in my character that I had forgotten I was playing a game. The barriers between reality and the digital world came crashing down before the beautiful nuances of The Walking Dead that immersed me into it’s dreary world. I think there’s something to be said about a game that can arouse such feelings and immersion.

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