I shot a man yesterday.
Not in the real world, mind you, but in the game Heavy Rain. This normally wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I play shooters, action games, and many other types that let me fulfill my primal need to murder other beings; but none of those have ever stopped to give me pause to my actions.
For as much as I love Nathan Drake’s wisecracking adventures and his interesting romantic life; he is one of gaming’s most notorious mass murders. The body count he leaves in all four of his adventures is massive, and yet I have never blinked an eye. In Gears of War I cut through swaths of locust with my lancer (a gun with a chainsaw at the end) and I chuckle silently because of the absurdity of it all. In any of the God of War games, I have physically ripped creatures in half, and felt mighty. This list could go on and on, and not just for myself, but for the majority of gamers out there. Combat is just another game mechanic, and we no longer notice anymore the amounts of violence we are partaking in.
I don’t say all this because I am against any of it. Truthfully, the opposite is true. All the games listed above are great games in their own right, for multitudes of reasons, regardless of the violent content. These are works and expressions of a growing art form, and like certain genres in cinema, sometimes violence is just part of the equation. I only mention all of this as pretext for my feelings about “the incident” as it occurred the night before.
As I said, I was playing Heavy Rain on my PS3 last night. I was working through an interrogation scene as the FBI agent Norman Jayden. We were working our way towards finding out the identity of the origami killer, and had come to suspect number one apartment. He was a religious zealot, hundreds of crosses hanging on his ceiling, and had said that he heard the “voice of god” on multiple occasions. Things went smoothly enough until, because of my “partner” badgering him, the suspect pulled a gun. Through a careful use of some psychology I had picked up in college, I was able to talk the guy down. My partner was in the process of cuffing him, when the suspect made a mad grab for something inside his jacket.
It was then that I pulled the trigger.
It was a shot to the chest that put him down instantly killing him. I felt heroic, like I had saved someone’s life. A small feeling of elation, despite the darkness that currently surround my avatar and I. Yet, that went away quickly, as my fellow officer callously remarked that it was cross he was reaching for, not a weapon. I was shocked, appalled, and completely taken aback by my actions. I had taken the time to talk this man down, to make sure that no one got hurt; and despite all that, I still shot him. I could have let it go, done nothing, let the moment play out; but to my eyes it seemed like something bad was about to happen, and so the trigger was pulled. No matter my motivations in the scenario, I had killed an innocent man.
I had shot people before in many different games; and even encouraged by some to do so; yet this was the first time I had to stop playing for a couple of minutes. As I stared at the screen, I debated whether or not to reload; to cheat death, if you will. Yet, much like my digital counterpart, I realized that I had to live with my actions and the repercussions thereof. From that point on, whenever I regained control of Agent Jayden, I was haunted by that moment. It informed every decision I made after that point and cast a pallor on the already dark narrative.
Despite the moral and ethical quandary I found myself in; this whole experience can only be described as a good thing. I had forgotten what it had felt like to experience a game where death mattered; not player death (we have Demon’s/Dark Souls to thank for that), but NPC death. For so long, we have all played games like the ones mentioned early on, where wave after wave fall before us, and we don’t seem to care, let alone notice. Heavy Rain decided to remind players that when you fire that bullet, you are taking a life. It reminds you that your actions in this world are relevant; and how you play matters.
That doesn’t happen all that often. It makes you think, and for that, I am glad the rain came…