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First Person Shooters (Games) Games

Why Aren't There More Civilians In Military Video Games? 431

Posted by Soulskill
from the gunning-for-realism dept.
Jeremy Erwin writes "A columnist for Slate asks why there aren't any civilians in today's military shooting games. Quoting: 'Mostly, they don't want to face the consequences of players' bad behavior. In an interview with the website Rock Paper Shotgun, Battlefield 3's executive producer Patrick Bach explained that he doesn't "want to see videos on the Internet where people shoot civilians. That's something I will sanitize by removing that feature from the game." Bach believes that video games are serious business but that players' irreverence is holding back the form. "If you put the player in front of a choice where they can do good things or bad things, they will do bad things, go [to the] dark side because people think it's cool to be naughty, they won't be caught," he said.'" (Note that there are civilians in Battlefield 3, you just can't kill them, accidentally or otherwise. Despite this, the author's point stands: "By removing civilians from the picture, developers like Bach are trying to reap the benefits of a real-life setting without grappling with the reality of collateral damage.")
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Why Aren't There More Civilians In Military Video Games?

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  • This can be handled (Score:4, Interesting)

    by xaoslaad (590527) on Monday September 12, 2011 @10:24PM (#37382792)
    I believe in Arma2, which is far more realistic than most of this crap (and yet is still nowhere near real) I believe you can shoot civilians. If I'm not mistaken it can also be set up to trigger mission failure. Basically kill a civilian, you break the roe and mission ends failure. Doing stuff like that allows civilians to walk around town and add a little realism while preventing people from simulating a massacre....

    Also, it's a game and just pixels. Get over it. I did 4 years in the Marine Corps and it's pretty safe to say it's all unrealistic bullshit. Fun to play and fun to escape reality but its not real or realistic...
  • by vgerclover (1186893) on Monday September 12, 2011 @10:45PM (#37382864)
    I loved to play the Rainbow Six series, and those fucking civilians would always get between my gun and the head of the last remaining terrorist. I also remember killing scientists in Half-Life just because they wouldn't move anymore after some map point.
    If games now don't have civilians in them is just because the games distributors don't have the balls or the will to take a little heat from stupid people that don't understand that a deaths in a video game are just as bad for your development as seeing a nipple: not at all.

    If you put the player in front of a choice where they can do good things or bad things, they will do bad things, go [to the] dark side because people think it's cool to be naughty, they won't be caught

    And that's bad because...?

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Monday September 12, 2011 @11:04PM (#37382990)

    Well, there's no civilians in America's Army (the US Army's propaganda game), but, during the training missions, shooting a superior officer (surprisingly hard to do, since the game enforces basic range safety) leads to a short cutscene of the player in a cell in Fort Leavenworth, awaiting court-martial.

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday September 12, 2011 @11:13PM (#37383036) Journal

    This is another reason why the Elder Scrolls series is so incredibly good: if you're seen killing an innocent, you instantly get a bounty on your head, guards chase you relentlessly, and you have to pay the price (although there are ways around it for cheaters).

    But if you're not seen killing, then you don't get a bounty. And it's not all that hard to not be seen. Then there's Gray Cowl of Nocturnal, that lets you go on a rampage in plain sight. And, finally, you can just wipe the guards out - might makes right and all that.

    Even better is Fallout 2. Kill a civilian or several in the wastelands? no-one knows, no-one cares. Kill one in a civilized city such as NCR or Vault City? the guards will be all over you. Kill one in a pit of crime such as Den? unless it's a gang member, unarmed witnesses will just run away, and armed will ignore you. But there is a catch either way - if you kill too many, your reputation as a murderer will build up even without direct witnesses, and you'll start meeting bounty hunters in your wilderness trips.

    And you know what? That's a big part of what makes these games awesome - freedom of choice, and the ability to deal with the consequences. Getting a "game over" dialog box is no fun. Getting into a gunfight with a bunch of guards which outnumber you and are better equipped is, even when the chance of survival is essentially zero, anyway.

    Or there's one more approach, as seen in the recent Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Plenty of civilians around in all city hubs, and all but the few quest NPCs are killable. Of course, if you do start shooting them in open sight, the cops will go after you, and of course you can subdue them as well if you want to. But the game actually encourages non-violent approach to things, and I don't just mean civilians: you get more XP if you use non-lethal takedown means against enemies, for example - even if they are trying to kill you! There is even a special achievement, "Pacifist", for completing the game without killing anyone (except for the four boss fights, where you have to kill to move on) - the game is specifically designed to make this possible.

    Of course, it can still be fun to go on a murder rampage in DXHR just for the heck of it. Alternatively, take it as a challenge - after completing the game as "pacifist", I immediately started over as a "maniac" - the rule is, if it breathes, you kill it. Note, no excuses like "this guy needs to stay alive for quest to count as completed" or "I need the merchant so I can sell loot to him" etc - by the time you leave the map, it must not have any living being on it except for the player. And you wouldn't believe how quickly you run out of ammo (which is pretty scarce in that game) when you start deliberately chasing civvies. Which, I guess, is a counterpoint to your claim - there are obvious consequences here, and the game is easier if you don't take that route, but it can be fun in the same way any challenge is.

    In any case, what's the big deal? So a bunch of pixels on the screen changes color, and somewhere in your RAM a boolean flag goes from "true" to "false" - and?..

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Monday September 12, 2011 @11:13PM (#37383042)

    The developers, in general, want to do this. I recall one game designer (for an Iraq-war-setting game) wanting to add a mission where the player went on a lengthy patrol through the city. Civilians would be everywhere, doing normal civilian things. Shooting them, obviously, would lead to a game-over. But the twist was that there would be no actual enemies - you'd go out and see several things that might startle you into shooting (potential car bomb, etc), but it would basically be ten minutes of the player expecting enemies at every corner, yet never finding them. It was supposed to show what actual soldiers deal with daily - almost all patrols go without incident.

    The game shipped without it, but that's hardly the only one where the developers wanted to add civilians, either for realism, or for mood, or even just because. But it's almost always stopped by the publisher, AKA the guys spending the money on the game. It's just far too much of an economic risk. Very few military games do it (without doing something like making them invinsible), simply because of all the outrage the media would cause. Modern Warfare 2 really only included it (in one mission) because of the outrage - they wanted the publicity and the shock.

  • Re:what? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wagnerrp (1305589) on Monday September 12, 2011 @11:32PM (#37383150)

    Because in some cases, it doesn't make sense for the streets to be vacant. If you are just walking around a city, you will expect people to be about doing their own thing. If battle erupts, they will be running all over the place for cover, or holed up in some corner somewhere. Two armies don't face off in a sterile environment. There needs to be external life around. Adding such things opens up the possibility for more in depth gameplay. Killing civilians gets you a reprimand, or a failed mission, or perhaps results in civilians reacting to you differently, closing off some options and opening others. Preventing civilian deaths earns you things, like better weapons. Perhaps enemy combatants are hiding among the civilians.

    If your reasoning for not adding additional NPCs is due to triangle count, then you need to broaden your horizons, and realize that games can be about more than just high quality graphics.

  • Re:Duh. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anthony Mouse (1927662) on Tuesday September 13, 2011 @12:25AM (#37383390)

    Gamers push boundaries. They test things. Give them a sandbox and they (at least some of them) will diligently work to tunnel their way out.

    The trouble is that as you make games more and more realistic, you find that sometimes reality is deeply unsatisfying. Sometimes a soldier can intentionally kill civilians and get away with it. Or the consequence is a court marshal that does not come until after the end of the soldier's tour. Or is that the soldier's child is killed fighting the same war 20 years later because the civilian casualties turned the local population against you.

    None of that sends an appropriate message or fits with the instant gratification/punishment model of most games. But the more you strive for realism, the more you have to face the trappings of reality.

  • by artor3 (1344997) on Tuesday September 13, 2011 @12:26AM (#37383396)

    Here's Fox "News", just last week, talking about how educational games such as Sim City are produced by a left wing conspiracy with the goal of frightening young children into protecting the environment: link. [kotaku.com]

    Funny, because when I played Sim City I made it my #1 goal to cause a nuclear meltdown without using the disaster menu.

    The professional liars then go on to cherry pick the example of "McDonald's: The Game", made by these guys [molleindustria.org] as a representative example of the sort of games kids play.

    Of course, a more popular game would be Modern Warfare. I haven't played one of those titles in MW2, but I distinctly recall a scene in which torture is used to get important intel from a bad guy, after abducting said bad guy from the streets of a sovereign nation (Brazil, I think). Which message would you rather expose your children to: "Torture is okay as long as the government says so!" or "Cities that bulldoze all their greenspace and get all their electricity from unregulated coal power plants end up with smog."?

    Actually, if you watch Fox News, I'm guessing I won't like the answer....

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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