A debate has been raging in Talking Time over the presence of troubling content in Ground Zeroes and whether or not that’s OK. As with such complex debates, the conversation frequently sloshes over the edges and splashes onto topics that really aren’t a proper part of the discussion, most notably in this case creating some false equivalencies with Grand Theft Auto V‘s torture scene. It was with that conversation and my own thoughts on True Detective vis-a-vis Ground Zeroes that I sat down at PAX East to play the first three chapters of Wolfenstein: The New Order, which contains an interstitial sequence between two chapters in which you, the player, interrogate a Nazi captive with a chainsaw.

The New Order walks a tricky tightrope, thematically speaking, as I was reminded when I stopped by Bethesda’s PAX East party for the game, whose theme in turn centered around the game. The party was meant to take place in the game’s world, which is to say a Nazi-dominated 1960. That could have worked out to be pretty tasteless, but, the folks behind the game (a team from Sweden) have had the good sense not to use overt Nazi imagery in the game and its material. No swastikas, and any eagle imagery has been abstracted out (in a suitably ’60s-style Swiss design approach, very bold and geometric) to the point that it barely reads as a bird. What you end up with is something that definitely reads “fascism” but not specifically “Third Reich.”

It’s probably because of the trickiness of its material and setting that Wolfenstein doesn’t quite go through with the torture sequence to the degree that its contemporaries have. Publishers can only handle one potential public outrage at a time. Honestly, I’m not complaining. I found the way the game handles its torture scene quite interesting – it really leads you to believe you’re going to have to take an active part in dismembering some guy, but in fact you as the player only administer punches. And those are strictly defensive, as you’re being attacked with a stiletto. As the protagonist, you’re never (from what I’ve seen) asked to perform disproportionate acts of violence anywhere in the game; even in the scripted sequence when you have to stab a Nazi in the neck, it comes only after he’s emptied a Luger into helpless doctors and catatonic psych ward occupants. Granted, that’s troubling in its own manipulative way… but it still bothers me a lot less than being forced to simulate mutilating a helpless victim. No, I didn’t like Chiller, either, and Wild 9‘s advertising (“torture your enemies!”) prevented me from ever buying it.

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As it happens, I was jotting down design ideas for Jetpack Goonies today, and one of the notes I made (and then circled) said, “NO KILLING.” It’s always seemed a little weird that Mikey in the NES Goonies games could only stun the Fratellis but straight-up killed tons of animals, and even Eskimos. But all the minor enemies just respawn after being killed on roughly the same timer as the Fratellis recover from being stunned. So why not just make Mikey’s attacks stun every enemy, regardless of their family affiliation? I actually wasn’t thinking of Metal Gear or Wolfenstein when I made that note, but it occurred to me as I was typing this it wasn’t a coincidence, either.

Saving the world, one IP violation at a time.

5 comments on: Gentle jetpack

  1. N/A

    I don’t see how the content itself, its being “ok” or not, should really be the issue. Content like that isn’t included to be considered “ok”, it is included to be disturbing. The real issue is how it is handled.
    I think it is generally agreed that Ground Zeroes handled it pretty poorly.

    But that isn’t why you wrote this. I’m all for nonlethal options in my action games. With some exceptions (Deus Ex: Human Revolution) non-lethal is often more challenging and feels more rewarding. And you don’t kill anybody!

    • J. Parish

      You’re right, I didn’t write this to comment either way on whether or not the content is OK, just to note that the conversation is happening. I stepped in to offer an opinion, and both sides of the argument managed to twist my comments to fit their agenda, so I stepped right back out again.

  2. MetManMas

    I’ve played Wild 9 before. While advertising itself on torture was a poor choice, the so-called “torture” was slamming robot mooks into things with your object-grabbing electric beam until they explode or tossing them into the occasional MadWorld-esque environmental hazard, and the game largely plays like your typical 2D platformer made with 3D graphics. The screaming the mooks do as you kill them can be disturbing, but Wild 9′s tone is for the most part black comedy.

    But in general, while I don’t mind games where I can be an asshole using the core mechanics, I’m not exactly cool with torture sequences in most games, whether it’s as a victim or instigator or listening to audio reels some poor victim or sick asshole left laying around. I may have some twisted fun hookshot-bolting some poor schmuck to the back of a jet in Just Cause 2, or revisiting a stage I previously completed in Jet Force Gemini to shuriken all the heads off the koala people I previously had to rescue because of Rare’s ludicrous completion percentage quota, or testing out who is and isn’t essential when I’m bored in a Betheseda RPG, or (some Metal Gear pasttimes) using the tranq gun to turn a soldier into a living pincushion or blowing up some sap with C4 while he’s at the urinal, but that doesn’t mean I wanna take a wrench to some teeth or waterboard somebody.

  3. JohnLearned

    Sorry that this is off topic, but I was going to send you this for your write up for The Wheel: http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20395708_20805580,00.html#30134513. Some of their “retro poster” galleries are kind of weak, but this one is certainly timely.

    • J. Parish

      Thanks for the link, but that poster is kind of awful. Nothing says “vintage” like Photoshop glow effects…