We’ve killed a lot of things in a lot of video games over the years. But not all video game deaths were created equally. Some make us feel like powerhouses, while others fill us with shame. What’s the one act of virtual killing you wish you could take back, and why?
I started thinking about the issue of troubling video game deaths this morning after seeing a thread on NeoGAF that asked an interesting and unsettling question: “What’s the worst you’ve felt after killing someone in a game?” A vivid moment from Mass Effect 3, one of my favourite RPGs, came rushing back to me. But I’d like to hear from all of you as well. So let me give my deepest moment of guilt-ridden video game violence below as a template we can all follow.
Game: Mass Effect 3
Victim: Legion, the sentient Geth (read: robot) character who can first join Commander Shepard as a party member in Mass Effect 2.
Why I Felt So Bad: This requires a teensy bit of explaining to help understand why I felt terrible for killing Legion in Mass Effect 3. So terrible, in fact, that I reloaded and tried every possible dialogue option to see if there was another way to complete the quest. See,Commander Shepard ends up in a tight spot at one point in the Mass Effect 3 campaign. I’ll save us all the trouble of rehashing the entire backstory, but basically the situation is that the Geth and Quarian, two rival civilizations, are squared off against each other for a final showdown. This being an RPG, the choice of who to save is in your hands. The geth spaceships are sitting dormant since you just destroyed the Reaper that was commanding them via a signal, which places them in a uniquely vulnerable position that the Quarian are eager to exploit. If you direct Legion to transmit a certain string of codes to his Geth peers, they will become self-actualizing and immediately retaliate against the Quarian. Since the Geth fleet is a lot more powerful than the Quarian one, that means the Quarians will be annihilated. If you agree with your Quarian party member Tali’Zora and order her people to attack the Geth while they’re still in stasis, on the other hand, the Geth will be annihilated instead. Tali and Legion are both just standing there the entire time, each nudging you to save their preferred civilisation from complete and utter destruction.
I originally chose to side with Tali, for an entirely arbitrary reason: I thought she was a more useful party member to have around for the final section of the game. Once I gave her the go-ahead to destroy the Geth, however, things got a bit more complicated. Here’s how it went down in one similar playthrough:
I watched the scene play out, and defended myself against Legion when Mass Effect 3 prompted me to. But afterwards, I realised something didn’t feel right about what I’d just done. The Geth were a bunch of evil robots for most of the Mass Effect series, sure. But Legion was offering me a tangible opportunity to rehabilitate them. Who was I, to offer such a harsh rebuke in the face of such genuine contrition?
“Please,” Legion had implored me, “this is not justice.” The more I thought about it, the more I realised he was right. I was supposed to be fighting to save the universe from a bunch of evil squid monsters, and here I was letting an entire civilisation die just because I didn’t need another guy who was good with sniper rifles in my party? Who did I think I was?
I reloaded, and tried again. And again. Eventually I realised that I had to have completed one very specific quest in Mass Effect 2 if I wanted to have them both survive, so I opted to save Legion instead. Sorry Tali, but the robot just had a stronger argument at the end of the day.
UPDATE (3:50 pm): Some Mass Effect-playing readers in the comments reminded me that Legion actually ends up dying no matter what you do. This makes the conflict even more emotionally fraught, in my opinion: especially if you feel like saving the Geth is the “right” thing to do but don’t want to lose two quality party members in the process of making your choice.
Mass Effect 3’s tragicLegionepisode is just one emotionally fraught example of when killing a character in a video game didn’t play out as smoothly as I expected. Tell me about your favourite moment of soul-searching in the comments below.