I’ve been playing Far Cry 6 this week, which means I’ve been killing a lot of virtual dogs.
I don’t like doing that. Hate it, in fact. But there are dogs in Far Cry 6, and they’ll tackle me and bite me to death if I don’t kill them, and so, well: Here we are.
Dog murder has been around in video games for decades. But the last couple of console generations have intensified the presence of canine killing as a codified player mechanic to a fairly hefty extent, to the point that it’s rare to have a “real world” shooter these days where you aren’t occasionally asked to pull the trigger.
This, at the same time that an increased emphasis on “realism” has ensured that every new dog killing is the most visceral such experience yet. I don’t know whose job it is at Naughty Dog or Ubisoft to program in the sounds that dogs make when you hurt them to survive in The Last Of Us Part II or Far Cry 6, but they’re either amazing or horrible at their jobs, depending on how you count it.
Those two games emphasise the two sides of the video game dog murder coin, now that I think about it. The Last Of Us wants you to feel the consequence of every pup life you take, having their human owners cry out in anguish when they find the bodies of their slain companions, and even encouraging, through its twisty plot structure, the player to spend time with a virtual dog that they know that they’re later going to shoot. (It’s a bit like Old Yeller, if you were somehow playing as Travis and the rabies.)
Far Cry, meanwhile, mostly views dogs as little more than a deadly obstacle, a way to vary enemy variety in a game where most of your opponents are different flavours of soldier. This has been a series tradition, of course; animal attacks date all the way back to the very first, very off-model Far Cry game, and several of the games have play loops built almost entirely out of putting local wildlife on the endangered species list in order to make ammo pouches out of their skin.
The most recent entries in the series have only made this dichotomy more bizarre, though, by giving you plenty of invincible animal companions of your own to help you take down its numerous armed camps. They’re the rare games that can answer both Does The Dog Die? and Can You Pet The Dog? with an equally resounding, apparently unbothered, “Yes, absolutely”
All of which leads me to ask: Can we possibly knock it off, please? I’m not asking for every video game to be a pacifistic paradise, mind you; I like a little virtual bloodlust as much as the next sociopathic game-trained murder machine. But I can say with some certainty that I have done my part to keep the pet semataries of video game land filled at this point.
If you need me to deal with a fast-moving, four-legged creature designed to rip my throat out, let’s go ahead and get some zombies in the mix, please, or maybe one of those Boston Dynamics horrorshows. If you need me to feel extra bad about killing the bad guys in your video game, maybe learn how to write better bad guys.
Leave the pups out of it, game devs. They’ve suffered enough.