Games that let the player feel guilty

I read someone (Henry Jenkins, probably) recently who said that games are the only art form that can make the audience feel guilt. That might be pushing it a bit–movies can occasionally make the viewer feel voyeuristic guilt, for example–but there’s some truth to that. When I play Civilization, there’s definite feelings of guilt if I break a treaty. I have real trouble in roleplaying games being a bad guy–in fact, a few minutes ago while playing Skyrim, I killed a guy who was being horrible to me and threatening to report me to his murderous bosses, and I felt so bad about blasting him in the back as he walked away that I reloaded the game.

Anyway, I thought the idea of guilt in gaming might be an interesting one to discuss. Let’s assume there will be spoilers in the discussion, but if it’s a major spoiler, maybe you can mention the game first, so someone not wanting a spoiler for that game can skip the rest of the post?

In the Undead Nightmare DLC pack for Red Dead Redemption, you’re made to feel pretty guilty in the “Birth of the Conservation Movement” mission which involves hunting Sasquatch in the wilderness. The player isn’t really given a choice in the matter, though, to pass the mission.

When I was trying to recover some dudes who’d been lost in Halo, one of them said “Took you long enough”, so I shot him. I felt bad then, and restarted the level.

Sims apparently generates some guilt, according to Cheerleading Dropout.

Fallout 3 and NV made me feel guilty a couple times. I usually played very good and had sky-high karma…but that means that when you really want to steal something, cap somebody, or blow something up*, you can kind of ‘get away’ with it in the game, even though the guilt is there.

  • Or sometimes, blow something up then cap somebody in order to steal something.

Edit: Most guilt-inducing game ever: Catholic Masturbation Simulator 2.

I feel guilty about killing innocents needlessly in games. Most recent example I can think of are wild animals in Skyrim. I think I killed maybe one or 2. On the other hand, annoying humans get dispatched mercilessly if it’s not inconvenient. So if a singer in Assassin’s Creed gets bladed, so be it.

In Skyrim, I felt kind of guilty over that Hagraven that your character apparently seduced while drunk. Killing them is one thing, but toying with her affections is just tacky.

In Call of Duty:MW2 you have to take part in a terrorist massacre of civilians in an airport. Since you are under cover and infiltrating the organization you are a good guy but can’t do anything. You can choose to just watch and not kill any civilians but if you try to take part you are killed. You do have the option to opt out of that part of the level and it skips ahead a bit.

Your character is killed at the end of the level anyway. Your body is left there so the bad guy can blame America for the massacre. You play a different character after that.

You want to talk about guilt in videogames? I’ve never felt more guilt than when I incinerated the weighted companion cube in Portal. It’s just a basic tutorial mission were you learn how to use blocks to press buttons, the weighted companion cube is just a cube, same as a million others in a million other games. Except it has a sticker of a heart on it. And it is your friend. At the end of the mission you are forced to “euthanize” it in order to continue, no other way around it. It doesn’t help that no matter how long you take to decide the computer congratulates you for killing him in record time.

In Deus Ex, you had several options for how lethal you wanted to play your character. Several of the zones involved getting past a bunch of people who were essentially innocent–US Navy members guarding a supertanker that’s owned and operated by the bad guys. Killing them felt kind of like the wrong thing to do on the first few run-throughs, so I played the game once with as few kills as possible, using a baton to knock people unconscious, or a drug dart. The game worked really well that way, and I didn’t have to kill a single one of the US soldiers.

[spoiler]Until I had to sink the supertanker with them on it, of course. I felt pretty bad about that.

And then I went on to nuke Area 51 and killed HUNDREDS of scientists, just for a temporary tactical advantage on the bad guys there, and the whole “let’s not kill people” mode kind of went out the window.[/spoiler]

And, I practically cried the first time I had to kill Griswold in Diablo 2, but hey. Dude’s a zombie.

I always preferred to grab them by the collar and head-butt them.

I generally play as a Goodie Goodie in RPGs because I feel bad about doing bad things to others even in the game.

Similarly, I felt bad for weeks after finishing Mass Effect 2 because one of my teammates was killed during the final mission and I felt responsible.

I’m another person who feels bad when I do something evil in a video game. For instance, in Fallout 3

blowing up Megaton

The most guilty I’ve ever felt is probably in Knights of the Old Republic, where you can really be nasty to your fellow party members before you head up to the space station at the end.

Ordering Zaalbar to kill Mission? OUCH!

I’ve heard about this from lots of folks–personally, I dumped it in the incinerator, chuckled at GLADoS, and went on my merry way. Perhaps I am a monster. Who needs a bigger jumpsuit.

Or not: I’ve merrily went on murderous rampages in every GTA except 4. They made the reactions more realistic, less cartooney, so I felt bad when I capped some random civilian in the knee. :frowning: (In general, I thought GTA4 was a bit too srs bzns, and lost much of the tongue-in-cheek, wicked fun of Vice City and San Andreas.) Generally, in RPGs that let you be a baddie if you’re so inclined, I wind up 99-44/100% pure because doing bad things makes me feel guilty. Certainly the case for the Fallout games, though I did think about making a Caesar’s Legion run in New Vegas–but New Vegas’s morality is a bit more shades-of-grey than 3’s. I will occasionally have a little mini-rampage, but it rarely lasts too long before I feel bad about it, adjust my halo, and go back to my last save…

Games which make me feel guilty:

Planescape Torment Spoiler:

You know what I’m talking about

Skyrim: getting Mace of Molag Bal.
Geneforge: choosing a side
Sims: acquiring interesting ghosts for my houses
Morrowind: Uh, sorry about the meteor, guys
Wow: killing Leper Gnomes, torturing that one guy, not saving the slaves from the Dickwolves
Tropico: Being a dictator
Rollercoaster Tycoon: Sending that coaster off the tracks. Sending all the coasters off the tracks.

Games which do not make me feel guilty:

Civ: Fucking Montezuma had it coming

Vibration: Y

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I feel guilty when playing…


…Pokemon. <_<

Not every time one of my Mons faints - usually I just get annoyed with being beaten.

No, occasionally I’ll be up against a boss whose Mons are diabolical enough to break a type advantage.

So, after levelling up a bit, I’ll rearrange my party…put one in at the start who’s meant to faint after nickle-and-diming the boss down to the point my type-advantaged Mon can finish it.

And I feel TERRIBLE about that sacrifice, every time I do it, even though it’s the only way to progress.

Stepping out of video games, there are some people who won’t play the board game Puerto Rico. Because while it’s done at a very abstract level, the players are taking the role of slave owners.

To me, this is a little silly. It’s like objecting to Chess because it puts you in the role of a murderer.

Braid made me feel something on the same axis as guilt, in the same direction, but much further.

LOL, Vinyl Turnip! I think I have the PC version of that game, though. It’s called the internet.

These are some great examples.

One of the things that good art can do is to give you insight into yourself or into other people. The essay I read in which Jenkins talked about guilt in games suggested that games have great potential for offering such insight, but that this potential is rarely tapped.

Given all of these examples of guilt in games, has anyone ever felt that a game’s sensation of guilt has given them insight into themselves or others?

Edit: Little Nemo, that actually does squick me out about that game. It’s a good game, and I’ll play it, but it squicks me out.

Pretty big stretch of analogy, since very few people consider killing on the battlefield to be murder in itself, while very few people consider importing forced labor to be permissible in itself.