Prey: Kids as Videogame Victims

By Shamus
on Jun 5, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

<strong>Left:</strong> Little girl. <strong> Center:</strong> Little Boy.  <strong>Right:</strong> Totally uncalled for.
Left: Little girl. Center: Little Boy. Right: Totally uncalled for.
In working my way through Prey, I came upon a scene where a kid was killed. One little girl turned into a ghost of some sort, and killed a little boy by impaling him on some alien equipment. This is about the worst thing I’ve seen in a videogame in a long time.

I can’t recall ever seeing a child die a bloody on-screen death in a horror movie. Maybe it happens, but if it does it must be rare. No matter how evil the foe, there is usually an unspoken agreement with the audience that the kid lives. Barring that, they die off-screen. This is supposed to be entertainment, after all. The moment a kid dies it stops being entertaining or scary. Our instincts to protect children go too deep, and when the audience sees something like that they are going to be yanked out of the story. They are no longer frightened, because they are no longer taking part in the experience. This is particularly true of people who have kids. Kids might die in a drama, but creating nameless underage “extras” to be slaughtered is a major violation of the viewer’s expectations and they will probably rebel by disconnecting from the story if they don’t quit it outright. As a storyteller you can break or bend this rule if you like, but you had better be careful and you had better know what the hell you’re doing.

And more to the point, you shouldn’t need to kill children to make your story frightening. Once you establish your foes, creating fear is much more about pacing, suspense, the threat of harm, and fear of the unknown. If your story isn’t scary, you don’t need to have your monster kill kids, you need to figure out why the audience isn’t connecting with your protagonist and vicariously experiencing their peril. Introducing kids is a ham-fisted solution to the problem and if you’re using it you’ve already messed up.

Later that ghostly little girl showed up again and I was obliged to fight her. I’ll give the designers credit: It was indeed shocking, but man, what were they thinking? Yes, she was a ghost, but shooting guns at kid-shaped targets wasn’t what I signed up for here. I found it revolting.

Later there was a scene that perfectly illustrates how “less is more” when it comes to scaring people:

The aliens in the game are harvesting people for food. They just teleport handy containers of people like planes or buildings onto their spaceship. (It’s really big.) They take the people out and leave the Earth junk laying around. This is a great device, since it lets the viewer see familiar objects in the alien setting, which creates a nice contrast to remind the viewer of how strange their surroundings are.

Wow. Yikes.  If they’d stopped here, they would have been way better off.
Wow. Yikes. If they’d stopped here, they would have been way better off.
At one point I came across a school bus. Just the bus. Most people are smart enough to discern what an empty school bus means in this setting, and if they’d stopped there they would have succeeded in raising the tension for me. But the game went too far and had a bunch of ghost kids pop out for me to gun down. The sense of dread and anger at the aliens vanished, and was replaced with eye rolling and general annoyance that the developers were making me do something stupid before letting me move onto the next level.

I think using children like this was a major miscalculation. Nobody wants to gun down kids. At all. Not ghost kids. Not alien kids. Not virtual kids. It’s just a terrible move. I don’t care how ugly you make them, how many hit points you give them, or what weapons they have, nobody is going to derive satisfaction from overcoming child-like foes. There is a reason we’ve spent the last twenty years of gaming doing battle with Zombies, Orcs, and Nazis instead of fighting the cast of Romper Room.

I haven’t seen anyone else complain about this, so perhaps I’m alone in my thinking here. Maybe it bothered other people but they muddled through without making a big deal out of it. I’m still playing, but for me the sense of immersion is gone and I’m viewing the game with a far more clinical eye.

UPDATE: Steven has several great thoughts on this.

UPDATE UPDATE: Enough anklebiting. Comments are closed. If you have mean things to say about me, do so on your own space. If you want to drag me into an endless cycle of insulting nitpickery, then don’t be surprised when your comment gets nuked. I do this to have fun, and you’re making it non-fun. If you don’t like my website then piss off.

(Just for clarification, the anklebiting comments are deleted, just so everyone doesn’t look at what they wrote and wonder what led to this.)

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  1. Knastymike says:

    I don’t think you’re alone in your thinking, not by a long shot, but I do think that statement that “nobody wants to gun down kids” is gonna be hyperbole. There’s gonna be a small percentage of people out there who might enjoy it, and another small group who won’t distinguish between kids and adults. They may be aberrant, abnormal or sick, but they’re still there, and they probably buy video games and watch horror movies.

    Nonetheless, it’s probably going to far to be acceptable in just about any society, and as such, it’s probably not a move that contributes to profitability in the long run, so you’ll probably see less of it from the developers in the future. To be honest, I’m surprised they got it made. What’s the game rated??

  2. Ace says:

    I agree 100%.

    That is, as long as this is supposed to be a serious and scary game. In a game like Timesplitters: Future Perfect you gun down some kid zombies that are more of a joke than an actual opponent. In a setting where this is serious, I’d just put down my controller and stop playing.

    I’m sorry you had to experience this in a game. Just for a quick reference, what is this game called? Just want to know so I never accidentally pick this up.

    – Ace

  3. Eric Meyer says:

    Okay, my interest in Prey just dropped below zero. The puzzle aspect of the game intrigued me, since Portal won’t be out until later this year. Now I’m back to waiting for Portal. Is it weird that I’m drooling like a maniac for the release of Half-Life 2: Episode 2 when I consciously plan to toss aside all the Half-Life 2 stuff and just play Portal?

    Though I’m curious if you saw the pilot miniseries for new Battlestar: Galactica; and, if so, what you thought of the little stuffed-animal-toting girl and her fate.

  4. Retlor says:

    That is one of the reasons that I am so glad that the GTA series don’t put kids in the game. I wouldn’t say that a game should NEVER have kids dying, but the developers should think long and hard about whether is it appropriate to the feel of the game.

  5. thark says:

    I’m not going to argue in defense of Prey, since I know nothing about it. For all I know, it very well might be tacky, or over the top, or badly executed.

    I am, however, going to argue against the “the kid lives” rule. As you say yourself, “as a storyteller you can break or bend this rule if you like, but you had better be careful and you had better know what the hell you’re doing.”

    The concept of children as victims and/or children as monsters is intensely strong and disturbing one for very good reason–and IMHO one you should use when such use is warranted and effective.

    Some of the most creepy and disturbing horror experiences (games, books, movies, what have you) I’ve had have been children-as-monsters stories. Done well, of course. (Horror done badly inevitably ends up cheap, whatever the topic.)

    Not to say that YOU would or should necessarily like or enjoy any of those stories. That’s taste. One person’s creepy-in-a-good-way is another person’s gross. (Horror being also, of course, a very personal thing.)

    So I’m just sayin’, “[…]a major miscalculation. Nobody wants to[…]” seems a bit too broad of a statement.

  6. dodonna says:

    I agree that most horror films, despite being about the breaking of taboos, still treat small children as off-limits. The recent horror film Feast played on this and other genre conventions by introducing each of its characters with an on-screen graphic describing their odds of survival. The kid in the cast was said to be guaranteed to live a full and happy life…yet he was one of the first ones killed and eaten. My point (if indeed I have one) is that such fictional deaths can be effective just because they are so unexpected, but that they need to serve a purpose (in this case, ironic commentary) other than perverse gratification.

  7. WysiWyg says:

    I think that one of the reasons that nobody have said anything would be that it’s so unusual. In my experience, not even the GTA-games went over that line, right?

  8. Arson55 says:

    I don’t know that fighting child ghosts would really bother me all that much. If a game forces me to kill children it might bother me, but a ghost? Not so much. As for the child dying on-screen, very unusual and risky because most people will have a problem with it, but if it is well handled, it shouldn’t be a huge game stopping issue…It obviously wasn’t well-handled judging by Shamus’ reaction.

    I’m in the minority, I’m sure, but I don’t see why this sort of thing can’t be dealt with in a video game if that is part of the story they want to tell.

  9. bkw says:

    Any kind of medium that pulls out the “let’s threaten the kids!” card immediately hits my “off” button. It’s a cheap, brazenly manipulative tactic that I find disgusting and reprehensible, and not at all effective.

  10. bkw says:

    Which is not to say that people shouldn’t kill kids by the score if that’s the story they want to tell. I’m just not interested in partaking of it.

  11. Strangeite says:

    I am glad that you wrote this post. I will not be playing this game.

  12. Mordaedil says:

    Hah! I so remember that. I was getting kinda used to seeing all this violence, and suddenly the ghost girl puts the boy on pike and I just stop in my tracks. I think I stopped doing anything for around 5 minutes, walked into the next room, quicksaved and went to bed.

    When I woke up, I completed the demo.

  13. Wes says:

    Hmmm, my interest in this game just went *negative*… as in: “I’m not sure you would enjoy this” anti-recommendations to those I suspect would be offended by this.

    Bleah.

  14. Adam says:

    Count me in the apparent minority who doesn’t really distinguish between gunning down adult shaped blobs of pixels and gunning down child shaped blobs of pixels. I’m assuming they’re just normal enemies who happen to be shaped like children, btw. If there’s some additional sadistic flourish I’m not aware of, then my perception would, of course, change.

    If the children are fleshed out characters, that’s something else. Even when I tried to play through Fable in as evil a manner as possible, for example, I couldn’t bring myself to beat up the kid with the teddy bear in the opening scenes where you play through your character’s childhood.

    ~~~ minor Battlestar Galactica spoiler follows ~~~

    The little girl from the Battlestar mini is a good example of effectively using a child’s death for dramatic purposes, IMO. It gives Laura’s decision a much stronger emotional kick in the gut than just “Oh, she sacrificed X ships to save Y ships.”

  15. SamC says:

    I agree with the first poster’s remark, that it pretty much will be hyperbole to say that no one wants to, and I’ll play the devil’s advocate by saying there’s a good portion out there not likely to be as off put as you are in this instance. It honestly wouldn’t bother me to fight kid ghosts, I’ve done it in lots of video games and it never has before. In horror games it hasn’t even struck me as particularly uncommon, just moreso than adults because it wouldn’t often make sense. In Resident Evil, for instance, there’d be utterly no reason for little kid zombies. In two however, taking place in Raccoon City itself, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised by it.

    To be quite honest, when gaming my sense of reality warps a bit. If it’s threatening my in game characters life and has a viable reason for its presence, then I have a good enough reason to fight it. A sociopathic child coming at me with a knife would be unfortunate, but I wouldn’t pull any punches. On the other hand, I tend not to go out of my way to kill people in games, particularly so if there’s no in-game gain.

    And of course, this is not reflective of my real life behavior. In general principle I don’t like and tend to avoid most children, but that’s just preference. I hardly do anything harmful towards them, and with non-obnoxious types I usually will smile and wave back at them as I pass by. I just avoid more extensive talking to and general contact.

    TL;DR?

    It’s just a video game. If there were nuns, you might see catholics getting uptight. people with kids, don’t like to think about kids getting hurt. That doesn’t mean that it’s off limits material for designers or that it necessarily should be, just that it’s going to be unappetizing or outright detestable to some of their audience. And to be clear this post is not an endorsement for the aforementioned game or an argument truly intended in its defense, I haven’t played it. the scene in particular you describe at the top sounds like gore pretty much for the sake of it, which I do tend to find unappealing, though not for the reasons you mention.

  16. Nathanael says:

    I’m amused by this. It’s perfectly acceptable to kill all the adults you want, run over hookers in GTA, and slaughter folks by the thousands in other video games. But once kids enter the picture, it crosses the line? What about the elderly? The mentally ill? The handicapped?

    Where do you draw the line, and why?

    Personally, I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to be playing a video game that features you delivering a gory death to ANYONE, than ANYONE should be free game. To think otherwise is just hypocritical.

  17. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    “I can’t recall ever seeing a child die a bloody on-screen death in a horror movie”

    From the top of my head:Last Destination 2.

    “Nobody wants to gun down kids.”

    I do.Zombified children add to realism,and I do care about that.

  18. Roger says:

    All I know is that whenever I see that one commercial for that Star Wars videogame that shows an Ewok through a sniper scope getting shot, I laugh.

  19. Marc says:

    Butchering attacking children in video games has been around for a good long while. Ultima V, anyone? I still wouldn’t recommend Prey to anyone, though. The portal trick is neat for about ten seconds, then becomes as deadly boring as the rest of the game. That the developers felt that they needed to put the “OMG I have to kill kids WTF!!!11!” stinger in there reveals more of a lack of imagination to me than anything else.

  20. JD Malmquist says:

    I have to agree completely, Shamus. I’ve been making the argument for years that Rockstar Games has made their limits clear – you can kill nuns and hari krishnas, but no kids.

    On the other hand, somehow _this_ manages to be funny: http://youtube.com/watch?v=D3Lr70lwaVg

    I’m sorry if you disagree. :)

  21. Adam says:

    “Personally, I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to be playing a video game that features you delivering a gory death to ANYONE, than ANYONE should be free game. To think otherwise is just hypocritical.”

    I don’t think hypocritical is the right word to use here. Different people have different emotional reactions to different things. To state that I enjoy playing games where X is depicted, but games where Y is depicted make me uncomfortable is just a description of my reactions. Hypocrisy doesn’t enter into the picture unless I argue, for example, that game designers ought not be allowed to produce anything I find uncomfortable, but it’s fine for them to produce something that you find uncomfortable.

  22. Deoxy says:

    “Where do you draw the line, and why?”

    Small children and obviously pregnant women are the most protected (psychologically speaking) of people. Even in the hardest of prisons, someone who killed a pregnant woman or molested a small child is detested, even by the other inmates… you know, the people who gunned down others in cold blood and other happy things like that.

    For whatever reason, that’s part of the (normal) human psyche. That is where you draw the line, because that’s where the vast, overwhelming majority of PEOPLE draw the line.

    I don’t claim to know why.

  23. Nathanael says:

    Okay, I can vibe with that. Let’s see if I understand, though. Speaking hypothetically, you’re totally okay with playing video games that completely trivialize the horrendous and soul-warping acts of violently ending the life of other humans, but you’re shocked when one of those humans is younger than the norm?

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy both approaches equally. But I long ago made the distinction between pixellated morals and those of reality. I could NEVER murder a child (or anyone) in the real world. But when I kill things in games, it doesn’t phase me. I once played a game where I slaughtered pregnant teenage runaways. Damn that was fun.

  24. oldschoolGM says:

    Oddly enough, this has been a factor in a Dungeons and Dragons computer game as well. From what I’ve read, the computer adaptation of the Temple of Elemental Evil game as originally designed had children NPCs. The problem is, all NPCs in the game are attackable, and turning the townspeople hostile would, inevitably turn the children hostile, necessitating the wholesale slaughter of children. I think there might even have been a side-quest involving the murder of children. Whatever the case, when test marketed, the whole thing provoked so much negative reaction, that the designers were obliged to remove all of the child NPCs from the game at the last minute, which resulted in at least one broken side quest.

  25. Stark says:

    Nathaniel,

    I assume you are not a parent. What Shamus is saying has very little to do with a moral line and everything to do with ingrained nature and instinct. Prior to having kids the idea of one getting hurt (as in maimed or killed, not a knee scrape) was a merely uncofortable thought…. post kids something changes in the psyche. The drive to defend and protect your child and, to a lesser though still powerful extent, other children is VERY strong.

    I’m talking about no thought whatsoever to injury to yourself in the process strong. As an example, I acutally broke my ankle (knowing I would likely do so) in order to catch my toddler son when he was about to fall and impale himself on a spike in a neighbors garden. Didn’t even hesitate. When I hit the ground with my son on top of me I was also hit by my neighbor – who’d had the same reaction as I and ended up with the spike in question through his hand for his trouble… and it wasn’t even his kid. It’s this drive, this need, to protect our children (and by extension, other kids too) that makes things like this in a game so jarring – for me at least. It’s not an instinct that can be turned off. The level of immersion and reality presented by digital media these days is more than sufficient to fool whatever part of the brain handles that protectionary instinct into reacting… the result is a feeling of shock often followed by anger and disgust – especially if the puppose of the display was purely for the gore and shock value of it.

    As to whether “anyone should be fair game”… I can’t really argue with that and won’t try. I will however say that I won’t likely be playing a game that features realistic and pointless killing of children. The same cannot be said for the killing of adults in a game (even the elderly or disabled) as my brain is not setup to have the same automatic reaction to that as it is to scenes of child death. Maybe it should be, but it isn’t.

    I’ll also add that I don’t actaully have a problem with a developer choosing to make a game that features this – it probably won’t be a game I’ll play but a developer has the right to make whatever game they want to make. If they come out with Kid Hunt(tm) that’s fine… tasteless in my opinion… but it’s still their right to do so. As Voltaire said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

  26. Ermel says:

    There have been kids killed on-sceen in Final Destination 2, at the very least. And I wasn’t much bothered by that. Killing people, for me, is so far off the mark in real life that doling so in a game, or watching it being done in a movie, is kind of surreal to me anyway. And therefore, it doesn’t make any difference at all to me whether the person being killed is 4, 14, or 40.

    And yes, this also holds true in real life. I am not in any way more shocked to learn of a kid’s death (accidental or whatever) than I am to learn of an adult’s death. I realize that I am in a tiny minority here, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m alone. Or am I?

  27. bbot says:

    This is exactly what I meant when I said “incredibly unpleasant” later. It gets worse later on in the story, but the incident in which I am refering to is better done than the schoolbus scene.

    In fact, at that point in the game I happened to be completely out of ammo, and down to the infantry “rifle”, since its ammo regenerates.

    So I’d shoot her a few times, get one shotted, go through the spirit shotting thing, spawn back in, shoot her a few times, get one shotted, rinse, repeat.

    For maybe ten minutes I chipped away at her health with the weakest weapon in the game, until she died and I finally got to go do something interesting.

    This is the sort of thing that destroys replayability.

  28. Roy says:

    I’m amused by this. It’s perfectly acceptable to kill all the adults you want, run over hookers in GTA, and slaughter folks by the thousands in other video games. But once kids enter the picture, it crosses the line? What about the elderly? The mentally ill? The handicapped?

    Where do you draw the line, and why?

    Who said that it was perfectly acceptable to do those things? I find games morally problematic that encourage or reward the player for doing evil things to people. I’m not going to say that games like those are bad, but I think that it’s difficult subject matter, and I’m more likely to be annoyed with or disgusted by a game that, for example, has you beating up defenseless people, or picking on people who are innocent.

    Personally, I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to be playing a video game that features you delivering a gory death to ANYONE, than ANYONE should be free game. To think otherwise is just hypocritical.

    I disagree. There are, I think, clear differences between killing something that is trying to kill you, and killing a helpless child, or an innocent bystander.

    I think that a game can raise really interesting issues by allowing you to attack or kill any character, but I don’t think it’s hypocritical or wrong for a game designer to say “You know what, we don’t want the hero of our game to be able to do evil things.”

  29. Lebkin says:

    Am I the only one who thought they weren’t real kids? I always assumed they were aliens taking the form of children. My feeling were that the enemy was doing this simply BECAUSE you would be reluctant to shoot them. If I was an alien, it is a great defensive ploy. I know when I played through Prey, I did everything I could to avoid killing them, even attempting to retreat. I believe I even tried dying as a way out. I only killed them because I was left with no other choice (since they were attacking me). To me, it seemed a realistic ploy that an enemy would use, forcing a moral choice on the character. The idea is to show this as an enemy without morals, that will do anything to get you to give up and die.

    My one complaint would be that the game designers only give you one choice. I would have gladly taken a more difficult path around that room, in order to avoid killing them children. Making it a true moral choice would be interesting, rather than forcing you to make a specific decision to the moral dilemma.

  30. wildweasel says:

    I actually tried to get as far through Prey as possible without shooting the kids. I operated on a retaliatory basis – I wouldn’t attack them if they left me alone. However, waiting for them to shoot first usually resulted in my health dropping quicker than usual…

  31. BMGCanuck says:

    I think the main theme here (and one usually avoided in popular games) is that games shouldn’t make you do things that aren’t fun. It seems shamus wasn’t offered a choice to kill all the children icons, but was forced to, resulting in him being forced into a simulation of an act that violates his moral stance, and possibly his primal instincts. That doesnt sound like fun to me, and games should be fun.

  32. Daktylo says:

    These are interesting points. Shamus, I noticed during the D&D campaign that there was a moment when a wizard kidnapped a kid to sacrifice (possibly to become a lich). What would have happened if the players didn’t care enough to get involved, or tried to barter with the wizard?

    I have a feeling that it’s been done, but imagine what the players of a D&D campaign would do if the GM decided to take it to the next level.

    “Your party walks into the tower as the dagger is being dropped” and then the descriptions after that. I believe it would be time to pack it in after that.

  33. Shamus says:

    The “nobody wants to kill” line was said in the same way one might say, “Nobody wants to eat bugs.” Yes, there are people that do exactly that, but you know what I mean.

    As someone pointed out – you don’t even get a chance to skip fighting the kids. You can avoid or ignore a lot of the monsters in the game by running past them, but the game ALWAYS locks you in a room with the kids until you’ve killed them all.

    And just to be clear: I’m not suggesting they shouldn’t be ALLOWED to make games like this. I’m just saying it’s repulsive and a bad move on the part of the developers.

  34. Rick says:

    For a kid graphically dying onscreen in a “fun” movie, see (or don’t) the original Assault on Precinct 13.

  35. Nathanael says:

    “You know what, we don’t want the hero of our game to be able to do evil things.”

    So, murder isn’t evil?

  36. Nathanael says:

    Another question, perhaps it would help. These kids in this game, why are you supposed to kill them? Is it a mission or something? Are they trying to kill you?

  37. Shamus says:

    Another question, perhaps it would help. These kids in this game, why are you supposed to kill them? Is it a mission or something? Are they trying to kill you?

    I apologize for not making this clear: I think this is causing a lot of confusion. For the record, yes. The ghost kids are trying to kill you. They are really “kid shaped monsters”, not kids.

  38. Thad says:

    Just point out: the deaths in Final Destination 2 were so completely over the top they were funny! (And were meant to be.)
    But if you want to avoid seeing kids die, I can recommend many Japanese movies to avoid.

    One problem with kids in movies is that, as you say, the audience knows they will survive. So why bother putting them in? It’s just a cheap moment of emotionalism for the producers to have the kid be threatened. The kid has script immunity so it gives nothing more than a way to play the audiences emotions. *That* is bad writing.

    If these things were “real”, then the kids would be just as much in danger as the adults. Not being so removes one from the experience as then “reality” stops.

    As for this game… depends on many factors as to why the characters are the way they are, and I can’t comment on that. Bioshock looks to have the option to kill the little girl, but in that game it does indeed look to be an option up to the player to take on board.

  39. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    “It seems shamus wasn’t offered a choice to kill all the children icons, but was forced to, resulting in him being forced into a simulation of an act that violates his moral stance, and possibly his primal instincts.”

    Not true.You always have a choice not to play the game.Its described as extremelly gory,and has 18+ tag,so if you dont like that sort of things,dont play,because youre not the targeted audience.No one forces you.

  40. Nathanael says:

    “The ghost kids are trying to kill you. They are really “kid shaped monsters”, not kids.”

    Oh. Well, while I see your viewpoint, I can’t agree. If it is obvious that they are monsters, then I can’t see much of an issue. You’re not killing kids, but instead monsters that look like kids. Which in my opinion is a pretty effective battle tactic for a monster to take.

    Another movie to check out is Screamers, in which the bad guys adopt this same tactic, and the heroes are forced to kill LOTS of kids, knowing they’re really monsters.

  41. Ferrous Buller says:

    Re: ToEE, IIRC the situation was a little more straight-forward: Atari wanted a Teen rating for ToEE and told Troika to make certain changes – including removing the killable kids and a brothel (both of which got added back in by fan patches) – to avoid getting slapped with an M.

    Shamus: did you ever play the original Silent Hill or the Suffering? If so, what did you think of the child-monsters in those games?

    You’re basically talking about two separate but related issues: child-victims and child-monsters. Child-victims: well, either you think they’re fair game or you don’t. Our usual expectation is that children are supposed to be protected; so to have one killed is usually either horrifying or disgusting, depending on how tactfully it’s handled. More often than not, it’s just a cheap bit of melodrama to try to ratchet up the tension. [I was startled they hung a kid off-screen in PotC 3: not exactly light-hearted summer fare, is that?]

    Child-monsters also go against our expectations – both that children are innocents incapable of evil and that they should be protected – and again, are either horrifying or disgusting. Complicating matters is that child-monsters are often child-victims as well: e.g., zombies, vengeful spirts, etc.; kids who have been wronged and become monsters as a result. There’s actually many shades of moral ambiguity and disquiet to the concept of child-monsters, which is probably why they keep showing up in horror fiction.

    Unfortunately, Prey isn’t good enough to handle either child-victims or child-monsters with nearly the level of tact and subtlety they require. It ends up being a cheap shock tactic. I wasn’t offended enough to stop playing or be truly put off, but it did seem cheap and ham-fisted.

  42. Ryan says:

    I’d be interested in knowing how the European (specifically German) version of Prey handled this, since it is againt German law to allow the killing of children in a game.

    Reminds me of the comment available in Fallout 2 upon discovering that there are no children in Vault City: “Oh well, I thought there weren’t any children because this might be the European version of Fallout 2.”

  43. Telas says:

    I think a lot of people are missing the point, which is that it is generallyin poor taste to do these things.

    I’m sure that anyone surveying B-grade movies and videogames can find hundreds of examples of bad taste.

    And there are a number of examples where it is handled appropriately or gracefully.

    Neither of these facts makes the situation that Shamus described acceptable.

  44. Craig says:

    I probably won’t say anything here that hasn’t already been said.

    I was shocked when I saw the ghost kill the kid. I tried to avoid killing the ghost kids at first because they creeped me out, and then I swung the other way doing everything I could do kill them as fast as I could so I could get out of that scene.

    I think that was the purpose. Personally I don’t have any moral issues against killing ghost kids, or kids in a game for that matter if they are attacking you. At that point they are no longer innocents. Would it bother me, sure, but only slightly more so than seeing any character that has been developed over time in dies. Kids just tie into that base instinct.

    Everyone is perfectly capable of deciding whether or not they want to play a game with this type of content. It doesn’t affect my interest in replaying the game though. The creepiness factor and the puzzles is what drew me in to Prey in the first place.

  45. OM3G4 says:

    Personally I found the introduction of children to be intresting, and provided a more horrific atmosphere, these aliens don’t care and neither do the spirits and you having to face the children presented an intresting moral question, you, the hero must save the world but to do it you must kill children at one point leaving you to decide how you will respond mentaly and physically and this further adds to the story as not being a story of a daring guy that will save the world, but a man who has the fate of the world tossed on his shoulders and although at first dosent want to accept it, must and take the concequences both physical and mental and both good and bad. So, was it necessary? probably not just as a number of things were not, but did it add to it? I felt it did.

  46. Nathanael says:

    “I think a lot of people are missing the point, which is that it is generallyin poor taste to do these things.”

    I see your point, but again I don’t at all agree. Where are the definitions of this supposed “taste” and how is this breaking it? Apparently the monsters are evil, and they did something evil, and it seems almost as if the designers have effectively garnered the reaction they were looking for when they wrote that bit.

    So some evil is good, and some evil is bad?

    I still stand by my original point. I don’t believe that you can just “draw the line” with this subject matter. You can’t just say “some ruthless bloody slaughter is good and some is bad.” The boundaries of morality here have already been crossed by choosing to play a game of bloody violence. This reminds me of burglars getting hurt in the act of robbery and then suing the owners of the house they robbed.

  47. ryanlb says:

    I find the thought of having to kill children in a game very disturbing. None of the games I play that allow/encourage senseless violence require it (GTA: VC, GTA: SA, Hitman 1-4) and yet their still plenty of fun.

    I was curious a couple of days ago, playing Neverwinter Nights 1, after I looted a home and killed the adult there, I decided to see what would happen if I attacked the child. I got whipped. The kid was invulnerable to all of my weapons, and to my unarmed attacks. I tried running away, and the kid followed me everywhere attacking me, killing me. I eventually had to give up trying to evade the child and reload a game previous to that bad decision.

  48. RichG says:

    I think the “gun the kids or you don’t progress” stage of the game would be the point where I stop playing, and employ my time more wisely writing a letter to the manufacturer asking them what the flipdigit they’re thinking, and what reason I would have for trusting them in the future.

    On the roleplaying side of things, you don’t write out child NPCs just because they might get dragged into things. There are many more possibilities in a roleplaying game, including the kind of moral decisions and themes of responsibility that computer game manufacturers seem to find such a nuisance.

  49. Anders says:

    I’ve seen quite a few scary movies where kids are the “evil”, the Grudge for one. And I do believ that several asian movie do not regard children as protected, they drop of at an alarmin rate, usually when the whole family is being slaughtered for whatever reason.

    Heroic Trio …. eh, 1 or 2, can’t remeber which has an infant dying due to two heroes fighting and they use that to enhance the drive of the main characters.

    My point is that it seems like very much of this protected status of children in movies and games seems to be different for different cultures.

  50. Nathanael says:

    If ever there were a game that focused around close-up medieval pillaging, damn straight you’d be able to kill kids, and women too. After all, you don’t want some little punks surviving the raid, remembering who killed their father, and then gunning for you 15+ years down the road. In war, a few dead kids now are a few less enemies in the future.

  51. Olly says:

    I think it can quite easily be agreed upon that the developers included the ghost children for the impact and shock value that this would give to many players. Thus there should have been at least some appreciation upon the part of the developing staff given to the moral impact that could be expected. To this end I feel it would have been much preferred if the player had themselves been given the choice of how to proceed rather than being forced into taking a particular standpoint on the issue.

    Personally I would have been shocked at first by the inclusion of violence towards children on the part of the player. However when playing games I tend to detach myself from any violence present at any rate so I expect that what at first was shocking and hard to deal with would quickly become just another part of the game.

    Thad briefly mentions Bioshock giving players the option to kill children and indeed he is completely right. However it is ultimately up to the player whether or not to pursue this path. In the game killing the children will provide the player with access to a beneficial resource, however this resource is still obtainable to the player through other means. Thus the player can choose to either take the “easy” route in order to gain this particular resource, but in doing so have to attack children, or alternatively take the harder route avoiding this.
    Though I should point out that in the game Bioshock the developers have provided these small children with giant robotic bodyguards. This adds an extra level to the moral decision faced by the players, they know it is going to be very tough to defeat the bodyguard and subsequently deal with the child but it will help develop their character more quickly and thus make the later game easier if they do so.

    It is the sort of moral choice that is being put into Bioshock that I believe can make players truly connect with their in game avatar and lead to a much more rewarding gaming experience.

  52. I’m the oldest of six children, and though I’m while I’m still 2 or 3 years away from starting to have kids of my own, I love my younger siblings dearly.

    That said, this is one of the few times I have to say you’re completely and utterly wrong. There are no such imaginary limits on storytelling. If dead children are something the storyteller wants to include, then by all means they should do it. If anything, you’ve convinced me that this game (which I don’t know if I’ve ever even heard of before) is something very much worth playing.

    I don’t revel in violence for the sake of violence, nor do I find breaking barriers to be artistic in and of themselves, but neither do I find barrier breaking or fake violence offensive in the slightest. So long as it’s not real, it’s fair game.

  53. Will says:

    Is there some sort of lower limit to this theoretical restricted age bracket? Doom 3 had those nasty little demon cherubs/babies, and I don’t recall anyone raising concerns over that. Maybe I just didn’t see it.

  54. Doppler says:

    Thanks dude you saved me from buying a game and saved from this type of cheap shlock. I Typically walk out of movies that do this kind of crap.

  55. Deoxy says:

    Nathanael,

    As best I can tell, you’ve completely ignored what I said. People draw the line there because… that’s what the vast, overwhelming majority of people do. Even real-life cold-blooded killers take exception to killers or molesters of small children.

    I can’t tell you WHY – it’s just the natural state of human emotion.

    That said, historically, yes, war involved the intentional slaughter of your enemies, down to the last woman and child, and for exactly the reasons you mention. That doesn’t change the facts of how people feel about it. (That, and “war” is a very different state of existence than normal life – every major world religion takes that into account).

  56. Nathanael says:

    Deoxy, no I haven’t ignored your statements, and I’d appreciate it if we kept this as a civil discussion and not start any personal name-calling. I read what you said, and I’ve already stated that I understand where you’re coming from. Note that I’ve also tried to keep my comments in a hypothetical perspective when able (or when I remember to). Why the personal gripe?

  57. Nathanael says:

    “That, and “war” is a very different state of existence than normal life – every major world religion takes that into account”

    I totally agree. So tell me, then… If we accept that War is a very different state of existence, what about running around on a rampage killing evil monsters? Is this not also a very different state?

  58. bruce says:

    When I first read Shamus’ post, I agreed, but I now find myself wavering. It was interesting reading the reasons why everyone felt we behaved in certain ways. I suppose it all depends on your perspective. Some people saw them as children, while others saw them as monsters or ghosts that needed to be released. It was obviously designed to shock and the risk the developers took was that some people would be turned off the game by it. I suppose we each have our own sense of right and wrong as to what we are comfortable or uncomfortable with. I read OOTS and enjoy it immensely, yet can remember feeling decidly uncomfortable with the episode where the party cast a sleep spell on the goblins and then killed them while they were asleep.

  59. Rhykker says:

    When Pirates of the Caribbean 3 came out, and its rating was still pending, a friend and I went to see it. Within five minutes, a child was hung at the gallows by the government for somehow being affiliated with pirates. (This is not a spoiler because it in no way affects the plot).

    You see the noose being put around the child’s neck, and you then see the child’s feet dangling. Thankfully, they didn’t show the neck-snapping.

    I immediately turned to my friend with a shocked look on my face, and said, “they just broke one of the fundamental rules of movies: they murdered a child.”

    Children love the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and I don’t know what Disney was thinking when they decided to add this in, for apparently no reason other than wanting us to hate the British Government. If this were a horror movie, or a “killing” movie, I wouldn’t have been so shocked… but I’ve always regarded the PotC movies as being “family fun,” regardless of their rating. Hell, they barely show any gore!

    Yes, movies and video games are pieces of fiction, and no real children are being harmed. But there is an unspoken contract between a gamer/moviegoer and a designer/producer that is practically a social norm: no one should experience the virtual death of a child unless it is conductive to the plot and there is advance warning.

    For instance, for horror movies such as The Ring or The Grudge, the viewer clearly expects children to die. They make the choice of watching a movie in which children die. PotC? I didn’t expect a kid to even be spoken to in an angry tone.

  60. luagha says:

    Actually, real-life cold-blooded killers take exception to killers and molesters of small children because a large quantity of them were abused as small children. Or so their questionnaires say. (This abuse ranging from the sexual to the physical, repeated beatings plus hostile environment, etc.)

    As for me, I respond to:
    “There is a reason we’ve spent the last twenty years of gaming doing battle with Zombies, Orcs, and Nazis instead of fighting the cast of Romper Room.”
    with:
    “What do you really think kobolds are?”

  61. Shamus says:

    Not true.You always have a choice not to play the game.Its described as extremelly gory,and has 18+ tag,so if you dont like that sort of things,dont play,because youre not the targeted audience.No one forces you.

    Of course! I hadn’t thought of that! Thats for pointing out the blindingly obvious and irrelevant fact.

    When I said, “I was obliged to kill them” eveyone else was able to figure out what the hell I was sating: I was obliged to kill them IN ORDER TO PROCEED THROUGH THE GAME.

    I’ll decide when I’ve had enough and put the game aside. In the meantime, I may or may not complain about parts I don’t like. Cope with it.

  62. Romanadvoratrelundar says:

    re Pirates 3

    I’ve been complaining to my friends of ambivalent feelings about the end of that movie, on the same “why would Disney do that?” basis. Now that you mention this, I’m “happier” because such narrative approaches were foreshadowed.

    At the time of watching that first scene, though, I was just pleased to see 10 year old ruffians being treated historically accurately. That’s how things were; we didn’t have child labour laws back then, and many youngsters did many professions both legal and non-. Same as how I liked that everyone gets muddy in these films, unlike in say, Errol Flynn.

  63. Shamus says:

    “What do you really think kobolds are?”

    Not kids. Small, but not kids.

    Killing a kobold doesn’t disgust me the way gunning down a ghostly eight-year-old does. Maybe other poeple feel differently, but my paternal instincts don’t kick in when I see a little lizzard man.

  64. Jeremiah says:

    Yeah, I have to say, having played the game, this part didn’t really bother me. In fact, it didn’t even give me pause (I’d completely forgotten about it until this post). As far as I’m concerned, it’s a game, and that sequence was all a part of the story they were trying to tell. This ship is a terrible and horrific place, so much so these ghosts are roaming around bringing violence upon each other.

    Yeah, seeing a child hurt isn’t something most normal people want to see or deal with, but it does happen, so I don’t really see why it should be off limits.

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