People love animals. I love animals. Even in this day and age, though, there are some people who don’t particularly like them (there are absolute horror stories around where I live). Please note, I’m not one of ‘those guys’ — that preaches about my fondness for living creatures. I’m not a PETA-head. I’m not going to lecture anyone about their feelings. Additionally, I’m also kind of a big guy. Without the stereotypical big belly, I look like a biker because, well — I am a biker. By just looking at me then, it would be safe to assume that you wouldn’t think that I was ‘nice’, or emotional, or kind, maybe; probably more like scary (as I have been called numerous times). That doesn’t bother me at all, though; I’m used to it.
Animals in video games are just pixels, bitmap-wrapped planes, hand-drawn likenesses, etc. They are no more ‘real’ than fire, a battleship, or anything else you can dream up to put into a game. Everything exists behind a screen with varying levels of light and color. Even the most detailed feather does not, in reality, exist outside the glass.
In case you didn’t know, No Man’s Sky’s creatures are procedurally generated with various traits. They can be anything from docile and shy to aggressively predatory. Clearly, the planets I found were mostly out to get me. Especially the one with the hordes of killer crabs., while some are, in fact, hunters. Several are quite funky looking, while a large quantity of them are actually very sleek. They come in a gargantuan variety of shapes, colors and sizes. If you’re the first to discover a species, you can even name them! Most of them make some kind of sound, from happy or sweet to sad or pathetic. In fact, a lot of them just sound kind of sad to me.
During the game, you have to work your way up through a sort of tech tree, while also finding recipes. Once I finally got the ability to build and use Exocraft (a type of vehicle which comes in three different models/varieties), I was extremely excited. It was also very pleasant to have a different mode of transportation. Additionally, a huge number of planets I’ve visited typically have inhospitable atmospheres, but while inside the Exocraft I am immune from those bad air quality effects. This lets me move a lot farther and not have to take cover every few minutes as I do while walking or running.
After doing so much traveling on foot and by spaceship, the ability to traipse about the land in a mode between the two was quite welcome and satisfying. That is until I inadvertently hit an animal. I already knew that I could run over some decent-sized rocks and they would shatter/disappear. I had never even thought about the creatures — until I accidentally squished one under a tire.
Instinctively, I stopped and jumped out of the Roamer to see if it was okay. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I felt a little bit strange and queasy. Foolishly, I even scanned it, like that was actually going to do something. “It’s so ridiculously stupid to feel bad, man. It’s just a game…on a computer! They’re not real, moron.”. Having forgotten what I was there to do, while feeling at odds with everything, I drove to the ship, jumped in and out of it of really quick to save the game, then quit.
There are also three types of Guilds you can do independent jobs for. Having already completed the Explorers Guilds’ low-level quests, I turned my focus to try to level up a little within the Mercenaries Guild. I had seen some of their missions before, most of them dealing with animal extermination, and had always avoided them. I didn’t know exactly what the missions entailed, I just knew that I did not like their descriptions.
Now though, I was actively trying to get in good with this guild. The only task available was to kill fifteen animals. “Okay, so maybe they’re marked? If not, then maybe they’re all predators?”. Upon leaving the Mercenaries Guild’s representative, I took flight, looking for the mission’s blue marker. This time around, though, there wasn’t a mission indicator. That meant that I had to choose which animals to terminate.
Luckily, this current system had six planets, all of which I had explored quite a bit. This meant I also had an extensive list of most of the species on each planet. I turned my S-class fighter toward the planet which had the most of my discovered predators. At least if I took them out, in all likelihood, it would be in self-defense.
Alas — no such luck. I ran around in a very large radius of where I had landed and couldn’t find a predatory animal anywhere. Then I got back in my ship, took off and simply pointed it south. Landed again, rinse and repeat. Finally, I spotted a batch of two or three different species, except that none of them were predatory. “It’s fine, it’ll be okay.”
“Okay, they’re just graphics on a screen. I can do this. I need to do this as the first part of leveling up with the Mercenaries Guild.” I isolated the single creature I was going to, err…slaughter. Unfortunately, this was also a creature which made that inherent, pathetic sound when it spoke or barked or whatever it was uttering. “I can do this.” I pointed the Boltcaster at him, then shot him until the Mordite flew back for auto-collection (meaning he was dead).
I just stood there, probably for a minute, minute and a half.
I got back into the ship, jumped back out again so it would save, exited out of the game—then went into the bathroom and threw up.
Being older, I literally have hundreds of thousands of hours in gaming. I’ve played every type of game you can possibly name. Due to my mistakes and/or RNG, I’ve seen whole battalions of (computerized) men die. I’ve lost multiple divisions within a single scenario. I’ve given up entire armies. Hell, I’ve dropped atomic bombs! Through the years, I’ve sent millions of people to their demise.
How about it supposedly being easier to kill a thousand than to kill a single person? If I switch to FPSs, once again I’ve killed thousands upon thousands of humans and human-esque entities. I’ve killed people with everything from hammers and machetes to hand grenades and flamethrowers. If they’re not quite dead when they fall, simply double-tap ‘em. Triple-tap ‘em. Have a little pent-up anger from the level or mission being difficult? Unload a whole clip into someone.
On top of all that, the gorier, the better. I wish there were more spattering guts, blood and goo. There’s that sniper series where the bullet actually slows down so you can see how it’s traveling throughout the opponents’ systems; you get to see which organs are being punctured and ultimately blown up. And it’s all extremely cool.
Except when it comes to animals. How can a guy who gets so much enjoyment from killing people, sentient machines and intelligent alien life forms, in every way imaginable, be so squeamish when it comes to needlessly taking a creature’s life? How can someone who so enjoys the gruesomeness and brutality of computerized butchery and carnage get light-headed at seeing an innocent animal get harmed — on a screen, no less?
Take everything in gaming and put it all together, it’s all just pixels, right?