Those of you who follow the bit-tech
blogs and podcasts with anything more than a cursory interest will know that my extra-curricular gaming habits lately have been…focused to say the least. I’ve been playing Baldur’s Gate
exclusively, pausing only to rush through Kane and Lynch: Dead Men
after a Michael Mann marathon left me wanting a certain type of adventure.
, as I mentioned when I set myself the challenge, is my Everest. It’s the mountain I’m climbing to prove something to myself, namely that I have an attention span longer than – hey look, there’s a squirrel outside!
I’ve not really blogged about my time with the game since then – and for those of you who are curious, I’m still in Baldur’s Gate 1
and have completed all quests in the lower half of the world map. I’m a male, true neutral, half-elf conjurer called Jacob accompanied by Viconia, Imoen, Shar-teel, Jaheira and Khalid. I was tempted to go with a full-on, all woman band of adventurers, but I always had a soft spot for Khalid.
More to the point, I had a really horrible experience with the game yesterday.
The village in question
It didn’t seem to be anything important at first – I was just exploring a section of wilderness and enjoying the Tom Waits tunes I had playing in the background
(I never did like the music in BG
) when I stumbled upon some enemies. Xvarts
, specifically – blue-skinned pseudo-goblins who litter the early areas of the game as experience fodder.
I attacked them, naturally. I’m still fairly low-level at the moment as I’ve yet to go North to the bigger quests, but a barrage of Imoen’s arrows, Jacob’s Chromatic Orbs and a few sword blows from the rest was enough. I looted the corpses, moved forwards and found another batch of Xvarts. Rinse, repeat – and by the time I was ploughing through the fifth huddle of little blue men I was getting bored.
Bored and, to be honest, kind of disillusioned. I was thinking about the matter of just roaming around and blindly killing everything had become somehow oddly mechanised. I was going along with a macabre rhythm of magic missiles and loosed arrows, when I could have equally dealt with the situation with a couple of non-violent sleeping spells or colour sprays. It’s not like Xvarts are worth a lot of XP, or carry any good loot. You’re lucky if you can grab ten gold and a vanilla shortsword off their corpses.
I don't mean I'm like Brad Pitt - but there is a resemblance...
Then, just as I was at the point of questioning of why I was killing all these Xvarts, I got my answer. The Xvart leader stepped up to me and asked in broken English why I was killing his people.
“We’ve done nothing to youse!
” He declared, surrounded by his butchered brethren. “Why you kill us?
The answer, it suddenly appeared, was simply that I hadn’t thought about it. I’m big. They’re little. They’re aggressive, I respond to that. At no point did it occur to me that they were aggressive because a bigger, fully armed troop had marched into their village with their weapons drawn. I just walked in and killed them with all the ambivalence you’d expect of a True Neutral character.
On reflection, I found the whole thing rather uncomfortable. I chose the True Neutral alignment to give my character the maximum amount of freedom in the game, yet I didn’t even exercise the freedom to think when given the option. In fact, in the time that I had proceeded this far on my train of thought, I hadn’t even stopped killing. I’d slaughtered every Xvart in the village, looted the bodies and bested Ursa the Cave Bear who had been summoned to defend the village.
I killed them so slowly they thought dying was a career!
Standing in the aftermath, I was confused about what I’d done. Was it good to slaughter the Xvarts, who often prey on Humans, even though I couldn’t prove they’d done anything wrong? Or was it wrong to needlessly slaughter a village of enemies that existed for no other reason than to be defeated insofar as the game worked?
Compounding the issue for me was the fact that I was playing a game. That meant that whatever I’d done should supposedly be termed as entertainment – which raised similar thoughts to those I had with The Path
about whether the sensation of discomfort was itself enjoyable. It also meant that the entire experience was temporary. With a couple of clicks I could re-load to an earlier point and erase the whole thing.
But I didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t, really. I could say it’s because I wanted to learn the lesson, or because I realised it was just a game, but that would be a lie. The only vaguely good reason I can conjure is because I wanted the XP, no matter the cost and that I was too lazy to source that experience somewhere else. Either way, I don’t think I’m True Neutral anymore – I’m too much of an Evil Basterd.
Have you ever had an experience like that? Tell us in the forums.