You mostly notice it in the Fallout series, which has always intended the freedom to be utterly immoral. In the original Fallout, you could kill anyone. Men, women, children. In fact, the developers at Interplay knew you might do it, so you got a unique title if you killed children. But that was the pre-Columbine apocalypse. In the post-Columbine apocalypse, when you go into Little Lamplight, Fallout 3 loads a separate section where you can’t use your weapons. If you want to kill adults in Fallout 3, that’s fine. Have at it. But not kids. This limitation isn’t unique to Fallout. How many hapless child pedestrians died while you figured out the driving controls in Grand Theft Auto V? None, because there aren’t any child pedestrians. You won’t find children in the streets of Saints Row, Assassin’s Creed, or Hitman, either. Because children aren’t allowed to die.
I don’t have a single opinion on the subject, because it depends on what type of game you’re making. I don’t mind that Snake has to use nonlethal tactics against the child soldiers trying to kill him in Metal Gear Solid V, because it’s a character choice. Snake wouldn’t kill a kid, pre- or post-Columbine. But I think it’s a bad call that there are no zombies under the age of 18 in Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, or State of Decay. Child zombies are a significant part of the mythology, as you’ll see in Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later, and the Walking Dead. But in videogames, they’re a casualty of Columbine. The post-Columbine videogame sensibility delivered a headshot to child zombies.
This War of Mine got its share of attention when it was released a few years ago because it claimed to be an authentic recreation of the experience of civilians in a war zone. Yeah, whatever, This War of Mine. You’re a survival game — a decent one, to be sure — trying to stand out in a glutted genre. You’re not the politically conscientious arthouse game you’re pretending to be. You’re another furniture crafting game, but with stealth platformer sequences. That you’re so serious about it doesn’t make you special.
But today, the developers at 11 Bit Studios raise the stakes with DLC called The Little Ones. It adds kids. Who can die. Now, as you’re crafting furniture, you might have a waif running around the house. Her portrait blinks in the lower right hand corner of the screen. Her current state is “sad”. She’s going to be hungry tonight. It obviously depends on how much of a paternal instinct you have, but for me, this is the kind of pull a game lacks when it lets the violence at Columbine sanitize content. And while I think This War of Mine taking itself so seriously isn’t half as meaningful as its press would have you think — good lord, this video — the DLC makes a difference. Furthermore, 11 Bit Studios deserves credit for supporting War Child, a charity based on helping children displaced by war. They’re donating a dollar to War Child for each copy of the DLC sold.
The Little Ones is available for $10.