This very interesting article on 2 Bit Wasteland considers the background role of the ‘grunt’ in video games and how these faceless characters are rarely fleshed out more than ‘kill this because it’s bad’. I’ve noticed this before, but would almost consider it a necessary step in writing conflict based narrative, regardless of media.
It can be hard to deal with ‘big bad’ motivation in any sense; even looking at our Western history we’ve seen war tactics and propoganda that depersonalize and dehumanize our enemies so that soldiers can do their job without consequenting conscience and morale problems. These are themes often glaized over in action movies, where it’s more engaging to have the main character blasting villains away in triumph instead of contemplating the horror of his own actions.
On the rare occasion, however, this can become the subject of a film. It’s addressed brilliantly in films such as Platoon and a little bit in Apocalypse Now; the Vietnam war obviously being a very dour subject when it comes to mixed interests. Even softer narratives placed in the setting of wars have touched upon these concepts, such as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Empire of the Sun.
It would be amazing to see a video game that, like Platoon, sincerely considered the consequence and morality of mindlessly slaughtering grunts, or the motivation these grunts have to keep getting back up and asking for more. Even the contemporary ‘bests’ in the gaming market today like Call of Duty 4 and Gears of War are completely insincere at the worst of times, and present shallow objectiveless waffle at the best.
Metal Gear Solid have always been almost paradoxically anti war in narrative and philosophy, but reward players for
I actually think Mass Effect is commendable in this sense, and I think this is due to the exploratory nature of RPGs, because during the playthrough of the story a lot of information about every faction is revealed, to obsessive degrees, and it really helps shape the dynamics of the characters.