Of Wenches and Wyrmslayers

This post is about video games and women. I’ve played fantasy computer games since my dad brought home The Bard’s Tale II for the Apple IIGS. Computer roleplaying games have influenced my fiction in ways that range from my proclivity for epic scope to my use of strangeness and suspense. I am an educated woman who’s about to turn 44, and I give a lot of respect to video games. For the most part, in turn, I’ve enjoyed their growing respect for me. We’ve come a long way since the only woman in the video game was the princess whom Mario had to save. I could write a treatise here that touches on everyone from Samus to Lara Croft to Captain Shepherd. But I will settle it all on the fact that I play Bethesda’s Skyrim with a female protagonist, and that she slays dragons, and wins civil wars, and talks with gods, and is basically a badass whose fan-fiction journals have also generated more traffic on my blog than anything else I have ever written.

That said, I must confess that the fans of video games—the players like me—have a long way to go when it comes to women. I’m speaking broadly here. More and more gamers actually *are* women. (And granting the fact that women can make the worst misogynists of all, I’ll accept this as a net win.) But you don’t have to go far on gaming websites to find commentators who say that X female character is too athletic for their tastes, or that Y studio’s games have suffered now that they’ve brought in same-sex romance options. And then, Lord, there is the modding community. A mod, dearies, is a modification to a video game. It usually comes from the player base, where freelance programmers write little scripts that do everything from putting more clutter around a game’s town, to making whole worlds for others to play in. Mods are usually free; they have served as programming portfolios for many coders who have sought to break into the business; and in terms of games such as Minecraft and Skyrim they can proliferate to the tens of thousands, while achieving millions of downloads. When I write my little blog about Skyrim, I talk about my experience with mods. Yesterday, for instance, I found an orc, drunk and sobbing in a burned-out shack. He wondered if I could help him find his lost coin—which we eventually located in his pocket.

So I go hunting for these mods all the time. Some of them are as professional and thoughtful as any studio offering of interactive fiction. But it’s also here, on their download pages, that I want to get drunk and start sobbing too. This is what I found yesterday: Mod 1. Hairstyles! Hundreds of women’s styles to choose from. Dozens of styles for men. Mod. 2 Naughty Girls of Tamriel. Mod 3. High Heels for Vampires. Mod 4. Immersive Wenches. Mod 5. Harem. Mod 6. Spells to change bystanders’ hair. Mod 7. Spells to make people undress.

And this, dearies, is to say nothing of the body mods. I don’t think I would see as many breasts if I pursued a plastic surgeon’s job portfolio. I downloaded one very good body mod—something that made everybody in the game look more photorealistic. I used it to create the on-screen avatar of my female character. She had a stick neck and spindly arms. I upped the weight slider to give her some meat on her bones, and for the most part, the only thing that changed were her boobies. I picked something that looked mostly plausible. I logged into the game, and the women in the town had chests that ranged from noticeable, to opulent, to aggressive, to urban myth. This game takes place along some very steep mountains, and I don’t know how these ladies don’t daily tumble to their deaths.

I ripped out the mod. I found something else. And in my search, I did come across the Practical Female Armors mod, which replaces the bikini-style breastplate/platter with something that actually protects. And I also found a mod that allows women hips, and shoulders, and even a pot belly. (I tried to find the name for you, but my search results came back with Real Girls of Skyrim—and that was not, not what I was looking for.)

My point is that although sensible body mods are out there, they are literally hard to find. And although there exist tons of professional content from thoughtful artists, much of the fantasy about females is still very troubling. I understand that fantasy is the stock and trade of these games; it’s no accident that I partake of a hobby where I can depose an evil ruler, root out slavers, and stop an orc from crying. But I am also aware that in real life, I will not come across any situation where I’ll even have the option to shoot lightning from my fingertips, or play a manticore to sleep with my flute. And call me old fashioned, but I do worry about the fantasies that allow someone to force an impossibly buxom woman to take off her clothes.

Skyrim Diaries, Day 2: When Stendarr made use of a bard

Day 2:

At present, I’ve given my best help by currying alcohol. After the execution, I made my way to an inn, for some sleep and refreshment. The proprietor there gave me word of the Stormcloak uprising, of Ulfric’s murder of High King Torygg, and of the passing of rulership to Torygg’s widow, Elisif the Fair. I’d gathered most of this from the murmurs of the execution’s crowd, and by now, the innkeeper didn’t have much to embellish. So he, determined  to impress, told me of some bandits in a nearby grotto. I had already seen worse than bandits that day, so I suppose I responded with more weariness than horror. He glanced at my mace then, and suggested that if the bandits didn’t startle me, that maybe I could do something about them. I imagined their skeletons clambering out of the ground. I don’t know what I feel about killing men. In the meantime, said the barkeep, he’d pay me to deliver some mead to Jarl Elisif’s steward, Falk Firebeard, at the palace. I said I would, in the morning.

Sleep, that night, was like a vault. I suspect that I stuffed a great many memories of the day, deep within that hide-away. I woke late, hungry and happy for the midday sun. I gave late devotions to Stendarr. As I made my way to the Blue Palace, I recalled how I’d come at it just yesterday, from the other direction, while I tried to outrun the clacking footsteps in the fog.  Now a madman muttered past me. Maybe he went the way of all of us.

The palace itself was surprising in how open it was. I passed guards, old dignitaries, and an elven mages, as I walked right up to Falk Firebeard—who then chastised me for interrupting the court. I discovered that the mores here are subtle but significant. Jarl Elisif tried to calm a man who talked about strange lights in a cave. I tried not to hear, as this was something that as a vigilant, I am bound to investigate. But I am so weak, and so without resource that, come to think of it, I don’t know if I’m still a vigilant at all.

I busied myself with my pack. I produced the mead for Firebeard, and he brightened considerably. With the money he paid me, I will rent another room back at the inn. (This, perhaps, is what that barkeep wanted all along.) In the meantime, I’ll sit on this bench by the Bard’s College, and try to plot out a path for myself.

***

Well, that was somewhat unexpected. It started to rain while I still sat on my bench. I entered the Bard’s College, thinking that surely they had a public hall—a library, even—where I could continue my thoughts. Instead the head of the college himself met me at the door, suggested I would be good bard material (the thought!), and directed me to find some lost literature for the good of the city itself. I suspect these people need a steady patron more than they need another starving aspirant. But perhaps if one focuses all of one’s energy on performance, one doesn’t have the ability to conduct original research.

I asked if, as a potential student, I could sit at a table and think a bit by lamplight. He glanced at the mud on my shoes, but bid me welcome. What he should have studied was my mace—and how clean it was. Nary a chip. I’d worn it for show, maybe trained with it some. But the most violent thing I’d ever done with it was break some of the ice on a  watchtower floor, so I could sit on the stone without making a puddle.

Last night’s barkeep had asked me to subdue a bandit. Now the head of the bard college—a man of letters—sent me, doubtless, to subdue something else, all in the name of parchment. As a vigilant, I was prepared, theoretically, to take force to undead and demons. This seemed a healing of sorts—harsh medicine, perhaps, but one that ultimately brought rest. But I pulled up short on using such violence on people.  I know that’s what war is; yesterday, I saw what war is. This whole province is at war. But I also know that we clerics use blunt weapons not because they signify mercy but because they better crack a boneling. And a mace, surely, is a horrible way to kill a man.

These are violent times, and mercy can’t be gentle in the face of the worst of it. With my abilities and my blessings, I cannot betray goodness by remaining innocent. But in order to embody the lord of compassion at all, killing a man must be a last resort. In the hearth room of the college, I bowed my head. Then a woman, a storyteller in blue velvet, started down the stairs from the upper rooms. She was regaling her friends—some minstrels of sorts—of how she’d talked a bandit out of violence on her way from Whiterun.

“You mean you scared him,” said the lutist. “You offered to firebolt his parts.”

“Nay,” she said. “I didn’t raise a hand. I simply asked what he’d do if his mother were there.”

“Sister,” I rose from my table. “Tell me this is true.”

She looked at me from the bottom of the stairs. And perhaps because she’d learned to read an audience, she seemed to recognize something—some need—in my eyes. “Stranger,” she said,  “if you’ve come to this place, you must have an idea of how, in Skyrim especially, there lies great power in words.”

That’s what she said. And it’s what I hope. It’s what I pray, in fact—that my own words could alter hearts where war would only pierce them. Lord, grant me the tools speak something as tangible as this peace, to sheathe swords and quell fire with my own voice. I would work years for such a gift. I could accomplish both war and ministry, all without bloodshed.  Maybe, O Stendarr, thou hast delivered me to this college after all.

Skyrim Diaries, Day 1: When the dead arose and convicted the church

This is a longish post involving fantasy writing that sprang from the video game, Skyrim. The vignette (found halfway down) might make sense to those who don’t know the basics of that world, but I admit the learning curve isn’t trivial.

[A thumbnail sketch of the world is as follows: Skyrim takes place in the land of Tamriel, which features monsters, magic, and a civil war between the native Stormcloaks of Skyrim and their Imperial occupiers. In the meantime, a dragon (Alduin) threatens to destroy the world, while the player embodies the Dragonborn (Dhovakin), who attempts to stop all the badness.]

Skyrim came out in 2011, and nothing quite like it has graced us since. I’ve tried other offerings, but I keep returning to the story of Dhovakin, Alduin, and all the stuff that happens in-between. My PC had recently plotzed from a bad install of Morrowind. So I retreated to the Xbox’s rapidly-maturing modding community, and I altered the game to the maximum that the mod-memory cap would allow. I added more monsters, more dungeons, more lands, more perks and spells, and finally more day-to-day challenges, such as the need to sleep and eat. I decided to role-play a cleric, so I started myself on a tundra plateau, at the Hall of the Vigilant—which is ostensibly a hospice for those who worship Stendarr, the god of mercy. From there, the game went in some very interesting directions.

I started keeping a log—if at first, only to tell my husband when he returned from out of town. But then I thought the gameplay made some pretty interesting fiction. So I started a series here, chronicling my priest’s journey through ultra-modded Tamriel.

This is a big project, and I can’t see how it will end. But at the moment, I do know I’ll write it in diary form. I also suspect that the entries will be replete with spoilers. That said, however, I also think that in the beginning at least, the narrative will focus less on Skyrim’s main-quest set-pieces, and more on the unexpected delights that occur when mods, vanilla content, and Bethsoft bugs collide. If you are a Skyrim fan, maybe you’ll find something to enjoy. If not, well, at least I have an excuse to both write fiction and play video games. That’s a Sky-win-win.

DAY 1: I, Pettrik of Celd, novice servant of Stendarr, have fled the Hall of the Vigilant. May the Lord of Mercy spare some for me. I had come to the church as a good Imperial, the son of two Bruman herbalists who spent their lives in the marches near the Reach. Amid the wilderness, they offered their medicines to any in need–including the Foresworn cultists who sacrificed their kin to the hags. And in my parents’ love for so many, they taught me that divinity doesn’t manifest in sacrifice for power, but in service to life’s littlest ones. In so doing, my parents also gave me books to read, so that I would grow both in knowledge through treatise, and in empathy through tale. They, meanwhile, grew old, as compassion itself will age a soul.

I came of age shortly after they died. I followed Stendarr east, where I married myself both to mercy and to the fight against oppression. Stendarr’s church set me a post in the north of Skryim, among brethren who had become especially watchful against the worship of demons. But whether from the solitude, or their zeal, or the unrelenting wind, my comrades’ compassion toward those afflicted by demons had frozen into wrath for those victims themselves. My superiors taught scrying magics before they taught the healing arts. They demanded I acquaint myself with fire casting—destruction magic!—before I learned a restoration spell. We carried our maces at all times. We decorated our altars with demon hearts—trophies, to be sure, but also signs of so much aggression, as if we acknowledged on some level that we were cutting compassion itself from our very souls. No one sought us for aid. Travelers avoided our sanctuary the way they would avoid the crypts.

I knew, that as a novice, I had no voice against what I perceived as heresy. I knew I had no power in the face of those elders who seemed increasingly hungry for power. So I prayed to Stendarr, and I hoped that, in our chapel, only he could hear what I asked.

Maybe he answered. Or maybe all the forces of good have become so deaf that every godly person has lost his way. Today, the Grey Templars attacked. They attacked. When they first approached, I ran down the hill to great them, and they drew their swords. My brethren spilled from the chapter house, as if they’d been waiting. And there, on the grounds of our sanctuary, holy fought holy. I did not. I could not. Call it cowardice or courage. I hid behind a boulder. I saw two of my own brothers drive off a wounded templar as he offered to yield.

These events must have been foul enough to stir the earth itself—or at least our enemies. Dead erupted from the ground, under the command of some kind of bestial bone golem. The undead’s appearance was such an abomination that even animals fought back. I saw a white ram butt a skeleton as the creature took a claymore to one of the templars. I ran. I had nothing but my gauntlets and my mace. The only spell I knew was that healing salve, which I could use only on myself—myself! Yet even as I stumbled in my flight, I depleted that.

I don’t expect I’ll ever return to my post. Between my cowardice and my disgust, we would all end up at blows. And God help me, it is hard to make war on your home.

I fled north, over the ridge and to the Sea of Ghosts. I found the watchtowers there, the shelters for any who become lost. I figured that in a sense, I was one of them. So as I opened the hospitality chests, I gave thanks for a recovery potion and a handful of septims. I suspect the latter were not original to the chests; what does a man dying of exposure have to use with coin? But perhaps some earlier travelers used money to replace what they took. Maybe they thought that we, as children of mercy, maintained these towers. Well, if we ever did, we do so no longer—just as we’ve abandoned so much of Stendarr’s will.

The day was passing. The tower stone was frozen and the walrus horkers were getting close, so I pushed my way west, through the swamps that lead to the city of Solitude. I found a shack that I thought might have a bed for me to rest. But it had also attracted a congregation of giggling undead that had set ambush in the surrounding fog. I ran again, relinquishing yet more to those I had sworn to oppose. Those creatures likely chortle in wait even now. And from what I know of those swamps, they have probably stuffed that shack with travelers’ bones.

I made it to the road. I came upon a fishing village at the foot of Solitude. But all of those folk either backed from me or stared in silence. I suspect I looked as if I’d been running from something. And maybe I still was. I could see nothing behind me, but then I had also seen nothing in the fog. I left the peasants as fast as I could, and I made way up the hill, toward the arms of the city. I confess that I wanted the guard, if not also the Imperial legion. I prayed I wasn’t leading trouble to their door, but at the moment, they had a stouter one than I.

They let me through without incident. And then, just inside the entrance, I saw the headsman execute the man who had given aid to the regicide, Ulfric Stormcloak.

Assassin’s Screed

This is a post about video games. Specifically, it’s about Assassin’s Creed. I’m in the middle of AC Odyssey—which is to say I’ve played only 200 hours. Despite its unusual brutality, it’s kept me interested for the reasons that all AC games attract me—namely, locale and history. For those of you who don’t know the AC franchise, you play as a member of the ancient, worldwide Assassin sect (as opposed to the ancient, worldwide Templar sect). Your job is to dispatch targets who seek to destroy humankind. And (until recently*), you accrue serious penalties if you kill civilians. This is all standard video-game stuff. The difference is that the AC series devotes each entry to a historical place and time. And its developers pour near-excruciating effort into making its settings as accurate as possible. The games have toured Medici Italy, gaslight London, Peloponnesian-War-era Greece, and Revolutionary New England, just to name a few. I’ve visited 3D renditions of the House of Parliament, a Spartan trireme, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. I’ve been menaced by Jack the Ripper, I’ve lost a debate with Socrates, and I’ve helped Ben Franklin find lost pages of his Almanac. I’ve committed some killings along the way. (Alexander Graham Bell helped me develop a hook launcher, so I could better skulk along the London rooftops.) But what I remember most is how I’ve caught a glimpse of what it might have been like to cross the Atlantic in a British galleon, or fear a plague as it sweeps ancient Athens, or just watch the haze as it spread from the child-run factories along the Thames. I wouldn’t say that AC educates me. (While its settings strive for authenticity, the story itself can bend the facts.) But for a game series that’s all about killing, it sure brings history to life.

The trouble is that, for the most part, AC is really, really white. Or at least, it’s really, really western. (You get to play somebody who’s half Native American in Assassin’s Creed III–but you also help him participate in the American Revolution.) I think some smartphone spinoff once situated the player in India (during their colonial era). And last year did offer AC: Origins, which takes place in ancient Egypt. But the Egypt outing gets only half credit, because Egypt is so very part of the western canon. What I’d like to see next is something that shatters that canon. I want the rest of the world. Here are some ideas:

*The Empire of Ethiopia. (Coptic lore holds that Ethiopia holds the Ark of the Covenant.)
*Feudal Japan. (For extra spice, throw in the Mongols. And the oni.)
*Ivan the Terrible’s Russia. (You can make the case that Russia is European—but then you can also argue the reverse. And anyhow, those pesky Tatars were not. Plus: Baba Yaga.)
*Or, let’s play with anything having to do with Aztecs, Olmecs, Toltecs, Incas, or Mayans. (Picture it: Jaguars! Were-Jaguars! Ball games! Alien visitation! Chunchucmil! AND MOSTLY, regular people trying to resist invaders.)

Right? Shouldn’t these be some of the next steps? Or maybe I’m missing something. Where do you want to see Assassin’s Creed?

*The Greek iteration of AC is a straight-up bloodbath. I don’t know if this is because the series wants to let people depart from the stealth mechanics of the old games, or if, as the descendant of 300’s Leonides, you’re just supposed to be that Spartan. In any event, it’s nearly unavoidable to lay waste to some peasant grandma who’s decided that, despite the fact that you’re wearing Theseus’ actual breastplate, she needs to come at you with a broom.

Bury Me, My Love

I just stumbled across Bury Me, My Love, which is a video game about being a refugee from Syria. You can see the trailer below, but suffice it to say, the game is a far cry from Mario Brothers. The gist is that you have text conversations with a spouse who is trying to make it from Syria to Europe. You help to make harrowing decisions along the way, such as whether she should pay money to a man who promises to increase her security, or keep that money to buy a sleeping bag. Apparently the game offers nineteen endings, all of which culminate in a mock telephone call.

Already, I love this game–although I’ll probably have to steel myself to play it. Bury Me, My Love looks like interactive fiction–which, in its ability to create empathy, might well be art.

Building a Better Box: How My Friend’s Death Appeared as a Video Game

A few years ago, I found a friend’s suicide.  She–Meg–was brilliant and solitary, depressed in a way that good people can especially become.  We weren’t close, but a mutual friend had returned from out of town, and he said that he hadn’t heard from Meg in three weeks.  So I drove to Meg’s section-8 apartment, where I noticed that she had drawn all of her curtains.

Around this time, I was also playing Mass Effect 3.  This is a video game.  Specifically, it is a role-playing game, where the player becomes Commander Shepherd–a spaceship captain who amasses an intergalactic team of allies in effort to stop the villainous Reapers from devouring the universe.  Lots of people have at least heard of the role-playing video games.  Meg played them–and she’d enjoy that I mention them here.  

Nothing–and certainly not a video game–can make sense of her death.  But in light of all the suspicion about video games instigating death, I think she’d be pleased to know that this video game helped me to cope with her death.  I’m not talking about the grief of her death; that took both everything I had and some other things besides.  But the ordeal of discovering her death received some help from Mass Effect 3

These days, the ESRB bestows lots of video games with Mature ratings.  These M-17 titles peddle the flashy-splashy sex and violence, along with the use of theft, drugs and profanity.  And the fact is that these elements function a lot like profanity, where their presence begins to show the developers’ lack of imagination instead of any amount of artistic panache.  But in addition to indulging in some of this more pedestrian material, the Mass Effect series asks for maturity by involving the player in relationships with characters–relationships that, though admittedly predictable, can last literally hundreds of hours.  Then the game forces the player to make choices about these relationships, as the universe goes to war.  In general the game requires the player to act the heroine all along, but it also gives her options about what kind of heroine she’ll become–whether she’s a Paragon who’s orderly, kind, and restrained,  or a Renegade who’s chaotic, ruthless, and aggressive.  These decisions happen frequently, and some of them must happen quickly. And it was with this character-crisis mindset that I stood on Meg’s blooming and neglected lawn.

I confess that I’d volunteered to check on her because I have a naive love for adventure.  That is, perhaps, also a reason I play video games.  I did not expect to find my friend three-weeks dead in her living room. Not really.  But when I saw that Meg’s mail had piled out of her box, and when I spoke with the neighbors, I got scared at first. I mean a sick, unfunny scared. And then I surprised myself with a question:  I didn’t ask: what would Commander Shepherd do? After all, Commander Shepherd isn’t Jesus.  But I did ask: what would a Paragon do? I blinked in the sun and deliberated.  I could almost see the choice on a computer screen.  This was an illusion, of course—or at least an illusory framing of circumstance. But in crisis, the mind will do what it can–and even manufacture what it can–to grasp at any modicum of familiarity and training.  Illusion allowed me to peer below the bottom of Meg’s curtains (Paragon), to remove the window pane (Renegade), to smell death, to back away, to call the police (Paragon), and to remain calm and lucid (Paragon) while the detective questioned me about Meg and my desire to break into her living room.  

Before that last part, I sat on the steps of the apartment complex, while a neighbor stood before me with her silent, nine-year-old child.  

“She’s dead?” said the neighbor.

“Yes,” I said.

“How do you know?”

“It smells like death.”

“How does death smell?”

“It smells like bad meat.”

“So that lady’s dead inside there?”

“Yes.”

“She’s been dead for three weeks?”

“I think that’s the case.”

“So you’re her friend? And you didn’t check for three weeks?”

I can be a heroine in a video game.  That’s perhaps the primary reason I play them.

In Mass Effect 3, it’s possible to fail your friends.  If you don’t heed your companion’s rather overt calls for attention, he won’t flourish enough to survive a mission.  You’re left with his grayed-over silhouette on your ally screen.  His story arc has closed.  Any future moments that he could offer to the universal narrative have also closed.  Most every benefit that he has given your character has ceased.  

Video games have begun to return to the idea of Permadeath.  This is the notion of the squashed Mario–three stumbles, and you’re done.  Such a thing offers the challenge of the irrevocable, and as such, I think it can offer the instruction of the irrevocable.  I’m reasonably sane.  I teach college; I have a husband and a household; I participate in a liberal church.  And yet, during one of the most visceral moments of my life, I relied on the conditioning that I acquired in a video game.   And because of this, I wonder what would happen if something like Mass Effect 3 faced us with the irrevocable by employing circumstances that were better cloaked in the ordinary.  We should still save the universe; few things can replace the allure of becoming a big heroine in a big way.  But let’s make games that challenge us with something more subtle, more real.  Some games, especially the indie ones, have lately allowed us toe these deeper waters.  But I ask for more mainstream games to ask us to save the universe a little bit at a time.

I know a game of that sort would not have enabled me to prevent Meg’s death; I’m not that naive.  But this game might have moved the world to be a little nicer to her–if only insofar as it moved me to be nicer.  What is the Paragon response when a bleak friend asks you for coffee while you’re dealing with forty students and don’t have the energy to share another’s depression? Beyond the obvious prompts, how do you best nurture any one of your allies?

In 2015, the Entertainment Software Association reported that over 150 million Americans play video games.  Of those folks, 42 percent play video games at least three hours a week.  So:  A significant number of people spend a significant amount of time giving  a significant amount of attention to video games.  They must be teaching us something.  

I’m not saying that video games should offer us our moral codes.  We have religions and philosophies that are much deeper wells for that sort of thing.  But it is possible that video games could allow us to practice our morality–in every sense of practice, even if they granted us the Renegade’s gift of experimenting with that morality.  We’ve done this sort of thing before.  In fact, we do it all the time.  We imagine what we’d do if we were Rick Grimes, or Starbuck, or King David.  Stories let us practice ourselves.  And when video games get to the point where they move us to achieve this same level of empathy–when they truly show us what it’s like to both save and be saved–they too will become art.

Why I Uninstalled Wolfenstein: The New Colossus

(This post describes fictional animal violence. Considering its subject matter, it’s particularly strange that GameStop would not let me publish this review on their website, partially on the grounds that it considers the word Nazi to be profanity.)

I looked forward to playing Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. I wanted the catharsis of putting some Nazis in their place. The prologue had the drama, technical smoothness, and professionalism of any Bethesda game. I was excited to start the adventure. Then (spoilers) I participated in a scene where my protagonist’s abusive stepfather shot and killed the protagonist’s terrified dog. If I hadn’t noticed that I had the freedom to defy the stepfather, I would have had to direct the protagonist to kill his dog himself.

I uninstalled the game after that. I understand that Wolfenstein deals with human atrocities that far outweigh the death of a single pet. Regarding all that, I also know that in wringing my hands about a dog, I risk echoing a perversion that the Nazis themselves shared when they passed stringent laws against animal abuse even while they were gassing millions of people. But in buying Wolfenstein I’d given permission to see a modicum of general wartime violence, in exchange for my feeling as if I were stopping a great, cathartic amount of white-supremacist violence. In contrast, the close-up killing of a terrified animal is almost on the same level as a close-up killing of a terrified child. That is, the death of non (or not-completely) rational innocents carries a special kind of brutality that I actually play these games to escape. This is especially true when in the real world, the border crisis and the climate crisis make the suffering of children and animals all too inescapable. I want to play a game like Wolfenstein, because I don’t want to feel helpless. In fact, I want to be an agent of heroic correction. And, yes.  I know that if I’d stayed with the game, I would have directed BJ Blazkowicz toward some serious butt-kicking for goodness. I might have even gotten revenge for my dog. But I didn’t need to see the dog die in the first place. I didn’t need to stand there helpless, the way I do in front of so much of the evening news.

Video games (and fiction in general) can get away with violence toward the non (completely) rational innocent—but only if they earn it with a very good reason. All Bethesda earned with this scene is the point that racist abusers need to be stopped. Well, duh, Bethesda. You’re usually smarter than that.