Foes We Fear: Can Videogames Recreate Genocide?

Watching the movie Hotel Rwanda in my AP English class over the last couple of days, I began to take an interest in the Interahamwe Hutu tribe soldiers over the Tutsi refugees inside the hotel they were attempting to kill. I wasn't immune to the plight of the Tutsi nor was I siding with the Hutu, I just had a morbid curiosity into the convictions of these soldiers, and what sort of conditions could lead to the genocide of over 100,000 people.

As many of you likely know, the reasons for the genocide are complex, and best not covered in detail here. What's important for the sake of this article – and how it relates to videogames – is how the Interahamwe themselves serve as the enemy in Hotel Rwanda ; they, in many respects, are an enemy more dangerous and unnerving than many of the zombies, armored soldiers, or monsters that serve as fodder for the common videogame player.

Perhaps the most scary thing about them is our inability to relate to them in any way. With Nazis, for example, you're at least slightly aware that though their leaders were horribly corrupt and demented individuals, the particular people you're fighting are usually only following orders, and that it's usually not a personal matter.

With monsters, we know their line of reasoning: instinct. Whether they're animals who are simply trying to feed themselves or genetically engineered monsters who are designed to kill, enemies without rational thought scare because as much as we like to think we've come closer to understanding animals, we simply cannot to relate to their thought process. Shawn Elliott wrote a blog discussing just this sort of thing. Zombies, he states, “are superficial humans who've lost their human essence,” and that's why they're one step above animals on the horror spectrum; not only do we feel righteous in killing these empty shells – ordinarily, we cannot easily justify the death of a human who doesn't know any better – we cannot understand what being a zombie would be like, and we fear being like them.

The Interahamwe soldiers that massacred their fellow countrymen fall completely outside either of these classifications. Most were eager participants in the slaughter (though many Hutus were forced into committing murder), and they are completely aware of their actions. This is the crucial difference that disables us from relating to them, and thus makes them much more of an eerie foe. Most of us simply cannot understand why people would ruthlessly murder their own kind en masse.

How can videogames create such powerfully moving enemies? Inherently, they can't; much of the fear they create is undoubtedly related to the fact that they are real groups committing these crimes, much like terrorist organizations the world over. No matter what we do within the confines of a fictional world, we know that at the end of the day that none of it is real. Fiction is certainly capable of carrying the heavy emotional weight of genocide, but no matter the feelings a story can elicit, it can't come close to actually being a part of en event.

Nazis fall under this category as well, though by now they've worn out their welcome in the gaming world, regardless of the holocaust they committed, which games have poorly portrayed anyway.

A problem specific to videogames is the aspect of failure. No matter how powerful a scene in a game is, it loses some if its impact if you have to retry the sequence again and again. Assuming that a videogame about the Rawandan genocide was made – and that it could somehow pay the subject matter the appropriate amount of respect – the people you would be fighting or feeling from would eventually lose their ferocity.

Perhaps the closest videogames have gotten to mimicking the situation of Hotel Rwanda has been Resident Evil 5, the supposed racial aspects of which were its most maligned feature.

How can games create enemies as fearsome as the real world has? I don't think they can, honestly. The hordes of Nazis we fight will always be scarier to our in-game avatars than they are to us

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Posted by Flabbergastrate

Watching the movie Hotel Rwanda in my AP English class over the last couple of days, I began to take an interest in the Interahamwe Hutu tribe soldiers over the Tutsi refugees inside the hotel they were attempting to kill. I wasn't immune to the plight of the Tutsi nor was I siding with the Hutu, I just had a morbid curiosity into the convictions of these soldiers, and what sort of conditions could lead to the genocide of over 100,000 people.

As many of you likely know, the reasons for the genocide are complex, and best not covered in detail here. What's important for the sake of this article – and how it relates to videogames – is how the Interahamwe themselves serve as the enemy in Hotel Rwanda ; they, in many respects, are an enemy more dangerous and unnerving than many of the zombies, armored soldiers, or monsters that serve as fodder for the common videogame player.

Perhaps the most scary thing about them is our inability to relate to them in any way. With Nazis, for example, you're at least slightly aware that though their leaders were horribly corrupt and demented individuals, the particular people you're fighting are usually only following orders, and that it's usually not a personal matter.

With monsters, we know their line of reasoning: instinct. Whether they're animals who are simply trying to feed themselves or genetically engineered monsters who are designed to kill, enemies without rational thought scare because as much as we like to think we've come closer to understanding animals, we simply cannot to relate to their thought process. Shawn Elliott wrote a blog discussing just this sort of thing. Zombies, he states, “are superficial humans who've lost their human essence,” and that's why they're one step above animals on the horror spectrum; not only do we feel righteous in killing these empty shells – ordinarily, we cannot easily justify the death of a human who doesn't know any better – we cannot understand what being a zombie would be like, and we fear being like them.

The Interahamwe soldiers that massacred their fellow countrymen fall completely outside either of these classifications. Most were eager participants in the slaughter (though many Hutus were forced into committing murder), and they are completely aware of their actions. This is the crucial difference that disables us from relating to them, and thus makes them much more of an eerie foe. Most of us simply cannot understand why people would ruthlessly murder their own kind en masse.

How can videogames create such powerfully moving enemies? Inherently, they can't; much of the fear they create is undoubtedly related to the fact that they are real groups committing these crimes, much like terrorist organizations the world over. No matter what we do within the confines of a fictional world, we know that at the end of the day that none of it is real. Fiction is certainly capable of carrying the heavy emotional weight of genocide, but no matter the feelings a story can elicit, it can't come close to actually being a part of en event.

Nazis fall under this category as well, though by now they've worn out their welcome in the gaming world, regardless of the holocaust they committed, which games have poorly portrayed anyway.

A problem specific to videogames is the aspect of failure. No matter how powerful a scene in a game is, it loses some if its impact if you have to retry the sequence again and again. Assuming that a videogame about the Rawandan genocide was made – and that it could somehow pay the subject matter the appropriate amount of respect – the people you would be fighting or feeling from would eventually lose their ferocity.

Perhaps the closest videogames have gotten to mimicking the situation of Hotel Rwanda has been Resident Evil 5, the supposed racial aspects of which were its most maligned feature.

How can games create enemies as fearsome as the real world has? I don't think they can, honestly. The hordes of Nazis we fight will always be scarier to our in-game avatars than they are to us

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

Hell of a great blog entry.  Looking forward to reading more of your work!
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Posted by masternater27

Wow.  This is not the kind of content I've come to expect at all from user blogs.  This is more interesting and at least as well written as most of the professional stuff out there.  I don't know that the real world has scarier enemies than fiction does, it just has more real enemies.  If I was in Nazi Germany I'd be terrified (I'm Jewish) of Nazis.  But if you gave me a choice for who I'd rather fight I'd pick a Nazi over some horrifying monster from Dead Space.   I wouldn't say any medium creates as terrifying monsters as real monsters.  I do think that gaming has a long ways to go as far as conveying why we should be as scared of Hutus as we are as Necromorphs.
 
While a movie isn't real either, as a whole they do a much better job of creating real (and extended) emotions.  When I'm watching a good drama I can bet I'll be going through at least a couple of emotions, and it'll be happening throughout the movie.  When I play a good game I'm feeling some kind of excitement and possibly wonder if the art design is on top of it's game.  Maybe I get some flickers of real emotion here and there.  But they're during cutscenes (at a time when there's no tension from playing the game!), or they're in between periods of gameplay, or maybe it's a less scripted game and the supposed emotional piece happens while I'm opening chests looking for loot.  I don't have any real recommendations and I'm not quite sure that gaming can solve this because of the pacing.  But better writing and experimenting with presentation wouldn't hurt one bit.  As for something that has worked for me?  The Andrew Ryan scene.  But again, that's only a scene in a 10 hour experience.  The rest of the emotions were more curiosity, anxiousness, etc.  I would like to see somebody try something like the enemies you spent the entire game killing it turns out are innocent people.  You don't slowly find it out and get to switch sides or anything.  You find out after your work is done.  Sort of Ender's Game.