Siobhan Keogh 's Opinion

Siobhan Keogh is the NZ Herald's gaming blogger.

Siobhan Keogh: The kids are not alright

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Games blogger Siobhan Keogh wonders where all the kids have gone.
Games like Dead Rising 3 leave kids out of the killing.
Games like Dead Rising 3 leave kids out of the killing.

As I slayed my thousandth zombie with some combination of a scythe and a katana, I suddenly noticed something.

In the world of Dead Rising 3, a city based on Los Angeles called Los Perdidos, there are zombies everywhere, all of the time. More than seems reasonable, actually - thousands and thousands crowd a relatively small number of streets. There are men zombies, women zombies, black zombies, white zombies, zombies in all manner of clothing ... but no children.

I guess the reasoning is pretty straightforward - in a game like Dead Rising 3, if there are child zombies, you would have to be able to kill them. You have to be able to kill anything in this absurd, infected world.

Something tells me ratings boards aren't 100 per cent comfortable with kids being brutally dismembered on-screen.

There's also a deeper issue - even if there weren't legal and ratings issues to think about, it's still not something most people want to see.

In many violent games, kids are conspicuously missing. As well as Dead Rising 3, recent examples include Grand Theft Auto V and Saint's Row IV. Some games, like Skyrim or Assassin's Creed, have children in them but unlike the adults, you're not able to harm them.

Unbelievably, people do get upset about being denied the right to kill kids in video games. Disturbing, I know. When Skyrim was first released, many gamers felt that not being able to harm children - given that they were able to murder any adult they liked - broke the immersion of the game.

It's understandable that games like Dead Rising 3 and Saint's Row IV avoid these complaints by excluding kids altogether. But I also suspect that for many people - if not most - being able to kill kids would be more disturbing than anything else.

These violent, open-world games revel in their silliness and gore. They're supposed to be funny, with their creative kills and ludicrous animations, but there's just nothing funny or entertaining about killing an innocent child. Even in less silly games like Skyrim, it doesn't seem appropriate - the Dragonborn hero of Skyrim would hardly go around murdering children who mildly annoy them. Surely killing kids would break immersion for you more quickly than the discovery that you can't harm them.

Briefly, I wondered if the interactivity adds something to the mix. You might see kids die on TV, but actually playing through it, killing the kid yourself, that could feel different.

Ultimately, however, I think there are circumstances in which you could kill a child in a game and it wouldn't feel exploitative - if the context were right. There are moments in the hit TV series The Walking Dead where zombie kids are killed, but they're quick deaths and the emotional impact is always important.

In a more serious game like the adventure game adaptation of The Walking Dead, killing a child-zombie would have been treated with the appropriate reverence, and that would have felt bad. But it wouldn't have felt inappropriate or off-putting.

What's more, I think ratings boards would actually be accepting of this kind of character death, even with the added element of interactivity. The deaths of those who are completely innocent should always be treated with respect and should do something to improve the game in some way, such as progressing the narrative or making an emotional impact.

I just don't buy the idea that being able to murder children senselessly could make any game better.

* What do you think about the lack of zombie children? Could killing kids in video games ever be justified? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Siobhan Keogh

Siobhan Keogh is the NZ Herald's gaming blogger.

Siobhan Keogh has been playing video games for almost as long as she's been able to read. Her passion for games started with Sonic the Hedgehog and Alex Kidd in Miracle World, grew when she discovered the Final Fantasy series as a teenager, and became near-obsessive when she worked as games editor for PC World magazine. She'll play almost every kind of game there is, from shooters to strategies to adventure games to Peggle, on any platform she can get her hands on. Her love of games isn't limited to the screen - she also plays both board and card games on the tabletop. When she's not gaming, she's tweeting lame jokes about games on Twitter. Occasionally she takes a breather from that and talks about running and fitness instead. Siobhan works as community manager for New Zealand's largest locally-owned technology company, but her views on gaming are her own.

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