Should You Feel Bad Killing the Monsters of 'Monster Hunter: World'?


#1

Monster Hunter: World is a very good game, but as Austin pointed out in his review last week, it’s a game that “offers intricate environments, lively creatures, kinetic combat... and a dash of colonialist fantasy. Austin, myself, and Rob talk about what to do with complicated (and often contradictory) feelings regarding a video game you’re enjoying, while checking in on Rob’s attempts to survive the zombie hordes in the strategy game We Are Billions.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/qvw73d/should-you-feel-bad-killing-the-monsters-of-monster-hunter-world

#2

<_<
They* are Billions


#4

i mean, videogames have traded in colonialist fantasies for decades now. see: every open world game


#5

I think this is one of the many ways that Shadow of the Colossus was ahead of its time. In typical open world fashion, you enter a strange land with the intent to kill a whole load of beings who just want to be left alone. As opposed to actively encouraging this behavior and giving you a variety of super fun ways to wreak havoc, SOTC makes this a slow, grueling, emotionally draining process, with the nature of your crimes manifesting in the physical deterioration of the protagonist and culminating in a pretty melancholy final act.

I think games like Far Cry or Just Cause or MHW would benefit a lot from giving the player more chances to reflect on how what they’re doing is at least a little fucked.


#6

You should probably listen first.


#7

Austin made the point in his review that the verisimilitude of the monsters made for a level of immersion leading to that feeling of guilt, but having played a whole lot of MH4U back in 2015, I don’t see a noticeable gulf in monster behavior going from those low-fi 3DS versions to the ultra high-def ones in World.

There’s still a very tangible sense of artifice to the game’s proceedings (that in itself isn’t a gripe, people want comfortable and familiar game loops) that makes them no more tangible as sentient beings than the thousands of infinitely regenerating bears you mow down in an MMO.

The series, even with the highest grade texture wrapper over the proceedings, is simply way too shallow and commercialist to justify efforts in trying to make deeper reads on narrative themes or mechanical empathy.


#8

I don’t think anyone’s claiming that it’s really different than the bears you kill in an MMO, but rather that the fidelity and lifelike animation, plus the “circle of life” narrative noodling makes the horror of that kind of mass killing much clearer. Even though the game is definitely not intending that.

I also kinda dislike the idea that shallow or commercial or nakedly artificial art isn’t worth making deeper reads on. These games have ideologies that are worth interrogating and examining. It doesn’t strike me as particularly important what the original intent of the game is, as long as it ends up saying something. Even clear artifice can be used to supplement a game’s subconscious messaging. The distance of artifice is often used to make us feel less uncomfortable.

All kinds of shallow or bad art is worth talking about because there is always ideology and iconography. Games inhabit that space, especially games that just want you to have a nice fun time killing things. What is being killed and why often indicates some kind of cultural value and that uncomfortable reality is important to think about.


#9

I certainly feel bad about hurting the creatures, they beam with beauty and are animated so intricately; the game’s light-hearted culture around hunting does not encourage a lot of confidence that the creators feel the same.
Regardless, like the argument made towards the end of the discussion puts it in perspective for me, that we reflect on these potentially problematic elements of a work and are still able to derive value and worth in experiencing them; the important part is recognising problems and have a dialogue about them without condemning the work entirely.
Of course there’s always exceptions, you aren’t obligated to tolerate or engage in work arguing for vile ideologies for example.


#10

Monster Hunter’s always been this weird. Like I remember most of the quest descriptions from the old games being along the lines of “I was fishing and a big beasty scared away the fish! Go kill him and bring me his head.”

I’m not trying to dismiss the train of thought that we feel a little bad for what we’re doing in the game but that the feeling of guilt for hunting monsters is incredibly stronger when World is all about “exploring” the new world. In the end though you just end up either killing or heavily damaging most of the wildlife.


#11

I find this to be a recurring dissonance in how games view people, animals and other things. Everything being served up to the player as consumable fodder for your goals is questionable, even when a game is trying to temper that message. And it wouldn’t bother me so much if not for the fact that this is a thing people do regularly in real life.

Some people think that animals are made to be eaten. It’s a person’s choice whether or not they want to eat meat, but I will always side eye the idea that the animal’s existence is primarily for the benefit of humans.

In a similar way, the vibe I get from Monster Hunter generally is that these monsters are simultaneously obstacles and resources, ripe for your harvest. The humanising of the animations forefronts the dissonance, but it’d be there regardless for me because I know too many people who think this about actual nature.


#12

I just fought that poison spitting bird wyvern with the tail that literally farts out toxic gas clouds and I am of the opinion of killing every single one of these monstrosities. Fuck them. Fuck them all to hell.

But being serious, I wonder if there should be more of an angle that your killing specific animals to protect an ecological balance within a certain area or at least killing problem animals that pose a danger to other people. You seem to do so much research into tracking the animals and learning how to kill them, but not much else.

I’m a big fan of the original Tomb Raider games, the first one was the game to get me into games in the first place. I remember back then feeling kind of bad as Lara just blasted all these polygonal animals without a second thought. Like she kills a bloody T-Rex in the Lost Valley level, I mean… you think maybe discovering a living dinosaur is perhaps of interest to the wider world? I think in the second game, Core Design actively tried to reduce the animal slaughter by having you fight more human enemies but you still had to kill so many bengal tigers in the first level… I maybe reading too much into this, we’re talking about old games that maybe didn’t feel like they had to address issues like the slaughter of endangered species. I guess it’s part of the fun of those games, you don’t really know what the game is going to throw at you next - it created a certain tension, as you ventured on through new levels fearing at any moment that anything from a gorilla to a Raptor might jump out at you screaming. But then, I would always maintain that old school Lara always had that meanness to her, she was a rich aristocrat going on adventures and robbing tombs. In the third game you could unlock her secret trophy room within he mansion, in which she had the head of a T-Rex mounted above a fire place. Maybe the moniker tomb raider is not a title you want to aspire to…

I’ve just come from playing Assassin’s Creed, where you also kill various animals in their droves. I did feel bad about killing so many hippos to make a better bag for myself. Same for all the crocodiles and lions. It felt better when I gained the ability to tame animals and just rock up into town with my hippo friend, but also really silly.

Also, I had a lot of fun with the photo mode in that game and, I’ve started thinking about this more and more, I wonder if it’s time to make an open world game in which you are literally just a photo-journalist. You don’t shoot any guns, you just shoot with your camera. If they made a game like monster hunter or far cry (where all the animals seem to actively want to kill you), where you were tasked with documenting the animals for scientific purposes. Perhaps you are challenged to take more aesthetically pleasing shots for the National Geographic. It would need a really good grading system that could read your photos, but no reason why you couldn’t have a social aspect to it where people rate your photos. I guess I just want next gen. Pokemon snap.


#13

Please give me open world Pokémon Snap.

Alternatively I will accept a spying take on this called Leave Only Footprints.


#14

I have admittedly just started and have only completed great jagras quest, but I am having an even more intimate feeling regarding this. I think I will share some of the same feelings in the long run as Austin after listening to his podcast and wish they continued to lean into the ecology and park ranger aspects rather then new world story line it seems to be heading towards.

But also in the past few years I have had a pet pass away in almost every single one for a variety of reasons. I cared for them when I could, and i found a spot to put them to rest when I could. when there was nothing left to do. Monster Hunter puts me on the opposite spectrum of this and it has already brought up extremely conflicting feelings. To watch as I am on the other side of the circle of life here I still am putting them rest, I know my in game character won’t but on the outside I will internalize doing so with great care even if my electrically charged axe says otherwise.

I look forward greatly to learning how to capture them, but even in the case I can’t i will send them off with appreciation and care. Hopefully this will be a cathartic experience and helping me with getting over death of my pets and how little we are control while giving me some control in MHW with capturing. I know that’s not the lessons Monster Hunter World will afford me but in the realism of the animations and distress I hope I can still take that away from my experience as I play more. .


#15

This is why I’m enjoying Obsidian’s work so much now that I’m finally getting to it. They keep trying to make games that explore the moral lacking of the average player centric RPG campaign, probably done most bitingly in KOTOR 2 (though would have been more biting if the light path wasn’t there, or they went farther with Kreia having a point about unintended consequences). Alpha Protocol is the only exception of what I’ve played so far, though there are still unexpected negative consequences to your actions in the credits epilogue.

This is also why I’m not so found of Bioware’s work outside DAO and Mass Effect 2, and even then there’s a large, uncomfortable feeling of trying to please the player. Mass Effect 1 feels fascist on both main paths because Shepard is constantly framed as right or necessary, while also basically filating the military in the process. KOTOR 1 also suffered greatly from Jedi and Sith being very clearly good and evil, so when the one monstrous thing the Jedi did is revealed, the only “good” option is to just accept that it happened and agree they were right, despite your character being the victim of an unspeakable crime against nature.

I think it says a lot about us that we’re starting to become aware of the artifice of games, and that’s a good thing in the long run. It’s what leads to interesting works like Undertale, Mother 2 & 3, Alan Wake, ect. When we think about the nature of fiction, we can make better fiction that explores what attracts us to it and criticizes it in meaningful ways.

So seeing Monster Hunter finally being called out for that artifice caused, unintended framing is pretty good in my book, mainly because it’s right and may inspire an interesting game in counter-point one day. It’s not so far-fetched. Just make a game where the goal is protecting or co-existing with nature, and you already have a great framework to explore.


#16

I had a similar issue with Tomb Raider (2013). The first time you kill a deer Lara is overwhelmed with emotion. However, from that point on, she doesn’t appear affected at all by hunting all manner of creatures - including humans.

It’s the type of disconnect I feel in particular in games where the character is a blank slate as opposed to a scripted protagonist. One of the best things about playing modifiable games on PC is that you can amend mechanics in games to better suit your preferences. Things like this vegan Minecraft mod are so awesome. I wish it was an option for more games.


#17

Just a quick comment on your photo journalist game. Not just wild life but conflict and war and voyeurism could be explored greatly through that idea that could make the player feel serene to uncomfortable through a variety of “lens” of that world. Not only could they be rated but if they are scripted or things/ places/ people could have journalistic notes and back stories connected to the back of the photos to fill in the world. May not be the game you are describing (which who doesn’t want next gen pokemon snap) but another game i think would be cool too.


#18

An open world warzone in which you have a camera instead of a gun would really be cool.You could choose how biased your going to be whether your going to show war for what it is or your going to try and stage shots to get paid for propaganda.

A game which deliberately makes you confront war in that way is real interesting on a conceptual level. But actually building it would be difficult. Like how graphically realistic is it. How far can you zoom in? How do you make it look like everything in the world just is there? Rather than assets that are literally copied and pasted around the map? At the same time, you would be giving players a massive sandbox specifically designed to hold those moments for photo shots. The game is literally telegraphing you to shoot here! or hey shoot this! And literally everybody is taking the same photographs.

Seems impossible, but I kind of want this game now.

But yeah, if there were a few dinosaurs running around as well…


#19

Austin makes a great point on that you can enjoy a game even if certain aspects of it lessons, themes, or content may conflict with your own morals. Persona 5 has bad reputation of queers but I still play it cause I relate to Futaba’s story in many aspects and want to see it through. In Xenoblade 2 case I may not play it cause of it overly Sexualize characters even if the gameplay is smooth. We should be able to talk about the problems in game and not be silent about it.


#20

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and the way that I thought about it is that Shadow of the Colossus is a game that really understands the weight of what it’s asking you to do, and makes the effort to bring you along with it. It never leaves you in any doubt that you’re an invader in this space.

You know, once you start playing SotC that it goes some messed up places and it wants you to feel ‘this is messed up… but I’m still doing it.’

Having put a number of hours into MHW, I’m not at all convinced that it has any genuine interest in selling the player on the gravity of going on those hunts. And I think I’d maybe respect that a little more if they leaned hard into ‘yup, we just kill monsters because that’s who we are and we’re comfortable with that’ but as the podcast talks about, the message is more confused than that. It half-heartedly gestures at some respect-for-nature, everything in balance stuff in a way that is directly contradicted by the fact that people are colonising this ‘new world’ just out of … curiousity, or because they assume they deserve to be there, which doesn’t seem to respect the natural balance at all. Unless the implication of the natural order is ‘humans on top’ which is an even more uncomfortable read.

It’s fine for this to be just a game on going on these super fun hunts and getting loot (and it is great at being that game), but it just makes it all feel a bit more arbitrary, a bit less focused as a work.

I know they’re two very different games trying to do different things, but I think the points where they intersect are very relevant to this particular topic.


#21

I haven’t played MH:W yet but I get the whole guilt thing. While there’s been a bit of a response of “They’re monsters, lol, w/e”, I think there are going to be more conversations about this as enemy AI becomes more complex.

I’ve played a ton of Fallout 4, but I don’t have any compassion for the thousands of raiders I’ve killed, mainly because they don’t act like humans at all. Most enemies in action games or shooters have entirely combat focused AI that basically boils down to Idle>See me>shoot until one of us dies. When enemies are basically just mobile turrets there is no real reason to feel anything for them.

What differentiates Monster Hunter as far as I can tell is the monsters go through a ton of AI states and have really expressive animations, which can lead the player towards actually having compassion towards these enemies. Fallout 4 would be a very different game is these raiders ran away, cowered in fear or started pleading for their lives.

As enemy AI begins to become more complex I think we’re going to start having more compassion for them, which will start to pose problems if implemented into games where you’re just going around killing things. For action games, I think devs are going to have to choose between having robust AI and animations, or having purely violent gameplay with no pacifist options.