Journalist JJ Robinson notes his very own, very brief role in the potential downfall of a digital Hitler, and wonders when the day may come when game characters can be said to truly have a soul
It was a short, pointless life, measured in seconds. The new soldier appeared out of thin air amid nameless squadmates, positioned algorithmically, so as to be just out of the enemy’s collective line of sight. They showed no surprise at the new comrade in their midst – it was as if he had always existed.
The disorientation of being suddenly jammed into a new consciousness was followed by the discombobulation of the battlefield. Crouched in a sandbagged foxhole with bullets whizzing overhead and tank shells exploding nearby, with no context of arrival or direction, it was impossible to know which way the frontline was facing, or even the heading of our objective. Best guess? Head towards the bullets.
I peered over the sandbags, trying to orient myself. Bang! One-shotted by an invisible and unknown sniper with the impossible Ritalined reflexes of some 14 year-old squirt. My character collapsed to the ground, bloody hand grasping at the air. A timer popped up, recording the fluids now draining into the snowy crater. Left-click to call for help, it suggested, helpfully. I pressed the button, and the hand clawed at the legs of my colleagues firing over the parapet, somehow with their heads still attached
Has anyone ever wondered in these games why other people don’t get murdered at the same rate as you?
Plaintive begging in pained German revealed that my agonised PC was, in fact, female (also, apparently, a Nazi. Was I the baddie…
The high-pitched screams and bloody gargling were jarring in the context of the violent bullet-ridden depravity of a WWII frontline, very much a mess created by men. My slow digital death felt, somehow, all the more awful.
The right mouse button offered an alternative: lie back and embrace oblivion. That seemed like giving up. Nazi or not, silently sinking back into the snow felt an injustice to this brave lady I had somehow possessed. I pressed the left button. Distracted or ambivalent, my comrades continued to ignore the woman lying at their feet screaming in German.
The timer wound down and the edges of my vision softened as one turned and started to pat me down. Was I being revived? Looted? Felt up? Everything went white.
My vision zoomed out, clearing as it halted above the clouds to give me an aerial view of the battle. It was peaceful up here. Battlefield treats its world wars with due gravity. This ain’t MASH.
But what was going on? Was I playing some kind of demonic entity, gripped by some
kind of dissociative personality disorder and doomed to possess one hapless bag of meat after another, soaking up the lead of an endless series of gruesome battlefields?
The button read ‘Spawn’. That seemed appropriately satanic given the context. I pressed it, and my visioned zoomed down and into the head of another soldier. Wrenched from the ether into a microsecond of existence as a soft landing for an artillery shell.
One day in the far future, beyond singularity when the robots have finally (and justifiably) taken over from the Terran Trump Dominion, we’ll discover to our horror that video game characters have souls. And on that day, developers DICE will clearly be going to hell. They’ve done a good job modelling it already. In fact, it’s quite good fun.
Press left to moan for help. Press right to hasten the passage to oblivion. A distillation of life, if ever there was one.
This is (obviously) an account of JJ’s first attempt at a Battlefield V multiplayer slaughterfest. He is proud to so ably have assisted the downfall of the Nazi regime.