Why You Can’t Shoot Civilians In Battlefield 3

Spotter's guide - visible gun = not a civilian.

I’ve just come back from a fascinating and noisy day at EA DICE, seeing and playing Battlefield 3 with the winners of our recent competition. I have quite a few BF3-related posts due over the next couple of days as a result, but let’s start off with the game’s executive producer Patrick Bach talking about why he believes it can be tricky for games to present more authentic situations, such as a Battlefield level containing innocent, unarmed civilians. He reckons that, given the option, many gamers can’t resist an opportunity to be bad – and, he fears, game-makers would be the ones blamed for their players’ naughtier choices. For instance, shooting one of said innocent, unarmed civilians…

Responding to victorious RPS reader/compo entrant Joe O’Connor’s question as to whether Battlefield 3’s story would delve into the moral arguments around war, Bach argued that “Games are where movies were in the 30s or 40s, when it went from a technical spectacle to ‘hey, wait a minute we can actually use this to tell something, be political’ and things like that. I think we are on the verge of seeing things like that.”

However, potentially holding that back is that “if you put the player in front of a choice where they can do good things or bad things, they will do bad things, go dark side – because people think it’s cool to be naughty, they won’t be caught…

“In a game where it’s more authentic, when you have a gun in your hand and a child in front of you what would happen? Well the player would probably shoot that child.”

This is something Bach wants to avoid, because while the choice to do that ‘bad’ thing would have been the player’s, “We would be the ones to be blamed. We have to build our experiences so we don’t put the player in experiences where they can do bad things.” While not explicitly mentioned, the spectre of Modern Warfare 2 and its notorious ‘No Russian’ level seemed to this correspondent to loom large here.

So, Bach admitted that there was a degree of self-censoring necessary to limit potentially disagreeable player behaviour. “Me personally, I’m trying to stay away from civilians in games like BF because I think people will do bad. I don’t want to see videos on the internet where people shoot civilians. That’s something I will sanitise by removing that feature from the game.”

Importantly, “That doesn’t mean that I don’t want people to feel that war is not good,… We are trying to do something that is more mature. Mature not being gore –some people confuse the two. That’s childish actually, to want more blood.”

Bach hinted that something in Battlefield 3’s singleplayer narrative would involve a more thoughtful look at the nature of war, but wouldn’t be drawn on any specifics as yet.

“I think games need to grow up a bit,” he felt, but was sure that “They will grow with gamers. There will always be games for children – I want games for grown-ups, games I can play. As long as I’m in the business I will make games that I want to play.”

More comments from Bach tomorrow, plus a preview or two of the stuff I’ve played and seen here.

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