The Pied Piper of Tamriel

Where have all the children gone? Their bright faces cannot be seen. Their excited giggles are absent, leaving nothing to puncture the silence. Their joy has gone from the world.

The world of video games that is.

What’s the last video game you played? I bet there were no children in it. It’s odd, but children are absent from almost all video games.

It’s a trend I never really noticed until I played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Oblivion depicted a detailed world, with villagers coming and going according to their own schedules, stopping to chat to each other in the street and going to work in the fields before returning home to sleep for the night. As I observed this world in microcosm around me, the absence of children struck me as particularly odd. It was an absence shared by many other games, but it had never before seemed so apparent. It was precisely because the world of Tamriel was so well crafted that the lack of children became uncanny.

Tamriel

Secretly I began to imagine an extra mission – the Pied Piper quest. Oblivion’s townspeople were always getting themselves into trouble and asking for my help, surely one of them would run up to me and beg me to retrieve all the lost children. Sadly it wasn’t to be, but it got me thinking about what the lack of children meant for games in general.

Game developers have limited resources. Cutting children from the game world means less work, less expense, and more profit. But there are other obvious reasons why children have been omitted.

Oblivion is an open ended role playing game. As a player you can choose to help the townspeople with their troubles, or you can systematically murder them all in their sleep. The classification boards take issue with that already, let alone throwing the possibility of massacring children into the mix. Imagine your typical scene from Grand Theft Auto, but replace the regular trashy pedestrians with a mother pushing a pram and a toddler walking beside her. It’s horrifying. Still, I can’t help but think of the comedic value of pulling off an insane stunt in a pram.

Even most games targeted at young audiences don’t have children in them. Instead they are populated with full grown Italian plumbers, fairy princesses and talking animals. Contrast this with young adult literature in which the protagonist is almost always a child themselves.

Imagine the impact children could bring to other, more adult games. Imagine an MMO where you start as a child and your character “grows up” with every level you gain.

Recently I was playing Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles with my little brother. It’s a standard on-rails zombie shooter like House of the Dead. After shooting down waves upon waves of zombies shuffling their way toward my soft and tasty brain, it would have been a stark and shocking sight to see a child zombie amble towards me. It would have reminded me that zombies were once people. It would have made me think of the ethics of shooting zombies, when it is possible they could be cured instead. And it would have given me the sickening realisation of the inevitable conclusion – I would have to kill this child in order to save myself. Suddenly the boxed in nature of an on-rails game would feel even more claustrophobic. It would have been thought provoking; it would have been art.

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7 thoughts on “The Pied Piper of Tamriel

  1. Does The Sims count? You can have and rear children, but they can never grow up. If they are mistreated as babies, then social security comes to take them away and if they get neglected as children (not being sent to school, etc) then their grades drop and a large grey metal school bus turns up to take them away to military school.
    They can also die in fires and be abducted by aliens.

  2. Very insightful. I’m impressed. That you managed to divine something intelligent and creative from today’s video games is very cool. Apart from FFVII, my experience with video games is pretty limited.

  3. Pingback: Zombie Children « The 327th Male

  4. Why did this pop up in my reader again?
    Anyway – there are children in Skyrim, but they’re mostly snot-nosed little imps and you can’t kill them. There was something malevolently hilarious about watching my gruff off-sider in a quest run around trying to hack up a screaming kid who just wouldn’t submit.

  5. For some reason it came up again just because I changed the tags on the post.

    I like the fact that you can’t kill kids in Skyrim or Fallout, but I don’t like the execution (ba doom tish). Rather than just making them invincible, I think there should be a God or powerful being who is responsible for protecting them. If you try to strike a child, they’d hit you with a lightning bolt etc.

    • Better – it should be an internal force which prevents you. Like you could swing your battleaxe at some whimpering brat and loose strength at the last minute and your character could just sort of slump and get depressed and say ‘Aw, I feel baaad’ and pat the kid on the head instead. Over and over, no matter how many times you tried.
      That said, there is a ghost child in one of the missions who doesn’t know she’s dead and you have to solve the mystery of how she died and break it to her, right in the middle of her constant pleas to play hide and seek. In her burnt out house. Which is covered in snow. And she only appears at night. Freaky as fuck. Bring on the dragon.

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