I am currently making my way through Jedi: Fallen Order on my X-Box One and I was surprised by it’s treatment of violence. When we think of Stormtroopers and their role in the Star Wars universe it isn’t often that we are sympathetic to them, but as I sliced and diced and used force powers to dispatch them by the score I started to find myself questioning if the character I am playing as, Cal, is truly a good guy.
We know that fear and angry lead to the dark side of the force, but if you were in a fight aren’t fear and anger going to be the first emotions you feel? When I decided to hit a button on my controller and force push a stormtrooper off a cliff wouldn’t the justification be fear or anger? Fear at what he might do if he spots me or anger at what the galactic empire did to the Jedi Order with order 66. The option existed to walk right past this stormtrooper with no need of slicing him with a lightsaber or using force abilities to fling him to his death.
And who are the stormtoopers? The phony tough and the crazy brave as the Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket describes the young men training to be Marines at Paris Island or are they the conscripted and indoctrinated youth of conquered worlds? It is easy to imagine them as a bit of both. In the Star Wars universe Finn is the only stormtrooper given much of a backstory and that is at a much later date than Fallen Order which takes place in the aftermath of the Galactic Empires rise to power. So, somewhere between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.
Who can say exactly who these stormtroopers are by the game developer, Respawn Entertainment, did a fantastic job of building in little details. As you’re approaching a group of stormtroopers you can hear their conversations and many of them are of the mundane and boring variety. Not too different than the conversations you would have with a co-worker, and then here comes the Jedi bursting through the walls, slashing them with a lightsaber, and flinging them off cliffs. Stormtroopers, the lowest level soldiers, the type that often find themselves dragged into conflicts fighting on the behalf of society’s elites. And some of the ones Cal slaughters in Fallen Order aren’t even soldiers. They are patrolling and guarding a mining operation. It just so happens Cal is interested in the same thing as the Empire and he is going to slice and dice anyone in his way.
There are a couple other small details I’ve come across that I find interesting in regards to Respawn Entertainment’s treatment of violence. Occasionally the stormtroopers call is fighting will not taunt Cal but instead they will utter lines like, “I’m not alright,” or, “I don’t got this,” and I swear I’ve heard one or two outright beg for their lives, but they are merely pixels in the way of an objective and therefore they must be dealt with. Then there is a moment after completing a mission and admiring a breathtaking view that Cal questions his violent actions. He realizes that if it wasn’t for him the Empire wouldn’t have been as attracted to the planet he is on and wouldn’t have brought their full wrath upon its inhabitants. Cal has really only made things worse for that planet and is questioning the righteousness of his actions.
The depiction of violence in Fallen Order pleases me. Violence in any form of art should have weight, and video games are most definitely art. I know some might question this statement so I will defend in briefly by pointing out that there is a movement in the contemporary art community to create interactive art. There is a digital painting on the walls of the Chrysler Museum that draws an outline of the viewer as the viewer approaches and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach currently has a display of interactive AI sculptures that react to your movements and actions. In many ways video games are the ultimate form of interactive art.
Video games should treat the violence they depict as having weight and consequence. Whenever I think of how violence should be displayed in art I think of a few things, but always this scene from Unforgiven.