WildStar: The latest in my long career of virtual corpse disposal

corpse1We’re all familiar with the standard categories of MMO quests: FedEx, kill ten rats, escort, click the glowies, and so on. But there are also many quest themes that pop up almost as often across the swath of online games, including ones like “take care of the fledgling animal until it’s strong enough to go out into the wild on its own” and “burn all of the corpses.”

Last night I was going into yet another Elden facility in WildStar, where scientific horrors always seem to await. This one had the expected constructs stomping around, but it also had a room full of posed corpses that I was tasked with disposing via flamethrower. As I started up the burning, I reflected on just how many times I’ve been called to burn dead bodies in MMOs — and how honestly disturbing that is when you think about it.

Why is this the job and duty of an adventurer? It’s got to be a highly traumatic event, to burn or otherwise dispose of dead bodies, and well outside of a normal soldier and/or explorer’s training. Usually when I’ve encountered such a quest, it’s couched in language to give me the impression that I’m honoring the dead by cremating their remains instead of leaving them on the battlefield to rot and be desecrated by the enemy.

But still. Still.

Still I’m taking a torch, or a flamethrower, or a fireball spell and setting a dead thing on fire. Over and over and over again. You can’t tell me that my character doesn’t have those sights and sounds and especially smells haunt her dreams at night.

Seriously, I’ve seen this from City of Heroes to Lord of the Rings Online to The Secret World to SWTOR. Sooner or later, the game is going to be all like, “Okay, you just saved the ten Hoojibs from their evil master, so now it’s time to go corpse burning!” And we don’t even question it, because we’re so deep into the questing routine and just see these as a bunch of clickies anyway.

I’m not saying that doing this is immoral, even in-game, but it is disturbing and I don’t quite know why so many developers feel that they have to put us in this position. To appreciate the sacrifice of NPCs who came before us? To attempt to introduce a little bit of fridge horror? To grow us up?

Or, is it more likely that there’s some giant master list of weird quest themes that is passed around the industry, and all quest designers pull from it when they’re lacking inspiration?

Personally, I’d be fine with leaving the corpses as is. They don’t really care much one way or the other.


6 thoughts on “WildStar: The latest in my long career of virtual corpse disposal

  1. Rowan May 21, 2015 / 9:41 am

    The U.S. military had funeral details during the first and second gulf wars. Regular soldiers, making sure their ersatz foes were buried in accordance with local customs. In all contexts, disposing of corpses is an important function on the battlefield, lest the stench of rotting flesh overpower those still living; or worse, that various pestilences spread as a result.

    Now is being on that detail a traumatic experience? It might be. I never had to participate in one, arriving in Iraq months after the initial invasion. But I guarantee that burning (or burial) is better than leaving them to rot in the open.

  2. Sylow May 21, 2015 / 10:04 am

    While i never was in any war (and am glad about that) i agree to Rowan, with some comments:

    1. The mission you refer to in TSW in my eyes mostly serves to once again establish how desperate the situation is. You enter the savage coast and among the first things you do is to dispose of corpses. For other games and scenarios, their purpose has to be analysed, but i see way more “senseless killing” missions than “senseless corpse disposal” missions in games.

    2. I find it curious how easily corpses burn in games. I mean, 80% water and they burn easily? The burning of corpses really only makes sense in terms of gameplay, they burn and are disposed of. Considering how much fuel (wood, gasoline, whatever else you just carry with you) you’d have to carry to actually burn a corpse, burrying (even the proper 6 feet) is the more efficient option. But i just guess a sequence of digging graves for several hours is not what most gamers would consider to be fun.

    3. While i think that the experience of having to dispose of corpses would be traumatic, it’s almost a triviality compared to other activities of our game characters. Just consider where they turn up, battles and wars, between aliens, monsters and undead, leaving behind trails of dead enemies. (Which for some reason do not need to be disposed of, but that’s another story again. ) From a realistic point of view all of our characters should have a long “relaxing” time in a mental ward ahead of them, and the disposal of corpses pales in comparison to other things they have done.

    So gladly, games are recognizeable as games, else most of them due to their activities would not be enjoyable at all. When given the choice of disposing of corpses and creating corpses, i’d rather choose the former. It might be disgusting work and leave me with nightmares, but at least i wouldn’t have to shoulder the much heavier burden of having killed somebody. (With “somebody” being actually alive instead a pile of pixels. )

  3. Rowan May 21, 2015 / 10:21 am

    Yes, when I hear stories about RL PSTD cases, inevitably the most affecting to me are the ones that involve the committing of violence as opposed the suffering (or aftermath) of violence.

  4. Rowan May 21, 2015 / 10:21 am

    oops *PTSD*

  5. soulboundlife May 21, 2015 / 10:23 am

    Unless there are zombies!!

  6. Sylow May 21, 2015 / 11:19 am

    Doesn’t that count as “corpse disposal”? 😀

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