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There is nothing funny about the systematic destruction of an entire race, so why do the biggest games of this generation try to make genocide so much fun?
Admittedly, this has sort of been a theme in games since the days of Metroid, when Samus traveled the universe hunting the eponymous creatures. Lara Croft even dabbled in it in the original Tomb Raider, when she discovered that dinosaurs were still very much alive…and then killed them.
But no one cares about alien jellyfish or extinct lizards; they care about people. People like Halo’s Master Chief.
Look at this beautiful beach…completely deserted. For shame.
In Bungie’s sci-fi shooter series, your goal is to defeat an alien religious organization called The Covenant. Essentially, that means destroying the more than a half-dozen species that comprise it. Then there's The Flood, the complete eradication of which is pretty much the goal of everyone in the series. That's a lot of aliens that the Chief is trying to kill, but let's not forget that he is only doing it because they tried to kill all of us first.
Similarly, the antagonists in the Gears of War trilogy are the Locust Horde, another multi-species military force that (apparently) wants nothing more than to wipe out the human race. Naturally, the only response is to kill them all right back. Thus, Marcus Fenix and friends start working on the genocide of the Locust for three games.
Chainsaws make genocide fun!
There are also a few other games that feature this idea front and center, like the Mass Effect trilogy (kill all of the Reapers), the Dragon Age series (kill all of the Darkspawn/mages), and Dead Space (Kill all of the Necromorphs). In each of these examples, the genocide against the enemy is a knee-jerk reaction to their own genocide against humanity.
While these are all fun games, they demonstrate a fundamental lack of originality and thematic nuance. The specifics may differ, but these games all focus on an “us vs. them” attitude and use genocide as a major plot point. This derivative nature of storytelling glamorizes one of the worst possible atrocities that can be committed, and I’m not even sure anyone realizes that they’re doing it.
Finally, the genocidal theme that these games have been built on also stifles creativity. Genocide clearly sells, and I’m sure that Halo 4 will feature a new race of aliens for Master Chief to unload his murderous machinations on, but does it really need to be that way?