I'm an Evil Basterd

Written by Joe Martin

September 24, 2009 | 10:16

Tags: #baldurs-gate #evil

Those of you who follow the bit-tech blogs and podcasts with anything more than a cursory interest will know that my extra-curricular gaming habits lately have been…focused to say the least. I’ve been playing Baldur’s Gate exclusively, pausing only to rush through Kane and Lynch: Dead Men after a Michael Mann marathon left me wanting a certain type of adventure.

Baldur’s Gate, as I mentioned when I set myself the challenge, is my Everest. It’s the mountain I’m climbing to prove something to myself, namely that I have an attention span longer than – hey look, there’s a squirrel outside!

I’ve not really blogged about my time with the game since then – and for those of you who are curious, I’m still in Baldur’s Gate 1 and have completed all quests in the lower half of the world map. I’m a male, true neutral, half-elf conjurer called Jacob accompanied by Viconia, Imoen, Shar-teel, Jaheira and Khalid. I was tempted to go with a full-on, all woman band of adventurers, but I always had a soft spot for Khalid.

More to the point, I had a really horrible experience with the game yesterday.
I'm an Evil Basterd *I'm an Evil Basterd
The village in question

It didn’t seem to be anything important at first – I was just exploring a section of wilderness and enjoying the Tom Waits tunes I had playing in the background (I never did like the music in BG) when I stumbled upon some enemies. Xvarts, specifically – blue-skinned pseudo-goblins who litter the early areas of the game as experience fodder.

I attacked them, naturally. I’m still fairly low-level at the moment as I’ve yet to go North to the bigger quests, but a barrage of Imoen’s arrows, Jacob’s Chromatic Orbs and a few sword blows from the rest was enough. I looted the corpses, moved forwards and found another batch of Xvarts. Rinse, repeat – and by the time I was ploughing through the fifth huddle of little blue men I was getting bored.

Bored and, to be honest, kind of disillusioned. I was thinking about the matter of just roaming around and blindly killing everything had become somehow oddly mechanised. I was going along with a macabre rhythm of magic missiles and loosed arrows, when I could have equally dealt with the situation with a couple of non-violent sleeping spells or colour sprays. It’s not like Xvarts are worth a lot of XP, or carry any good loot. You’re lucky if you can grab ten gold and a vanilla shortsword off their corpses.

I'm an Evil Basterd *I'm an Evil Basterd
I don't mean I'm like Brad Pitt - but there is a resemblance...

Then, just as I was at the point of questioning of why I was killing all these Xvarts, I got my answer. The Xvart leader stepped up to me and asked in broken English why I was killing his people.
We’ve done nothing to youse!” He declared, surrounded by his butchered brethren. “Why you kill us?

The answer, it suddenly appeared, was simply that I hadn’t thought about it. I’m big. They’re little. They’re aggressive, I respond to that. At no point did it occur to me that they were aggressive because a bigger, fully armed troop had marched into their village with their weapons drawn. I just walked in and killed them with all the ambivalence you’d expect of a True Neutral character.

On reflection, I found the whole thing rather uncomfortable. I chose the True Neutral alignment to give my character the maximum amount of freedom in the game, yet I didn’t even exercise the freedom to think when given the option. In fact, in the time that I had proceeded this far on my train of thought, I hadn’t even stopped killing. I’d slaughtered every Xvart in the village, looted the bodies and bested Ursa the Cave Bear who had been summoned to defend the village.

I'm an Evil Basterd *I'm an Evil Basterd
I killed them so slowly they thought dying was a career!

Standing in the aftermath, I was confused about what I’d done. Was it good to slaughter the Xvarts, who often prey on Humans, even though I couldn’t prove they’d done anything wrong? Or was it wrong to needlessly slaughter a village of enemies that existed for no other reason than to be defeated insofar as the game worked?

Compounding the issue for me was the fact that I was playing a game. That meant that whatever I’d done should supposedly be termed as entertainment – which raised similar thoughts to those I had with The Path about whether the sensation of discomfort was itself enjoyable. It also meant that the entire experience was temporary. With a couple of clicks I could re-load to an earlier point and erase the whole thing.

But I didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t, really. I could say it’s because I wanted to learn the lesson, or because I realised it was just a game, but that would be a lie. The only vaguely good reason I can conjure is because I wanted the XP, no matter the cost and that I was too lazy to source that experience somewhere else. Either way, I don’t think I’m True Neutral anymore – I’m too much of an Evil Basterd.

Have you ever had an experience like that? Tell us in the forums.
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