There are two kinds of death in video games.
1. Halo death.
This death is characterized by out inability to understand it or perceive it as death. In reality, this is your standard FPS kind of death, a “bang bang you’re dead”-arcadey kind of existence. A death that makes you angry, frustrated, or more competitive. Team Fortress 2 is a Halo death game, but I prefer the more popular moniker. Jane McGonigal famously (or at least famously to me) claimed that the 10 billion collective alien kills by Halo 3 players was the proof that video games allow us to do things on a grand scale; it was “epic,” to use her language. Halo death is a death removed from the material conditions of death–it is ragdoll physics or gibbed bits flying everywhere; it is plastic. It is the game-as-a-toy, lacking any affective capability that doesn’t already exist in the same manner as it does in Space Invaders. It is a hermetic death–I can’t really comprehend that 136 billion virtual beings have been killed; It is a death that is sealed away from my ability to understand it.
2. Affective death.
I don’t have a snappy name for this one. It is merely a death that draws me, the player, in. It forces me to think through the implications of killing, and it should make me question the very notion of killing. Of course, the studies have been done. There isn’t any linkage between video game playing and gun readiness–people aren’t playing games and going off and murdering others by the boatload. But games like Sniper Elite V2 are certainly designed to lure the player into a sticky, ugly altercation with the reality of death by gunshot. Affective death is one that cannot be reduced to arcade figures emptying machine guns into one another. It is, to use Ranciere’s words, an image that must be acted on; it forces us into a political relationship with it.
Sniper Elite V2 is an exercise in ending life, a game about taking a bullet, a single bullet and killing a human being, or perhaps, if the angle is right, two. Its over-the-top X-Ray kill cam is unapologetically graphic. It is meant to show what really happens when a person fires a bullet into another human being. Over the course of several hours with the game, and the people who make it, I saw bullets puncture kidneys, break arms, shatter pelvic bone, and extinguish the lives of enemy soldiers. The authenticity of what a bullet does to a human body during the act of killing it matches the level of authenticity that the team strives for in how that weapon is fired. But is it too much?