Taro Yoko, the director of Drakengard 3, gave a surprisingly candid interview regarding his struggle to find meaning for killing in video games. Published on the official Square Enix YouTube feed, Yoko related his thoughts on the possibilities of expression in games as well as their limitations. Lamenting over the societal expectation for killing in video games, or simple domination such as you might find in sports games, Yoko would very much like to see the tastes of gamers change, even though he struggles with the same feelings of standing above others.
During development of the original Drakengard the thought of the meaning of killing in video games took a hold on him. The on screen messages such as “You’ve defeated 100 enemies!” was insane to him. In real life anyone who killed that many people would be considered a serial killer. So to reflect this, he created a game world in Drakengard 3 where the entire army behind the protagonist would be insane.
The premise is interesting especially if you have ever wondered what a world would be like where the general morals of society were turned on their head. Even with another entry in the Drakengard series behind him, the experience has left him with no more insight as to why the masses prefer the act of killing over, say the most beautiful 3 minute game ever created. His closing is a call for developers to take the limitations of society and technology and bring about real change to the world.
We transcribed the portion of the interview where Taro Yoko talks about this subject.
I’d like to share some personal thoughts, or sentiments I feel after having worked on the Drakengard franchise for 10 years.
For Starters, I’ve always felt that the possibilities of expression in games were expansive. As the hardware improves, it allows for more functions and a greater range of expressions. At least that’s what I thought would happen. But there’s actually quite a bit of limitation.
I’ve felt for a long time that there wasn’t a whole lot of expression or presentation that was “acceptable.” For a game that retails for 7,800 Yen – I honestly have no idea what that’d be in US dollars, but let’s say $60. So say you came up with an idea to create a $60 game that ends in three minuets. But that’s just not going to happen.
I don’t know how to phrase it, but it’s like there’s this invisible wall that you can’t breach. Those three minutes could be the most beautiful three minuets ever made, but there are societal expectations or demands that prohibit you from making such a game. That’s the reality.
One of these restrictions or invisible walls is the demand to create games in which we kill things. That’s the objective for a vast majority of games out on the market. If we’re not killing, we’re gaining an advantage over someone. What do we do in sports games? You defeat your opponent and strive to become the champs. There are so many examples of similar games and, actually, it appears that consumers prefer this mechanic. Moreover, as a person who makes games, I myself have always enjoyed standing above others, and I would wonder why that was.
It was about 10 years ago when we were working on the original Drakengard that I thought about the meaning of “killing.” I was looking at a lot of games back then, and I saw these messages like “You’ve defeated 100 enemies!” or “Eradicated 100 enemy soldiers!” in an almost gloating manner. But when I thought about it in an extremely calm state of mind, it hit me that gloating about killing a hundred people is strange. I mean, you’re a serial killer if you killed a hundred people. It just struck me as insane.
That’s why I decided to have the army of the protagonist in Drakengard be one where everyone’s insane, to create this twisted organization where everyone’s wrong and unjust. I wanted to weave a tale about these twisted people. And then we worked on Nier…We created this game called Nier, and after the world experienced the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq, we were being bombarded with updates on terrorist organizations and activities even in Japan. That’s when my opinion changed.
The vibe I was getting from society was: you don’t have to be insane to kill someone. You just have to think you’re right. So that’s why I made Nier a game revolving around this concept of “being able to kill others if you think you’re right,” or “everyone believes that they’re in the right.”
So these were games that made me think about what it means to kill, but that’s really just how I personally felt. I don’t think it really affects the players. The discussion about what type of game a title is really falls to the players who’ve gone out and actually played the game.
I truly believe that games are a medium that allows the player to find their own answers to these questions. The thoughts and beliefs of the game creators are separate and often quite vague. Which brings us to the third installment…
I still didn’t have any answers after making the first two, and I had no idea what to do. And since I can’t divulge any information about the story or game world, I’ll just say that I decided to do a complete about-face and depict an answer from left field, if you will. That was my goal, but I couldn’t find any answers for myself. You could say that the third game left me with unanswered questions, at least internally.
So Drakengard 3 has been released in Japan, but I think that these types of killing games will continue to permeate the industry. Deprivation due to terrorism and inequalities still exist. We still see a multitude of competition be it corporate competition or getting a better grade than a friend in school. The world in which we try to stand above everybody else has remained the same during the last 10 years I’ve made games. This whole time, I have been thinking about these games in which we kill.
And looking at the world, the gaming industry, and my own work after making the 3rd installment in the Drakengard series I have to say that there has been no revolution or great change. I perceive that as a failure. At least for me, it’s a personal failure. But…. I say “But,” because I remain convinced of the tremendous potential in games. And with the assumption that this interview will be subtitled there is something I want to get across to people in game development worldwide.
I think the hidden barriers are many and various, visually and functionally, but I also think we are close to breaking through them. Especially regarding the limitations in having to kill in our games, perhaps the solutions to breaking through such limitations may not be found in a place like Japan where it is relatively peaceful, but in countries that are more directly impacted by terrorism and war.
What I would really like to see is for game developers to not take these limitations as a given, to bring about some real change to the world.
Anyway, I usually don’t like interviews, but as long as I’m doing this, I thought I would take this opportunity to say something of substance. So that just about wraps up what I wanted to talk about today. Those are my thoughts after finishing Drakengard 3.