I tried this at the local gamestop today, and wound up with a really odd sensation. I fought two guys, one some german guy and one the Disco kid or something or other, and beat them pretty easily. What was the odd sensation was I felt bad for doing so.
In between each round, and before the fight, are little cinematic interludes showing your opponents training, or psyching themself up. Of course you do the same, with your manager egging you on, but it has the side effect of making them realish to you as people, not just as bad guy A or stepping stone B. Combine that with visible damage (brusing on the face and body), there inability to fight much at all, and little quirks like saying ouch, or in the german guy’s case, hiding behind his gloves and saying “Mommy!” and it felt weird to actually be beating them up.
It’s a problem of too much characterization I think. In something like fight night for 360, despite the boxers being realistically modeled, they really are faceless, with little to really distinguish them. You don’t really care about them as boxers, they are just like pong paddles. But add personality, even a cartoonish one, and it gets harder to stomach.
I guess it goes back to distance. You simply can’t maintain the psychological distance when the character, even a villain one, is depicted sympathetically. Well, add that with the immediacy of gameplay compared to other media-when you fight in a boxing game, it is you taking part, not just watching, so it makes you culpable. That’s probably why we don’t really see sympathetic or cute villians as much in games, unless they do a heel turn, and they usually don’t have sympathetic motivations. Imagine fighting a boss in a game, and killing him, only to find out he was coerced with his family held hostage.
To be fair, Tecmo’s deception series of games actually does this, with many of the people you kill being innocents or misguided, and that’s probably part of the reason why it never has seen much success.
FFXI has a problem with this too. A lot of the monsters in it are, well, cute. You solo on rarabs, sheep, little mandoraga, toucan-like colibri. Mostly because tigers and demons will kick your parties ass, or they never put the tough mobs in workable exp camps. Your whole career in the game is beating up cute. Or at least a large part of it.
I guess i’m just saying if developers want us to kill or defeat things, you can’t make them sympathetic, because you add cognitive dissonance between your moral sense(don’t kill innocent, weak, sympathetic or cute things) and the aim of the game (kill the easiest things as quickly as possible, over and over.) In an MMO, you kill tens of thousands of things.