Years ago, when playing the original God of War on a Playstation 2, I suffered an unusual pang of conscience when I was forced to roast a man alive. Now, keep in mind that the God of War series absolutely revels in ultraviolence and I had just spent hours controlling a man with blades chained to his wrists as he sliced, decapitated, and eye-gouged an army of mythological enemies. But there came a moment where the game settled into a calmer, puzzle-oriented section in which I dragged a caged Athenian soldier around the inside of a temple. Somehow, it was clear, the soldier would help me to progress.
What I didn’t understand yet was just how far the game would go to show the dark side of its anti-hero Kratos… but it became obvious as I pushed the caged soldier down a corridor and into a room with two walls of flame jets and a lever. As soon as the soldier entered the chamber, he began to scream directly at me, begging for mercy in a terrified voice. The only way forward was to push the man, cage and all, into a position between the two walls of flame and then pull the lever to roast him alive. Something about the cold-blooded calculus of the sacrifice, coupled with the screams of the doomed prisoner, felt sadistic in a way that the previous violence had not. I had a choice—burn the soldier to death or set the game aside.
Reader, I pulled the lever.
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