Kissing and Killing: Not, Actually, the Same Thing


[EDITOR’S NOTE:] For context about what exactly the scene is, watch the video above!

A few days ago at Polygon, a writer named Zach Gage decided to write a screed against Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor. This game came more or less out of nowhere to be thrust into the limelight with glowing reviews (it was hyped beforehand, but many gamers rightfully expected another licensed property disaster). While I can understand – despite my own disagreement – any screeds against any game are based solely upon one’s subjective enjoyment of the game itself, I find myself failing entirely at understanding this particular rant.

Mr. Gage has decided, in this article, to explain to all of us that the game is teaching us, somehow, that kissing and killing are the same thing – or at least, he’s saying something quite like that, though I admit I’ve had some trouble understanding his point in its entirety. The problem with that understanding isn’t that he doesn’t write fairly clearly, nor that I lack the appropriate reading comprehension; the problem is that his point is ridiculous, and reads almost like a satire.

The problem Mr. Gage has with the game involves the tutorial mission. Note that this entire article revolves around a single brief instant in the game as a whole. In the tutorial, in order to teach the player how to sneak, the game’s designers took an admittedly unusual route: you do not sneak up to and stab an orc, nor do you sneak up and execute enemies in the rather grisly fashion you perform throughout the rest of the game. Instead, you sneak up on your character’s wife, a small bouquet of flowers in hand, and kiss her. Of this interaction, Mr. Gage states: “[y]ou’re learning a skill that will later be used almost exclusively in combat.”

He is not wrong, of course. You are being taught how to sneak up on an enemy, and the button you use to kiss your character’s wife is in fact the same button you will later use to murder fantastical creatures. But while he is correct in that instance, he then proceeds to lambast this design choice in a fashion that makes me wonder if he actually played the game.


The “stealth kiss” ends up being a really tender moment.

First, Mr. Gage informs us that “[t]he developers likely thought this was a good time to poke fun at boring tutorials with a joke[.]” Frankly, I saw no joke in this moment of lighthearted happiness shortly before the fantastical creatures you’re later going to murder do you the favor of murdering your wife. It did not seem like some attempt to poke fun at other tutorials, and it made no apparent reference to another game in any case. This was not a tutorial that referenced anything save for the game you are learning to play; so the joke seems to exist solely in Mr. Gage’s flawed interpretation of the moment.

Really, that’s all this entire article boils down to: rather than being taught how to sneak around by killing a few enemies with the artificial intelligence of a doorknob, you kiss your wife and present her with flowers. There should be no outrage here. I could spend several more paragraphs explaining just how there is no outrage to be had here, and just how flawed Mr. Gage’s entire argument is, but in the end what’s the point? So instead, I’ll just say this:

I like that the designers took a different route from the norm to introduce a core gameplay element. I like that they introduced a bit of lighthearted enjoyment into what is inevitably going to become a game about loss, orc murder, intrigue, and more orc murder. The idea that pressing the same button in one instance to kiss someone, and in every other instance to murder orcs somehow makes the two actions the same – or confusing – is so flagrantly ridiculous that I don’t think much explanation needs to be offered. Has Mr. Gage never heard of contextual buttons? Has he never played a game where the same button both picks up weapons and opens doors? Has he never played Super Mario Bros., wherein the same button both makes your character run and – depending on context – might also make him throw fireballs?

I was never confused by any of those contextual differences in controls, and I doubt any other gamer was. So to think that we’ll be confused about the difference between kissing and killing is either purposefully insulting or breathtakingly ignorant. I’ll let the reader decide which.

About Tim Brunson

I'm a fool and didn't write a bio, so instead I'm getting this short blurb written by Steve: Tim is the dickliest of Dicks.

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