2Dark: Is child murder too dark a subject for games to tackle?

2Dark is an upcoming stealth horror from French studio Gloomywood. In it you play Mr Smith, a former detective on a quest to find and rescue kidnapped children.

Said children have been taken by a number of different serial killers for disturbing ends that – from a presentation I attended about the game at Gamescom 2016 – look to involve cannibalisation and bodily mutilation. It’s a thoroughly unpleasant setup, presented in a top-down perspective with an almost cartoonish aesthetic.

At its core, 2Dark is a stealth game, with the player encouraged to take their time calculating routes through shady environments, avoiding enemies and eventually reaching the imprisoned children. After they’ve found the children, the player needs to guide them safely out. Sometimes the children will follow you willingly, but other times they will, I’m told, show symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome and refuse to leave. If this happens, you’ll need to pick them up and scarper before they start screaming.

Sound is a key element to the game. In a nice touch, saving progress happens by relaxing to have a cigarette. Smoke too much, though, and you’ll run the risk of developing a cough, which may end up giving away your position to any nearby thugs.

Development on the game is being helmed by veteran designer Frédérick Raynal, who previously worked on the pioneering horror game Alone in the Dark, as well as cult favourites Little Big Adventure and (the excellent) Little Big Adventure 2. I spoke to him about the pitch-black subject matter, and he explained that the use of violence and children is something his team spent a lot of time debating.


“We asked a lot of questions about how we manage this very touchy subject,” he said. “We found a solution after a lot of back and forth, and decided that you cannot kill them directly. They can die if an enemy kills them, or if they fall into a trap, but you try to kill a kid it’s game over. Because this is not a game where you kill children.”

Not being able to directly do harm to the children arguably excuses 2Dark from accusations of enabling virtual infanticide, but the gameplay is nevertheless based around themes of child abuse and murder. Is this simply too dark a subject to have in a game? Not having played it, I’m hesitant to make any firm judgements. It is shocking, though. Other games hint at child murder – notably 2010’s Heavy Rainbut it’s rare to see a game confront those acts so directly, and so graphically.

Is this all too dark?

Violence and video games have a long-standing relationship, often played out across the media. From Grand Theft Auto to Call of Duty, the general public tends to prick up its ears when the focus is placed on games as murder fantasies rather than, say, interactive experiences that encourage creativity, co-operation and narrative insight.

Violence is a core part of human experience, however, and some argue that games don’t go far enough in exploring it as a subject. Make violence more uncomfortable, more personally horrifying, and it stops violence from being used as a shallow form of entertainment. It’s an interesting perspective, although one that requires a careful consideration of how a game is framed – you don’t want to end up fetishising the violence that was intended to jolt the player into introspection.2dark_4

I asked Raynal if there was a tension between the theme of the game and its cartoonish depiction of violence. “If it was realistic it would be too much, too disgusting,” he said. “So we have this style. If you’re an adult you can recognise that it happens in real life, but see that it’s still a game. Somebody’s said something very interesting. He described it as ‘cute gore’.”

If 2Dark manages to deal with its nightmarish subject matter without fetishising the violence, it could end up a good example of how games can confront horrors that do, unfortunately, happen in real life. Then again, it could end up being a terrible, exploitative mess, precisely because it mishandles tragedies that happen in real life.

From what I’ve seen, there’s certainly a risk that kidnapped children could be little more than a particularly nasty wallpaper for any number of other common stealth-game objectives. But it’s too soon to tell how deep 2Dark’s ideas are integrated with its mechanics and, at the very least, it’s interesting to see a game that refuses to shy away from violence in its most monstrous form.

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