The Great Backlog Battle: The Humpback Dance is Your Chance to Kill the Whale
I’ve been playing a lot of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag these past few weeks, taking just about any opportunity I can to hit up the adventure on the high seas. Of course, the storyline has taken a back seat to my strange compulsion in saving every last sea beast from the ocean so that SeaWorld will never have them in the future. I’m basically a time-traveling environmentalist.
Of course, by “saving” I mean stabbing, and by “environmentalist” I mean cold-blooded killer. You see, the only way to ensure SeaWorld never gets its hands on any orcas, is by harpooning as many as I can in the past. They’ll never know imprisonment or the pain of being away from their loved ones because they’ll be turned into new gun belts and ammo pouches. Knowing just how much good I’m doing for the future is a tremendous joy. Then again, who am I kidding? I can’t keep up the lies of my faux hard-assedness. Killing whales is one of the most horrific things I’ve ever done in a video game.
I’ve played a lot of video games during my 30+ years on this Earth. Few have elicited the chill on the back of my neck like Assassin’s Creed IV. By all accounts, it’s one of the best entries in the series, and I’m a huge fan of the entire franchise. Well, except for Revelations. Regardless, Black Flag has a lot of great moments both in the story and in the side-quest action. Hunting Templars is a great deal of fun, and scouring the vast Caribbean for treasures and blowing up forts is simultaneously relaxing and exciting all at once. Hearing your crew singing sea shanty after sea shanty never gets old, and sometimes I just like to cruise around taking in all the sights and sounds so carefully reconstructed by Ubisoft’s development team. Then I find a harpooning section, and all that goodness, all that grandeur gives way to cold sweats and trembling hands.
It really shouldn’t bother me to go full Ahab. It’s just a video game. I’ve played plenty of titles over the years that have had more shocking moments designed to elicit all the feels, so to speak. Why is it jamming a dozen spears into the side of a humpback whale is the instance that gives me the most pause? It’s probably because it’s so effing brutal. The swordplay and combat in Assassin’s Creed has remained largely unchanged in the history of the series. There have been some slight flourishes added to spice things up game-to-game, but at its core, the fighting in Black Flag is nearly identical to that in the original Assassin’s Creed. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I enjoy the combat just fine, thanks. But it’s not shockingly violent or grossly vicious to stab a man in the neck. Watching a pool of blood spurt into the ocean after nailing a fleeing whale with a few harpoons is just unsettling. That says nothing of the moment when the hulking mammals are pulled from their ocean habitat to my boat, the Jackdaw, spilling their insides over the hull and into the sea below.
If I’ve learned anything from ‘Jaws,’ it’s that all sharks are a menace that will track you across the globe to extract revenge for killing their father or whatever. Great whites and hammerheads should be removed from waters with no questions asked because eventually they’re just going to eat some pop-collared jerk in Martha’s Vineyard. Thrusting a harpoon into the side of a shark’s dorsal fin is fine. I have no qualms about putting down some descendant of megalodon or ancestor of the bastard that killed Quint. But man, when an orca is just hanging out, minding its own business in the Caribbean, I can’t help but ponder the ethics of making with my own Mr. Pointy.
I still do it, though, which ultimately makes me a human piece of garbage. What can I say, I really need those extra straps and pouches. I’ve got to dress my best to impress all the other pirates on the open waters. Especially that James Kidd. I really care what he thinks of me for some reason. I hate it. I hate that to make progress in a game, the stupid medulla oblongamer part of my brain won’t let me sail away when there’s a quest to be completed. I don’t really want to go stabby stabby on all the whales. It unsettles me to no end knowing that I can just not go to the little icon in between Kingston and Nassau to unleash my own private hell upon the majestic beasts, but I do it anyway. Proving my worth as a gamer is much more important than taking a virtual stand against the cruelty to animals. That sounds so incredibly stupid, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Ubisoft knows how horrible the act was, and how horrible we as a people were in our past. That’s why the developers are making us endure such terrible encounters. At least I hope so, anyway. It might make me feel a little better. Unless it’s the alternative, and those people touted as “a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs” includes people who believe we should nuke the whales. Who am I kidding? Even if that was the case, I’d still be putting those big ol’ buggers on the endangered species list. I need the Trophies.
This year, I’m no longer neglecting my backlog while it continues to pile up. Instead, I’m whittling away, bit by bit, in a competition with a free dinner on the line. Every week I’ll be updating you on my progress with the twelve games I’m hoping to beat before the clock strikes midnight on December 31. This is the Great Backlog Battle.