Wholesale slaughter has been a central theme in video games since the industry began, with titles like Spacewar! and Space Invaders rewarding the player for taking out as many enemies as possible.
As you might imagine, legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto has spoken out about such reductive game design in the past, even saying that he wanted the player to make amends with enemies they'd shot in GoldenEye 007 after the game was finished.
While that might sound like a hopelessly twee sentiment that's typical of family-friendly Nintendo, there's a more important point to be made here – as Miyamoto explains to Simon Parkin in his excellent New Yorker interview:
...I also resist the idea that it’s O.K. to simply kill all monsters. Even monsters have a motive, and a reason for why they are the way they are. This is something I have thought about a lot. Say you have a scene in which a battleship sinks. When you look at it from the outside, it might be a symbol of victory in battle. But a filmmaker or writer might shift perspective to the people on the ship, to enable the viewer to see, close up, the human impact of the action. It would be great if video-game makers took more steps to shift the perspective, instead of always viewing a scene from the most obvious angle.
However, Miyamoto admits that it's hard for him to explore these themes as Nintendo's strength is the ability to bring families together, and that's why Nintendo games perhaps don't tackle deep emotional topics in the same way that titles like The Last of Us do:
Video games are an active medium. In that sense, they don’t require complex emotions from the designer; it’s the players who take what we give them and respond in their own ways. Complex emotions are difficult to deal with in interactive media. I’ve been involved in movies, and passive media is much better suited to take on those themes. With Nintendo, the appeal of our characters is that they bring families together. Our games are designed to provide a warm feeling; everyone is able to enjoy their time playing or watching.
For example, when I was playing with my grandchild recently, the whole family was gathered around the television. He and I were focussed on what was happening on the screen, but my wife and the others were focussed on the child, enjoying the sight of him enjoying the game. I was so glad we had been able to produce something that facilitated this kind of communal experience. That’s the core of Nintendo’s work: to bring smiles to players’ faces. So I don’t have any regrets. If anything, I wish I could have provided more cheer, more laughter.
On that topic, Miyamoto also speaks about his desire to make the world a kinder, better place:
I wish I could make it so that people were more thoughtful and kind toward each other. It’s something that I think about a lot as I move through life. In Japan, for example, we have priority seating on train carriages, for people who are elderly or people with a disability. If the train is relatively empty, sometimes you’ll see young people sit in these seats. If I were to say something, they’d probably tell me: “But the train is empty, what’s the issue?” But if I were a person with a disability and I saw people sitting there, I might not want to ask them to move. I wouldn’t want to be annoying.
I wish we were all a little more compassionate in these small ways. If there was a way to design the world that discouraged selfishness, that would be a change I would make.