If there’s one thing more satisfying in Gorn than effortless decapitation, it has to be a good ol’ fashioned impaling. With a spear in hand and an enemy on the ground, you’re free to plunge your weapon into their torso at will with gleeful apathy. Just stand there, stabbing and stabbing until the stars around their head fade and they just stop moving. There really is something quite pleasing to it.
Wait, finish the article before you call the police.
When I wrote about Gorn earlier this week, I purposefully made light of the games farcical violence and focused on the core gameplay at hand. Free Lives’ slapstick gladiator battler is not the game that will cause VR’s inevitable moral panic; it’s far too steeped in its own humor for that and, frankly, I know most people would role their eyes at some preachy editorial wagging fingers. The game’s real achievement is being as violent as possible but in a way that makes it impossible to fault.
Other developers have seemingly purposefully steered clear of the VR violence debate for good reasons. Epic Games switched out humans in its Bullet Train demo for robots in Robo Recall, and in turn avoided any controversy about pulling a humanoid figure’s arm off and beating them round the head with it. Vanishing Realms’ excellent sword play pits you against Lego-like orcs, and Star Wars: Trials on Tattooine has to deflecting laser blasts instead of removing Stormtrooper’s limbs.
Gorn, meanwhile, pre-empts that debate in some brilliant ways. It’s a stark reminder of the silliness that lays the foundation for any videogame, no matter how serious its subject matter, but also brute forces its way past the slightest chance of backlash. Despite the sheer volumes of blood, you couldn’t hope to level a damning complaint at a game in which ballooned enemies can knock themselves out with their own weapons as they stumble around; you’d make an idiot out of yourself in the process.
If there were ever a VR game to convince even the strictest of VR pacifists to chop someone’s head off, it’s this. I dare you to not smile just a little as you hit a man so hard his eyeballs fall out. This plays like a hyperbolic anticipation of everything VR will one day come under fire for; an in-the-face parody of the inevitability of it all. I can picture the Fox News complaints about young children ripping people’s arms off in VR already, but here’s a game that makes actually doing that joyously silly before anyone’s really made it thrillingly empowering. I can’t help but admire the developer’s angle here.
I doubt Free Lives actually intended to have some profound message about VR violence behind Gorn, but I can’t help but be fascinated in the way it coaxed me into laughter between bashing a man’s head in with a rock. The inevitable is coming; VR will one day come under fire for the realism it injects into violence. When that happens, I’ll probably unearth my Vive and jump into Gorn again; just to remind myself of the inherent silliness we shouldn’t lose track of.