Edith Gras

Deep Silver

While video games are becoming more and more complex in their storylines and in the ethical issues that they confront players with, they still remain limited by the constraints of their genre and the ethics of the industry that makes them.

In Metro Exodus, the player experiences the game through the eyes of Artyom, who leads his comrades out of the Moscow metro onto a year-long journey through post-nuclear Russia. The player often has to kill other humans in order to survive, however, who they kill and how they kill them can unlock different endings, essentially rewarding them for playing in an “ethical” way. This ethical mode of survival depends on the status of the human beings that are killed: killing unarmed bystanders or enemies that have surrendered triggers bad karma, but aggressive enemies or people who have performed acts such as cannibalism or slavery do not count.

This essay will use the framework of Judith Butler’s work on the politics of nonviolence to argue that Metro Exodus, despite its branching paths and opportunities for nonviolence in the traditionally violent genre of survival horror, still places a hierarchy on whose lives really “count” as grievable.

Edith Gras is a Localization Project Manager at Deep Silver. She started working in games localization while completing a masters in Classics at the University of Glasgow. Since graduating in 2018, she has been balancing a career in games quality assurance with academic research, focusing more specifically on narration and storytelling techniques in games.