Genocide simulator

7 min readDec 4, 2023
Photo by Berke Araklı:

Is it ever morally acceptable to play as the Nazi in a game? Or commit acts of mass murder, act cruelly, or otherwise act as one of the “bad guys”. As Zangief put it, if you are a bad guy does that make you a bad guy? Dungeons and Dragons has long had a morality system, which many games co-opted in some fashion, allowing players to decide which path to take. Wolfenstein explicitly has you whaling on Nazis, while Dishonored gives the player the best outcome if they use non-lethal methods. Yet, more abstract games such as Stellaris, Hearts of Iron, and Victoria all rely on a players own sensibilities to guide a particular moral path. When does a bad guy pay playing evil for fun morph into a genocide simulator, and more pertinently is it ever good to play the bad?

Murder hobo is a meme turn floating round the gamersphere for folk who enjoy being their own mass casualty event. Indeed, this concept was co-opted for the newer meme of a gamer walking up to the Pearly Gates all clear conscience, St Peter asks them if they have ever killed someone, they state no, and the final frame is a pull back to the thousands of digital kills they have racked up. In the Stellaris subreddit a user jokingly added that for them it would like be trillions if not higher. The abstraction of digital deaths allows all gamers to play out killing things of various shapes and forms without having the moral ambiguity of having to do it in reality. It is a dehumanised experience, disembodied, one which has no inherent cost aside from the player’s time. Heck, I enjoy running the Cosmodrome in Destiny 2 killing Fallen and Hive alike without really thinking, its just dumb fun. Does this make me a bad person?

I refuse to play as the Nazis in Hearts of Iron 4 for personal moral reasons. Even though the developers Paradox have stripped out the Holocaust and slave labour from the game, the thought of guiding Nazi Germany to victory leaves a sour taste in my mouth. However, in Stellaris, a space empire simulator, the abstract empires are all fictional, and I have regularly wiped-out worlds with billions of aliens. Does this make me a hypocrite, or is it that actual human history and my utter distain for the far right stop me from see Hearts of Iron 4 the same way I see Stellaris? That is for you to decide, and as with all things moral in any game the onus is always on the player to decide how far they wish…