Recently, I watched a rather delightful film called The Bear. I’d not heard of it before until a friend told me how it was a childhood favourite of his. (His film taste is usually worth listening to.) Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud of Seven Years in Tibet and The Name of the Rose fame, The Bear isn’t like most other animal-themed films. It’s far more nuanced than it first appears to be. A live action tale (with a mixture of animatronic bears and real ones), it follows the story of an orphaned bear cub in late 19th century British Columbia, as he tries to survive, pitting himself against nature and some rather determined hunters.
It’s utterly charming and makes me smile just thinking about it, but it’s also quite nasty in places. Hunting dogs are used (and yes, a dog versus a bear doesn’t go brilliantly), bearskins are everywhere, and you even see two bears have sex in the distance. That kind of stuff never happened in The Lion King. You see hunters torment animals and, just when you think the human threat is gone, a cougar comes along to remind you that nature itself can be very cruel too. However, it’s beautifully shot and the bear cub is adorable, if clearly soon to be quite a threatening beast once he grows up. The film uses very little dialogue and hardly any music. Yet you hardly notice any of that because the film is so elegantly put together. The exposition is there for you to see rather than hear.
What has this got to do with games? Well, the day after I watched The Bear, I went to load up Red Dead Redemption 2 for a bit, and soon felt rather terrible. I needed to go hunting – to shoot at a bear or two and skin them. Suddenly it felt a little bit too real, as daft as that may sound. Sure, I’ve killed what must be hundreds of thousands of ‘people’ in games by now but the more I think about it, the more I’ve realised I feel quite uncomfortable about killing an animal in a game. Which is utterly irrational, I know.