Here's a thought-provoking piece of trivia from my other life. United Nations peacekeepers wear berets instead of helmets because while the latter affords considerably more protection against getting shot in the head, the less obtrusive headgear better emphasizes the target's face; their vulnerability, their humanity. It's psychologically harder to kill them if they look less like a soldier; in which case the response is automatic. It's like a tactic to combat military dehumanisation. Sometimes snipers are even moved to tears. Then I guess they shoot them anyway.
I don't know if that's actually true. I read it a year ago and I might have since invented some of the details. Nonetheless I can feel my thoughts being provoked even as I type.
I'm still bothered by what Chris Taylor (Supreme Commander) said at his GDC panel: that he got uncomfortable with the idea of video games being about killing thousands of people so he took out the blood and made them all robots. We don't feel empathy for robots and we're not grossed out by their corpses, so we're happy. Problem solved and we can keep on fighting with a clear conscience; just like those guys who are conditioned to recognise that the man holding a gun and speaking another language is an enemy combatant, not a civilian, and so different rules apply.
I neglected to mention that in my other life I am apparently an anti-video game crusader. Games do this all the time, though. We fight zombies, mutants and suits of armour as often as we fight humans. Enemy troops are caricatures; needing three bullets in the chest to take them down. Life and death are binary states. There's no pain and not much blood.
When we play games we sign up to kill people and the game abstracts the process so we can deal with it. Otherwise we might freak out like the guy in Munich did. It works like this scene from Call of Duty 4, which, incidentally, is based on a real-life detachment mechanism:
We don't want to see their brains blown out on the street. When we shoot the bad guys we want them to lose hit points, not scream, bleed and defecate. We want to look into the familiar, robotic eyes of NPC_Face_Generic_2, not someone with a family. Condemned or Soldier of Fortune makes us uncomfortable because we don't want to be disturbed by the violence we have to cause. And that's fine. That's the only way it's going to work.
I don't know why we're so accepting of the premise that our video gaming duty is to kill the enemy; that it's our only way to win. Half-Life and Oblivion aren't necessarily about being a soldier but that's the role we play. It's the role we almost always play. Developers who don't like it instead make it easier to stomach. We're built to shoot. We do it all the time. We go into war zones like the experienced professionals we are and eliminate the opposition. We don't broker cease-fires or reconstruct occupied territory. We don't know how to do that. We're meant for one thing.
It's at least a little creepy, right?