Virtual Villagers Origins 2 deals with death in a morbid fashion

The cumbersomely titled Virtual Villagers Origins 2 made the jump from mobile to Xbox One last week. It’s another free-to-play release which feels out of place on a console, involving little more than assigning tasks to villagers and then popping back a few hours later. No skill or mastery is required, just patience (or deep pockets to pay for timesaving microtransactions.)

I gave it a download to see if I could wangle anything of worth out of it, perhaps even a review, but the kindest thing I can say is that it has a nice title screen. Backing me up here, it has garnered dozens of one-star user reviews, with many focusing on its ‘pay to play’ nature.

The only thing preventing me from uninstalling it straight away was the lure of some easy achievements. Yes, that old weakness. As you may expect, it coughs up an achievement almost instantly – a tidy 50G for constructing the first hut. And so, I regularly checked in on the accursed thing for a few days hoping for more.

Pre-occupied, I forgot to load it up on Saturday. Then on Sunday, I decided it was time to uninstall and move on. After loading it up for one last time, after just a mere day away, I expected to find the titular villagers either hungry or miserable. You know, the usual psychological tricks developers use to prevent you from staying away, ergo potentially spending money, for too long.

What I discovered was far, far, worse. Morbid, in fact. Due to not checking in for a day, four of the five villagers had not only died, but they were now decomposing. To make this moment more horrific, the last remaining villager – a tiny child – was currently clutching the remains of what was presumably her virtual mother.

Virtual Villagers Origins 2’s age rating? Suitable for ages 3+.

I wasn’t exactly left inconsolable. Video games are renowned for being violent and gross. I was however slightly shocked to see such a thing in an otherwise jolly and inoffensive experience. It’s akin to playing a bootleg NES game and finding that the cutesy protagonist has a gruesome death animation – something totally unexpected.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about the game’s target demographic (children), and what effect the sight of seeing their virtual beings dead and decaying might have. I imagine most would feel a little distraught, especially after investing time (and maybe money) in keeping them happy and alive.

Usually death in video games – especially ones with a 3+ age ratings – is signified by a gravestone or a ghostly angel with wings and a halo, not with a decaying corpse being held by a child. Jesus wept.

I can think of just two reasons why Microsoft allows these hideous barely-a-game experiences on Xbox One. Firstly, to broaden the Xbox One’s library so that it caters for all and sundry. Secondly, because they make money. With their colourful exterior and zero initial outlay, they’re able to lure a small percentage of gamers happy to open their wallets.

Resist if you can - Virtual Villagers Origins 2 makes the detestable likes of Battle Island look good. What a horrid little “game”.

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