Ahhh! Robot. Cold and heartless, metal beasts, carrying with them no emotion. I think back to the X-Men cartoons of the 90s and the only scary things from that series, the Sentinels. Sentinels were emotionless metal hunters bent on the apprehension and then termination of all mutants. Compared to the never dying and emotionally fragile mutants who made up the series, Sentinels were the only characters who showed no humor, no care – that’s what made them scary. Sentinels were towering walking buildings with monotone voices. They did not have human bodies with robot parts, enabling the audience to better relate to them. No, Sentinels could not be related to. They were were giant metal aliens to the human world, they were frightening.
Robots of today’s graphical adventures, generated by processors and not pencils, are too relatable. They are at times like the other ‘buddy’ of a buddy cop movie. They are, often, an ally and not a feared steel encased executioner. They are not Arnold…at least in the first Terminator. Sometimes they are so docile they are even called a dog.
Half-Life 2’s robotic, fetching, four legged friend Dog was a pet. He was a helping hand/paw. His presence was fun but again, his presence was comforting to the player. He made the trying journey of Half Life 2 less daunting. He coddled the player through to the end. Dog wasn’t an oily geared gadget of grotesque.
Robots have constantly been used as companions. Many of times they have been used as short-in-stature comedians (see R2D2). Borderlands’ claptraps encompass the midget stand up comic role in its entirety. It is not a poor representation of robots in games but it does further distance the fear factor we no longer see with robots in video games. I do give credit to developer Gearbox Software and publisher 2K Games for seeing the claptrap as a potential enemy. The entertaining Borderlands’ DLC, Claptrap’s Robot Revolution, was fun but I never did fear the joke cracking miniature robots with rockets…but that was never their intention in design, but I kind of wish it was.
There is some hope for the future, a future that involves meat bags being battered to blood pools, in the video game world. With Fallout: New Vegas we saw a glimpse of a robot that was cool, calculated and at times a touch scary. The floating companion ED-E was a robotic companion that, through its miss-wired programing, laser beamed foes to ashes with what could be seen, at surface level, joy.
ED-E is a glimpse into what could be a resurgence of of the Terminator-esque robots of old. Robots that were feared and had no moral blocker keeping them from their programed need to kill. Robots, lacking human emotion, seemed alien. Robots had character without having to have dialogue. Bring on the video card empowered Sentinels!