Undertale: conclusive proof that humans are social animals?

For those of you who don’t know it, Undertale is a great indie RPG which has a compelling and rich storyline and characters. But you need to get all the endings to really understand the whole story. And one of those endings is “genocide,” meaning that you need to kill everything you can, including almost all the main characters.

I’ve been watching people doing genocide runs of Undertale. I think this is really interesting because people are really not happy with it. They are sad, anxious, and will even cry if they kill a particularly beloved character. I find that interesting because, under the position that all humans are fundamentally selfish, it makes no sense at all for people to mar their enjoyment of a video game with sadness or anxiety. At least with movies you can say that seeing humans on screen explains it, and most video games involving human characters. But in this case, there are no human characters except yourself (and also *censored due to spoiler*), so empathy for another human being has nothing to do with it.

I think it’s a pretty conclusive demonstration that humans are basically social animals. As long as we identify with a story, our moral and emotional evaluations go along with that story.

10 thoughts on “Undertale: conclusive proof that humans are social animals?

  1. sbt42 December 17, 2015 at 12:32

    I think you’d have an easier time convincing others that “it’s possible for game makers to write a compelling story,” as opposed to “humans are social animals.”

  2. Independent Radical December 18, 2015 at 00:20

    I wonder why people are distressed about killing characters in this game, but not in games like Grand Theft Auto where they do it repeatedly in very graphic ways. I have not played the game you are discussing though, so perhaps there is something I am missing (do not tell me because it sounds like an interesting game and hopefully I will have the chance to play it sometime).

    • Francois Tremblay December 18, 2015 at 00:49

      Well, Undertale is a deep and involving story with a number of major characters that you talk with a great deal, and they are all likeable and sympathetic characters. Especially since one of the ways of winning the game, and the way to get the “best” (i.e. most satisfying) ending, is to not harm anything you encounter and to fulfill at least one of the major characters’ story arc, so people start by getting involved more deeply. So it triggers our social instincts: the characters become part of our social network, despite the fact that they’re fictional and not even human-looking. That makes killing them a lot more difficult emotionally than it would be otherwise.

      Grand Theft Auto seems to be mostly about driving around, shooting people and stealing stuff. So while there is also a story, and the characters are all human, the characters don’t really draw you in because you’re mostly concerned about the mechanics.

      I mean, I doubt anyone cried while playing GTA. People cry all the time when playing Undertale. I cry just watching other people play it! So I can only imagine what it’s like playing it. The Genocide run takes a big toll on everyone, even the gamer bros I’ve seen doing it.

  3. sbt42 December 18, 2015 at 07:05

    I think your response here is what I was driving at. It would seem to me that it would be easier on your part to persuade your audience that the compelling story in Undertale is what drives people to become attached to the characters. It appears to me as more of an intellectual leap to conclude that humans are social animals, based on responses to a video game.

    Is Undertale a solo RPG? How can one possibly support the notion that the game proves we’re social animals when they play the game literally alone, without any other humans? It’s true that humans designed the game so they can take credit for providing entertainment value for other humans, some kind of transcendent experience, but I think that’s the limit.

    I’d also say that the GTA example cited above discourages your original point. The games (well, the last one I ever played was GTA Vice City) are teeming with virtual life, yet the player receives positive feedback for antisocial behaviour, including theft, assault, murder, all manner of property damage, and beyond.

    I’ve not played Undertale, but I’ve played video games much of my life and I’m a big fan of them. However, although there are obviously some games with incredibly moving moments I don’t think they’re suitable in general to substantiate the social aspect of humanity. I’d chalk this one up to awesome and talented writers, not RPGs or video games in general.

    • Francois Tremblay December 18, 2015 at 15:54

      I don’t understand why you insist in saying that a great story explains away what I saw. I thought FF6 was a great story too when I was younger, but it didn’t bother me at all to kill everything in sight. Some people say GTA series also has great storylines, but it doesn’t seem to bother anyone to kill people either, due to, as you said, antisocial behavior being the norm in those games (you’re the one contradicting yourself!). Clearly it has to do with the connections you form with the characters, not just the story being great.

      • sbt42 December 19, 2015 at 12:05


        I must be taking a broader view of videogame entertainment than what you’ve taken for this post.

        I ought to actually play Undertale before trying to comment further.

        • Francois Tremblay December 21, 2015 at 01:35

          I just don’t really understand how what you said is a refutation of what I wrote in the entry.

          • sbt42 December 21, 2015 at 08:12

            I just didn’t come to the same conclusion you did, that’s all.

            Again, I want to play the game before I try to comment more on this. I’ve seen it for $10, so I will likely be able to afford it.

            I may come back to this entry after playing and thinking on it a while.

  4. John Doe March 1, 2016 at 20:54

    Well, since we are on the subject of entertainment and how it personally effects people, I was thinking about continuing our discussion on animation, if you want to of course. We’ve already talked about my latest obsession with “Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt,” and how modern anime appeals to a status quo, now it’s time for some parts of western animation to get a taste of its own medicine, too, because it is just as guilty. As of late, things have been really hitting the fan for me and it’s about time I spoke up.

    As I stated, the status quo of anime is that it appeals to the lowest common denominator. Well, guess what, western animation is no different with Cartoon Network’s rebooting of “The Powerpuff Girls.” The reboot features an art style that is radically different from what it is based on and I am not sure that I can appreciate it. It’s one thing to try something new but it is a whole other thing to ride on the coattails of “Adventure Time,” “Clarence,” and “Regular Show,” the latter two having completely uninspired art styles, I find. The majority of people I have met, wouldn’t you know it, feel threatened when this is pointed out because they are calling for change for the sake of change.

    They always feel threatened and they always project their feelings onto the minority and stomp them out. It’s been that way since people protested Twilight Sparkle becoming an alicorn in “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.” I must make the confession that I was formerly a brony and now just saying the title of that show makes my stomach turn. The worst came with the arrival of “Steven Universe,” a show that I cannot tolerate any more than the others because it’s simply far too deep and dramatic than it needs to be.

    Plus, there is the damn preaching. “My Little Pony” is bad enough when it continues its saccharine legacy of preaching friendship, but “Steven Universe” took it to a whole new level. It reached a point of spilling over when one fan was sharply criticized for portraying out-of-characters, namely a thin Rose Quartz who is supposed to be overweight, among other problems. Everything was blown right the fuck out of proportion when she attempted suicide to escape the criticism, from my point of view. I tried getting the whole story from both sides, but it was an emotionally defeating effort.

    Truth be told, I had the damnedest feeling that something like this was going to happen to “The Powerpuff Girls.” I plead with Craig McCracken twice to instead reboot “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” because for a show that centered on the importance of friendship and the imagination, it featured some of the meanest forms of comedy and skipped out on a lot of missed opportunities. “Panty and Stocking” is different because it encourages evolution underneath its randomness and satire. A lot of people hate it because it supposedly has no objective point, whatever the hell that means.

    If you want to talk about video games, please for the love of god, do not get me started on the Sonic fandom.

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