Okay. I’ve got a puzzle in Inaria that requires the player to choose whether or not to attack a harmless but annoying NPC. The NPC is initially flagged as friendly.

For a long time, NPCs flagged as friendly would go hostile if you attacked them, attacking back (usually futilely). No big deal, right?

Except that Inaria has several children in it. Which means for a while you could attack and kill the children. This would get the game an AO rating from the ESRB.

The easiest thing to do, of course, is to take the children out.

This phenomenon is called Hide Your Children.

Lots of games get around this in different ways. Play any Grand Theft Auto game and you will notice that there are no children anywhere. This obviously is not realistic. Fallout 3 has children, but makes them un-attackable (the worst you can do is knock them out). This is also unrealistic.

So do I put killable children in my game?

This reminds me of a story. (Collective groan from the audience.)

Back when designing Ultima V, Richard was running through his tileset looking for monsters to populate a combat room and stopped on a curious choice – children. He proceeded to build a room full of little cells, each of which contained a child. Pulling a switch would free the children, who would then – since they had monster AI – promptly attack the party. He actually lost a tester over this, who claimed Richard was promoting child abuse. Even Richard’s parents got into the act, telling him, “It’s just this one little room, why are you fighting so hard to keep it?”

Richard replied that a) it wasn’t necessary to kill the children just because they attack you; Ultima had multiple humane ways (sleep and charm spells being the most common) that would allow the player to resolve the combat without harming the children and b) the very controversy that this room sparked proved that it had merit – it made people think in the midst of a dungeon slaughterfest. Ultimately the room was kept in and you can see it today.

So do I keep my kids? Do I keep them, but make them un-attackable? Or do I Hide My Children?

Fallout 1 and 2 would give you the anti-Perk “Childkiller” if you killed a child, which made it almost impossible to complete the game because any time you entered a civilized area, everybody (including quest-vital NPCs) would attack you. I kind of like that.

But, in the end, I DON’T need my first for-pay game to generate controversy. I want Rock Paper Shotgun talking about the game itself, not the fact that one of the sprites in the game looks like a child and you can pretend to kill that sprite.

What say you?