The objectives of most of the video games I play fall into one of two categories: kill all of the people, or help some of the people by killing all of the other people. As a result, I’ve spent thousands of hours committing extreme and remorseless acts of violence upon virtual human beings. While I find causing horrible injuries to be a lot of fun, I figure it might be nice try to healing a few, so today I’m going to put down my knife and stop cutting people, and pick up a knife and start cutting people. But in a helpful way.
I bought a copy of Surgery Simulator, by Excalibur Publishing, a game that lets you perform a number of surgical operations on sick or injured patients, or as my gamer brain interprets the goal: kill all of the injuries with careful medical violence.
Previous Experience: I’ve never performed surgery in real life, though when I was a kid I had a wart on my elbow that I decided to cut off using an ice cube and a pair of scissors. I learned that ice doesn’t do anything but make your elbow sort of cold, and that cutting part of yourself off with scissors hurts and you should stop it right away. In video games, I’ve played as a medic in combat games every now and then, though medically speaking, the healing mainly consisted of handing a medical kit to someone in need or pointing a magic healing ray at a large, bald, hollering Russian. Surgery Simulator promises to be a bit more complex.
The Sim: The entire game takes place in single operating room, and the “animated surgical staff” promised on the box consists of an anesthetist and a “theater sister” who stand stock still but sometimes move their arms a little bit to adjust their masks.
The tutorial quickly walks me through the steps of how to cut a hole into someone’s arm and sew it back up. It’s pretty easy: you have a tray of the items you’ll be using, and the theatre sister tells you exactly what to do at every step. You start by shaving the area, disinfecting it with orange spray paint, then cutting it open by following the green dotted lines. There’s a little bit in the middle where you have to fiddle with sliders to adjust the anesthetic and infuse the patient if they lose too much blood, then you follow more dotted lines to stitch them back up.
My first real surgical procedure is on a man who fell down while doing some shopping and cut his arm and hurt his leg. It amounts to giving him a couple stitches and a bandage, which doesn’t really seem to warrant a complete surgical staff and a sterile operating room. Also, how much of a spaz do you have to be to you tear open your arm while shopping? Despite my hatred for the patient and his stupid clumsy shopping behavior, I go about my task, carefully shaving around the wounds, and when that doesn’t satisfy the game, being certain to shave inside the wounds as well. Then I stitch up the wounds, and wrap a bandage around the patients leg.
Once I’m done with the shopping guy, it’s on to a real real procedure: removing someone’s appendix. First, I spray paint the guy’s stomach orange with disinfectant, then make an incision with a scalpel, then attach retractors to hold the wound open. Using forceps, I sever the connective tissue, then grab the tip of the appendix and carefully pull it out of the appendix hole I just made. This is what is known in medical circles as “really gross.”
Though I was definitely happier before I knew the human appendix looked like a penis, the procedure still seems to be going well, right up until the point where it starts going less well. I’ve been neglecting what we qualified surgeons refer to as “That Annoying Beeping Noise.” This wuss on the slab apparently can’t handle having his stomach sliced open and his inner penis yanked out, and his vitals have gotten “Too Beepy” (again, qualified surgeon-speak). I’ve failed. The operation is over.
With the patient dead due to my ignorance, I grimly check the clock on the wall and choose the option for “Declare Time Of Death In A Somber Tone Of Voice.” I click on the door to the waiting room, and inform the weeping family that we did everything we could, but unfortunately, their beloved whatsisname has died from an acute case of deadly stomach penises. Then I click on “Go Home To Giant Mansion” where the theater sister does her best to console me with tender, barely animated sex. Afterward, I lie awake, staring at the ceiling, and click on the option to “Wonder Why, With All My God-Given Surgical Talents, I Couldn’t Save Him, Dammit.”
Okay, the preceding paragraph is a complete fabrication. What really happens is an angry window pops up and tells me the patients vitals went critical and they had to stop the operation. I guess they just stuffed his extra penis back into him, because I get to try again from the beginning.
This time I’m more careful with my patient’s Beeps. As soon as I detect a change, I stop what I’m doing and start adjusting the anesthesia and infusion sliders to keep his vitals within acceptable limits. Again, I muff it, but on the third try I manage to keep his stupid fragile body alive long enough to kill his internal dong and sew him back up.
By my third operation, I’m in the zone. I start skimming the instructions just long enough to spot the proper tool name, grab it, and click along the appropriate guidelines, fussing with the infusion and anesthetic sliders when I notice the patient’s vitals changing. Soon I’m blowing through hernia operations, cutting out tonsils, removing varicose veins, and repairing leg fractures (with a drill and giant screws) while barely paying attention to anything. The only procedure I’m having trouble with is bandaging, which is probably the only thing I’m actually qualified to do in real life.
Then, we reach the final operation, cataract surgery. Damn! It’s like the game knew my one weakness: unlike most people, I don’t enjoy the thought of someone sticking a knife into my eye. Even with the low-grade graphics, I’m not particularly comfortable messing around with a giant eyeball. As soon as I start destroying the lens of the eye, the patient goes from being Beepy to Too Beepy to Very Seriously Beepy Indeed. The operation is halted with half the patient’s eye cut out. Sorry! At least an eyepatch will let you look kinda cool in the meantime.
Conclusion: I am a surgeon! And not even a terrible one, mostly. After a couple false starts and ten minutes of practice, it turns out surgery is super easy. You just sort of pay attention and do what the nurse tells you, and if you fail, you try again, and no one ever dies or sues you.