(Warning: This involves discussion of sensitive material including real life atrocities)
I love Undertale. However my love is not without caveat and I must confess it does sort of trivialise genocide. Now you might be thinking something along the lines of: How can you say such venomous slander! The Monsters are desperate! They were only trying to do what was right for their people! Wouldn’t you want revenge after what humanity did? Who can blame them? The problem with these defences is that some of the worst war crimes in human history were based on similar justifications.
For instance, the horrific genocide in Rwanda in 1994 committed by the Hutus against the Tutsis bears a uncanny similarity in its roots goals and to the Monsters’ intentions towards Humanity. Rwanda’s neighbour, Burundi was for decades dominated by a Tutsi minority reigning over a Hutu majority, in contrast to Rwanda where the Hutus had dominated the Tutsis ever since a 1958 revolution.
Burundi’s Hutus were often on the brunt of persecution by its Tutsi government, particularly in the genocide of 1972 where somewhere between 100’000 and 200’000 Hutus were massacred by the army, forcing survivors to seek shelter in Rwanda. Similar events occurred in 1988, where more escapees from the killing were driven across the border. The reaction to these massacres created a feeling both in the refugees and the Hutus of Rwanda that Tutsis were inherently evil, even subhuman beings who if given the chance would seize control of the country and butcher the Hutu majority.
These feeling were ignited in 1990 when the RPF, a largely Tutsi group made up of people driven out by Hutu revenge attacks for the aforementioned incidents in Burundi invaded. Possibly millions of Hutus were displaced by this, driven into camps where mortality rate was severe. Others lost their jobs due to the displacement and joined the Interahamwe, an extremist anti Tutsi militia which also comprised escapees from Burundi, eager for revenge. Anti-Tutsi feeling was further cemented with magazine and radio propaganda which asserted the message that Tutsis were innately wicked and that the survival of the Hutus depended on their destruction.
The Kangura magazine in particular emphasised past Tutsi crimes and hammered home a message that killing them was necessary to protect the Hutus. These feeling exploded in 1994 with the assassination of Hutu president Habyarimana. The culprits were never conclusively identified, but many blamed the RPF, solidifying a feeling among many Hutus that the Tutsis had to be wiped out.
Spurred by elements within the government and army Hutu citizens and militias spent the next 100 days viscously massacring around 937,000 Tutsi men, women and children. All because they thought they were doing what was right for their people. In summary the events demonstrate a worrying echo of the Monsters actions in Undertale.
· Much like Rwanda the Monster’s desire to wage war on humanity grew out of a wrong that had been done to them in the past.
· Hutu refugees both from Burundi and in Rwanda were driven from their homes and forced to subsist in conditions where their standard of living was greatly reduced, much like the Monsters in Undertale.
· Like the 1972 massacres the actions of the Humans were monstrous, but not geared towards total genocide. In both cases the perpetrators chose to exterminate a section of the target population while leaving others alive.
· Both the Monsters and Hutus made a conscious choices to escalate their retaliation to the level of out and out genocide (As Asgore himself puts it: I declared war. I said that I would destroy any human that came here. I would use their souls to become godlike and free us from this terrible prison. Then, I would destroy humanity and let monsters rule the surface, in peace).
· Both the Hutus and Monsters framed the targets of their anger as essentially evil obstacles that had to be eliminated in order for their people to enjoy a full quality of life, both drawing on a narrative of past victimology to justify their actions.
· The Hutus and the Monsters both believed the targets of their violence to be innately evil.
· Both of them thought that their actions would benefit their loved ones and people in general.
· Both lived in cultures that encouraged these negative views.
· Hutus who sympathised with the Tutsis had less scope for resisting than Monsters like undyne or Asgore, as they would be killed for trying to protect their neighbours.
· The events in Burundi and the RPF invasion had occurred just years before the Rwandan genocide, making the Hutus much more emotionally raw. The Human Monster War occurred millennia ago*.
· Both used desperation to justify their actions, whether it be overcrowding in the Underground or the RPF invasion and internal displacement in Rwanda.
This raises the problem; if we paint the Monsters as super good guys who have perfectly good reasons for wanting to wipe out humanity then how do we judge the Hutus who took part in the massacres? They had suffered at least as much as the Monsters did (Indeed the only monsters in Undertale who suffered directly at the hands of humanity are Asgore, Gerson and maybe Toriel, and the latter two are against restarting the war) but that hardly justifies their appalling crimes.
They allowed themselves to be sucked into the genocidal mentality promoted by their government, even while tens of thousands of their fellow Hutus were butchered by them just for showing a little sympathy for their Tutsi neighbours. I’m not the kind of person who advocates an eye for an eye, but I do believe that crimes ought to be treated with the appropriate severity. I’m not saying the game’s saying that attempting to commit genocide is right, but it doesn’t treat it as a particularly wrong either.
* I have a lot of Irish blood in my family but I don't particularly want to nuke London for what Cromwell did to my ancestors in the 17th century (His invasion killed 400'000 people out of a population of less than 1.5 million).