Video Game Ethics Part 2

While writing Part one of this series I realised that I have more to say on this than I thought. Sorry that Part Two has been so long in coming, between wanting to make sure of everything I wanted to say about this, and having other things to write last week, it’s taken a while. In any case, the continued thesis on the way Ethics play out in Video Games

Talking about Ethics in Video Games is always hard, since some games give you an incredible amount of freedom to make your own choices, while others restrict you to pretty much just shooting/stabbing enemies in linear corridors. The things that I said about Fallout: New Vegas (and I’m given to understand, the Fallout Series in general) aren’t true about the Assassins Creed Series – and that has the potential to undermine everything I have to say on this topic. Most of the examples I would prefer to draw upon (being familiar with them from personal experience) when I discuss the way in which games can provide space for a broad range of ethical or moral are from a single genre (RPGs). Many of the other games I’ve played either have events with the potential to be significant moral choices already made as part of the story they are telling (which is worse if the player doesn’t even have control of the character at this point, but non-interactive storytelling in an interactive medium is a topic I don’t want to get into right now), or characters who have interesting moral and ethical perspectives, and some amazing character arcs, while the player character is a cardboard cutout with little to no personality of their own. Not to say that either of those cannot be good games – two examples that come to mind would be the Assassins Creed games for the former, and Starcraft and Warcraft 3* for the latter – but they don’t offer much in the way of player choice concerning the ethical decisions of their character(s).

Even among the examples of ethical or moral choice that I could give there are differences. Mass Effect had both a ‘good’ and an ‘evil’ slider, both of which increased based on the actions of the player – since both only went up, the results of both sliders showed how you acted (which another blogger so wonderfully explained in this post – it’s closer to the end). The KotOR games both featured an alignment slider (from light-side to dark-side – being a Star Wars game) that went up or down based on the player’s actions, with bonuses given when a character had a high score at either end of the scale – making any real choice other than ‘am I going to use heal or lightning more this play-through’ impossible. Compare both of these to my post about New Vegas, which is a good indicator of both the more recent Fallout games, as well as The Elder Scrolls games (which were made by the same developer). I don’t have a major problem with any of these games as games, all of them offered me good choices which I did sit and think about, but I think that we are still waiting for a game that does this perfectly (or, at least, well enough that it doesn’t feel that I have too much freedom, or that my choices boil down to being either either a complete doormat or a complete jerk – since swapping cripples me from a gameplay perspective)

What I’m saying is that games as a medium could do more to explore the ethics and morality of the player, as well as generally . There are some good examples where players are free to express themselves – I spent a thousand words talking about one of them two weeks ago – but I honestly would like to see more games that allow the player to make these sorts of decisions. I’d like to play more games that offer me a choice which causes me to sit and consider exactly what I really think and believe about a subject, and make a decision based on how I would react to being in that position (on any of the sides involved). I’d like to be so drawn into the world that I can make choices that I already have firm opinions on easily and quickly, without being concerned for how this will affect my ‘morality slider’, and whether it will cripple me in the future.

I’m not sure exactly how to wrap this up, but if you feel the same way, or if you have an opinion on any of this stuff, feel free to jump in and comment, see if we can get a discussion going……

*Which have no player character, since both of which are story driven, character based Strategy Games (The player is simply the giant hand which order the armies around, and nothing more).

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