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  1. #1
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    Where are all my moralistic videogames?

    Is it just me, or have you guys noticed that gaming is saturated with vapid, sociopathic murder simulators?

    I don't just mean your calls of duty and your halves of lives, either -- civillization, kings bounty, combat mission, galactic civillization, baldur's gate... Videogames are, by and large, all morally bankrupt. There are a couple of exceptions, and i'll come back to them, but most games, especially (and most offensively) those with so called 'choices and consequences' seem to do their best NOT to edify about morality in any meaningful way.

    The average, elemental videogame, one could say, is actually inherently immoral. I speculate that this stems from the dungeons and dragons shoot and loot rule systems that most gaming derives from... But I don't really know.

    Oldschool scoring systems, modern xp based reward systems, and plain old compulsive completionism all encourage the player to scour any level or region for enemies to kill, rivals to eliminate, and equipment to gather. The accruement of resources without regard for anyone else is every player's second priority, and the destruction of anybody who isn't on the player's team is priority #1. And I haven't played very many games, even games that ostensibly ought to say something about morality or human responsibility (i'm looking at mass effect, fallout, civillization) which differ from this structure at all.

    While a lack of morals certainly shouldn't limit a game's ability to be just plain fun, it seems like a gigantic and a somewhat disconcerting missed opportunity. Games wield huge budgets to weave elaborate simulations, with visceral writing and graphics and explosions and what have you -- why can't a game even acknowledge the human, moral implications of your actions?

    I don't mean a cutesy, dark humor nod to suffering like you see in Fallout -- I mean an actual, edifying investigation of the player's impact on the world? Or, hell, an even edifying investigation of the VILLIAN's impact on the world? And games that claim to feature moral choices -- elder scrolls, mass effect, and the other mainstream rpgs -- are perhaps the most offensive about this. They boil down a moral choice to a loot reward and maybe a cool cutscene, with no room for thoughtful investigation into the meaning or consequences of the action.

    There certainly a few games that addressed morality in interesting ways, but I, personally, can only think of one that jumps out at me --

    Deus ex, actually -- and I think this contributed to its success -- is a strongly edifying, moral game. Discussion of the use of power, the presence of power, and implications -- even if they're as little as a scornful dialogue quip -- to your actions go a long way. Just acknowledging that the immense power jc denton wields comes with a little responsibility is a big step above what I see in most games.

    Bioshock, I guess, attempted to investigate this kind of thing too, even if it was in a largely non-interactive way, but I think it fell pretty flat.


    So why don't you think more games address morality or human suffering in more upfront ways? Have you played any games you saw as strongly moralistic? Bear in mind just having characters who clearly have moral intentions doesn't necessarily make your game morally edifying -- doomguy just wants to save the world, but doom still deftly avoided any potential questions about the nature of heroism or sacrifice.

  2. #2
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    The Witcher games come to mind.

  3. #3
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    is it just me, or do we need video games to be even more vapid and boring
    a grumpy dude with a PHD in videogame debating

  4. #4
    Lesser Hivemind Node Kaira-'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by acidtestportfolio View Post
    is it just me, or do we need video games to be even more vapid and boring
    Personally, I'd say video games should rely on violence MUCH less. Relying on violence as the main game mechanic just shows the lack of imagination. Now, if someone could make, let's say, 12 Angry Men into enthralling game experience, that would be very great.

    [E] Yeah, this is tad offtopic from the topic of morality, but still.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Catguy View Post
    Is it just me, or have you guys noticed that gaming is saturated with vapid, sociopathic murder simulators?
    Nothing wrong with murder if your not actually murdering someone. I can see why you would want more games with deep meanings, but I personally would find that more boring. As horrible as it sounds, I love killing people in games. But I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

  6. #6
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    I love games like that too! I'm glad plenty of games like that get made ever year! But that doesn't make the absence of games that do have a moral message any less appalling.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kaira- View Post
    Personally, I'd say video games should rely on violence MUCH less. Relying on violence as the main game mechanic just shows the lack of imagination.
    true

    but that's not going to happen any time soon until after the AAA gaming industry enters their death throes
    a grumpy dude with a PHD in videogame debating

  8. #8
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Drake Sigar's Avatar
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    Nothing wrong with a bit of genocide, I just donít think it should be the only game type out there.

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    Better to give you the power to murder, but as a last resort.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Catguy View Post
    While a lack of morals certainly shouldn't limit a game's ability to be just plain fun, it seems like a gigantic and a somewhat disconcerting missed opportunity. Games wield huge budgets to weave elaborate simulations, with visceral writing and graphics and explosions and what have you -- why can't a game even acknowledge the human, moral implications of your actions?
    Think of the bioware titles from the past 10 years or so. You're often given a situation where you can help someone (reunite their family, help pay their debt, whatever. you know, the kind of thing you'd trust to any stranger who just wandered past) and if you choose to help them or not, you might feel good (or not) and you might get some experience points (same as you would for completing any other action in the game). Much like how morality plays out in the real world, you get a warm fuzzy feeling (perhaps) if you do something good, but the world isn't going to be turned upside down by your actions; more likely, no one will even notice and you'll never see the person in question ever again.

    Unless by "edifying" you mean that games should reinforce the morals which you see as good. But I'd much rather have a game (like fallout) where your actions have consequences and it's up to you to decide whether you can live with them or not. The game itself should (imo) be amoral, and I do what I want with it.


    P.S. - I should also add that I greatly enjoy having the power to destroy worlds should I be in a bad mood. Morality shouldn't get in the way of my fantastic whims.
    Last edited by zookeeper; 08-10-2011 at 09:55 PM.

  11. #11
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    The bioware example doesn't hold up at all -- you're rewarded for either path, just differently. Typically xp and items on one, xp and money on the other. It's not inherently bad, but it's vapid, lazy, cookie-cutter thematic design. Balancing a game which's major selling point is storytelling in simplistic ways without any thought of the meaning or implications behind it. It seems like the pervading idea is that mechanics and story are completely divorced, and that's a ludicrous idea -- the actual narrative of a game happens during the gameplay as much as it does during the canned dialogue scenes, and getting a new spell as a reward for being a good guy doesn't make me feel moral, it makes me feel practical.

    The deus ex method is, I think, way more powerful: going on a killing spree in the opening mission can mean outright getting less rewards back at unatco. It disgusts your colleagues that you abuse your superhuman powers like that -- but might be easier in the short term.

    As for the amoral fallout method, at risk of repeating myself: we have plenty of games like that, and that's fine, but why don't we also have games that do take a strong moral stance? Can't we have some moral games to go along side our amoral and immoral ones? It just seems like a missed opportunity.
    Last edited by Catguy; 08-10-2011 at 10:03 PM. Reason: bad writing, ick!

  12. #12
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    No mention of Ultima IV? Thread starter failed to do enough research.

  13. #13
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    Yeah, I wrote "Have you played any games you saw as strongly moralistic?" to secretly trick you into telling me about games that I was too lazy to research. You caught me.

  14. #14
    Perhaps I'm confused as to what it is you're looking for? What is it that you mean by "take a strong moral stance?" One of the central advantages of games is that the player is allowed choice. If you decide to help slavers in fallout then people don't like you and some won't want to work with you because most people find slavery to be morally wrong. Sounds like a moral stance to me (though it's less of the game taking a moral stance than it is the characters in the game). You want the game to tell you your actions are wrong? You would like there to be no rewards for immoral behaviour?

  15. #15
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Drake Sigar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wizardry View Post
    No mention of Ultima IV? Thread starter failed to do enough research.
    I’m curious, why pick Ultima IV? Ultima V took the eight virtues your character supposedly embodies and made them the mandatory laws of a fascist state, while Ultima VII has you combating a race that is only trying to save their world from a calamity your character’s zealous actions caused in the first place. Ultima IV is a good example of moral philosophy, but I think the other two are more potent.

  16. #16
    Lesser Hivemind Node icupnimpn2's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Land Squid View Post
    Nothing wrong with murder if your not actually murdering someone. I can see why you would want more games with deep meanings, but I personally would find that more boring. As horrible as it sounds, I love killing people in games. But I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
    I don't buy the "nothing wrong with x if you're not actually x-ing someone" argument. "Nothing wrong with underage sex if you're not actually having sex with the underage." "Nothing wrong with calling someone a Nigger if you're not actually calling someone a Nigger."

    Less wrong? By most measures. Nothing wrong? I think you'd have to look at what is driving the desire to participate in such acts, even virtually. If someone actually did half of the crap in real life that is done in video games they would go down as about the world's #1 sociopath. Look at the Columbine shootings. I don't think those kids really were inspired to acts of horrible violence by video games, but their acts certainly mirror the senseless, emotionless killing glorified in many games.

    I will play some shooting games, whether 1st or 3rd person. But I enjoy these games as implementations of the child's game Tag. "Got you!" Tag is fun, that's why so many kids play it. It's about chasing and being chased. I don't need or desire to see chunks of brain or blown off body parts.

    Having said all that I don't have a great handle on what the OP is asking for. Take a look at Half-life. It is violent, yes. Is it devoid of morality? Not really. Gordon isn't attacking random strangers. He's fighting to survive and to defeat evil monsters.

    What happens if he fails? Well, his life ends and we don't really know. There must be repercussions, they're just not programmed in. And that's the real problem, OP. What if Gordon just put down the gun? Can he walk away and live out 50 years of peace in some dusty corner of the world? The game doesn't present you with these choices since it would be technologically impractical. To show the moral consequences of all actions in any meaningful way is to program in more paths for the game.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Drake Sigar View Post
    I’m curious, why pick Ultima IV? Ultima V took the eight virtues your character supposedly embodies and made them the mandatory laws of a fascist state, while Ultima VII has you combating a race that is only trying to save their world from a calamity your character’s zealous actions caused in the first place. Ultima IV is a good example of moral philosophy, but I think the other two are more potent.
    I think you mean Ultima VI there. Not Ultima VII. And the reason I mentioned Ultima IV is because Ultima IV is purely about morality while Ultima V can be seen as being about saving Lord British and Ultima VI about creating peace among two warring factions. They all deal with the virtues, but Ultima IV deals with them more in terms of gameplay.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by icupnimpn2 View Post
    Having said all that I don't have a great handle on what the OP is asking for. Take a look at Half-life. It is violent, yes. Is it devoid of morality? Not really. Gordon isn't attacking random strangers. He's fighting to survive and to defeat evil monsters.
    I'm looking for games that address or edify morality as a central theme. Not games that simply feature moral protagonists -- and i'm looking for games that are intelligent about it, not merely featuring it as a mechanical hook.

    I really have very little experience with the Ultima series, it was largely before my time. I played Ultima I, a bit, and i played ultima underworld. Can anyone tell me more about IV?

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by icupnimpn2 View Post
    Less wrong? By most measures. Nothing wrong? I think you'd have to look at what is driving the desire to participate in such acts, even virtually. If someone actually did half of the crap in real life that is done in video games they would go down as about the world's #1 sociopath.
    I don't think there's anything wrong with having a desire for something, no matter how horrible it may be. What IS wrong is satisfying that desire by hurting someone else, or otherwise depriving someone of their human rights. But playing a game doesn't do that. Unless, of course, it is racist or sexist or discrimnatory in some other way. Which I think is where your 'nigger' example differs from violence. It WOULD be wrong if I did half the things I do in computer games, but I don't.





    I will play some shooting games, whether 1st or 3rd person. But I enjoy these games as implementations of the child's game Tag. "Got you!" Tag is fun, that's why so many kids play it. It's about chasing and being chased. I don't need or desire to see chunks of brain or blown off body parts.
    For my part, I don't buy this. Maybe your a special case, but if what your saying applies to most people, where are all the pure Tag games? As far as I know there are none. Now look at the vast amount of shooters. Look at all the violent horror films and action movies. Enjoying violence is just part of being male, and if you play a game to get that enjoyment I feel to see why that is wrong. No one is being hurt. Just pixels. Now if that game was based, for instance, on killing just chinese people, with no good reason, then that would be wrong, because your insulting real life people, but generic videogame violence is not wrong.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Land Squid View Post
    Enjoying violence is just part of being male, and if you play a game to get that enjoyment I feel to see why that is wrong.
    I have a slightly different take on this. I think violence is interesting to us in media for purely aesthetic reasons. We enjoy it because we enjoy seeing cause and effect, and thorough simulation. The reason we enjoy violence in particular is the same reason we enjoy love stories and tragedies so much -- we have a very, very visceral response to violence, and it lets us engage with the simulation -- be it a film or a game or a book -- far more than we could with something less personal.

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