Playing with Good and Evil synopsis

Linked in the “required reading” section is my master’s thesis, “Playing with Good and Evil: Videogames and Moral Philosophy.” Essentially, it attempts to articulate one way in which videogames can advance arguments in general, and arguments about moral philosophy specifically.

In the first section, I propose the idea of an internal “ethics” of gameplay, a loose rule system that players are compelled (but not required) to obey. Distilled to its simplest form, players are generally compelled to perform certain actions and enact certain strategies that help achieve the win condition. While players have a good deal of control over the avatar’s individual actions at the micro level, the game’s rule system rewards some actions, punishes others, and completely ignores actions that fall out of the game’s reward/punishment feedback system. Videogames thus allow players to feel as if they bear responsibility for actions that are effectively dictated by their having attempted to play the game to its conclusion. These actions can be imbued with moral significance through the use of a narrative/fiction that is internally consistent, conditionally similar to observed reality, and effectively integrated with the game’s rule system.

In the second section, I examine Peter Molyneux’s Fable. In Fable, the highly touted moral system is poorly integrated with the narrative and internally inconsistent, resulting in the creation of moral rules that are both bizarre and counterintuitive. In an attempt to imagine what a more cohesive and ambitious morality “engine” might look like, I propose changes to Fable’s design that model two radically different moral philosophies: the deontological morality of Immanuel Kant and the consequentialist utilitarianism established in the writings of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

In the third section, I examine how existing games handle moral issues relating to the “War on Terror,” specifically the treatment of civilian combatants and the use of torture for interrogation purposes. Because this chapter concerns specific issues instead of more totalizing moral visions, the selection of primary texts is wider, including such games as Command & Conquer: Generals, The Punisher, State of Emergency 2, The Godfather, and Reservoir Dogs. By articulating the issues that these games address, I discern the issues that they studiously avoid, and the questionable arguments they (perhaps unintentionally) advance in the process. From this, I propose a more nuanced depiction of warfare that acknowledges long-term political and moral concerns.

I am in the process of expanding on this work, and any questions or comments are entirely welcome.

Peter Rauch

2 thoughts on “Playing with Good and Evil synopsis

  1. Peter, one aspect of your paper that I appreciate is moving beyond the rather pointless debate between games-as-rules and games-as-narrative to a synthesis of both.

    Something I’ve been pondering recently apropos to the “ethics” of gameplay is whether there’s a moral/ethic analogue to the physics engine of today’s games. That is, providing some subset of the rules of physics creates realism, fun, and game mechanics for a certain set of games (those that simulate something physical). What, then, is necessary for creating games that highlight moral decision-making? A “social physics” engine? Real people but arranged in game roles?

  2. The danger about it that you know most of who playing games these days are youngsters and imagine the mass of violence and anything goes for the purpose of winning away from considering moral sides.
    I consider games one of the most dangerous mean of stereotyping minds of kids.
    That’s enough for today folks.
    Ciao for now

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