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Ethical play – WWTD?

August 26th, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · 3 Comments · Uncategorized

A recent thread on a gaming forum I frequent turned to the question of whether there are some actions in games that you refuse to take on principle. Do you refuse to beat up the prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto? Do you always take the good options in role playing games? I posted that:

Murdering children in Crusader Kings has always been hard for me – especially my own. Sometimes you get a dud heir and want to manipulate things so a better son climbs the succession ladder, but killing one of my own sons because he is a hair-lipped hunchbacked halfwit who steals from his playmates and doesn’t believe in God has never been an easy call.”

I almost never played the police state or the fundamentalists in Alpha Centauri; in fact, I usually headed for the Hive first, and never in peace. These things change, of course, and are never consistent. I never used to raze cities in Civilization until Civ III made corruption and waste such nuisances that the game forced me to virtual genocide. My Sims generally live happy and well balanced lives and I refuse to torture them, but what’s the fun in building a Sim City if you can’t throw a bunch of plagues and natural disasters at it?

Strategy and war games encourage behavior that we would abhor in our presidents and generals because the “people” involved are not real. We are desktop gods, smiting who and where we please. Nukes are dropped willy-nilly, civilians are legitimate targets, conflict is assumed to exist and there can only be one winner.

Still, there are things I hate doing in strategy games even though they obviously work. My Crusader Kings son is not my real son, and his death at the hands of my spymaster is assured. Why not knock him off in favor of a better son? Why don’t I treat the bastards in my court like pariahs? Still, I murder infertile wives.

Like I’ve said, I’m complicated.

Feel free to fill the comments with your own ethical lines, from across the gaming spectrum.


3 Comments so far ↓

  • Hieronymus @ The Game Chair

    Personally, I’ve never really been affected by ethical demands in games. Maybe I don’t get wrapped up enough in them, or maybe I’m really an amoral SOB at heart, I don’t know:-)

    But I have a friend and co-op game partner who will not shoot dogs, even massive fire-breathing wolf dogs. If a game requires him to do it, he won’t play it. And now he’s got me thinking about it too, as I had my first ethical question during my Splinter Cell play, as sometimes the easiest way through a level is to first take down a couple of the dogs.

  • Corvus

    I will not side with racists. I delight in playing games that allow me to turn evil and will gleefully blackmail, murder, knock over old people and steal their wallets, smack children, you name it.

    But ask me to join in on the hate of another being because he’s of a different race or culture and I will walk the straight and narrow, birds fly down from the heavens and feed me morsels of cheese with their beaks. Baby racoons and fauns play at me feet… Well, you get the idea.

    It’s a very frustrating thing. My inner gamer gets a tetchy because he wants to claim we made every evil choice on that play through, but I tell him to shut up or I’ll take us off to read a book or something.

    If a game provides me no other options but to discriminate based on race, chances are I’ll stop playing it.

  • Jim9137

    I really don’t have a such block myself, that would prevent me from playing the game. But I do have moral issues with certain issues, playing completely evil character is nigh impossible for me. Just because I always almost subconciously side with the good side.

    In my recent Fallout game, I’ve been murdering every single person and animal I’ve come across, even the children. Why? Because it was fun to do. But still, I have that nagging sound. Strangely, when I’m presented with a clear “good vs evil” choice in a dialogue, I just can’t take the evil choice. Games reward good people as well, so that’s part of it.

    Hell is another touchy subject for me, in any form of entertainment or literature. I suppose those christian principles have taken more foothold in me than I’m ready to admit.