In response to "The State of Gaming Nature" from The Escapist forums:
What's interesting to me about both Hobbes and Rousseau is that neither seemed to really get into how the genesis of "society" plays into our state of nature. They seemed to speak as though Society was somehow imposed on us by an outside force, some unseen "zookeeper," rather than constructed by mankind itself. Society isn't in conflict with our nature. It reveals our nature, or rather what we feel about our nature, because we created it.

The nature of a man, when you get right down to it, is self. Myself and my needs are the first things I know and understand, all else be damned. I'm hungry, so I cry until food is brought. I want a cookie, so I take it from the jar. We are selfish by nature.

Now, the problem with that statement comes when we try to assign a moral weight to being "selfish." Selfishness is morally neutral, neither good nor bad on its own. We are only so because, at the beginning, Self is all we know. Later, we begin to learn to utilize other people to help meet our needs (such as crying because we understand it will cause others to fill those needs). Even later, we begin to understand that behaving in certain ways (sharing, being polite) greatly expedites this process.

Much later, after much practice, we begin to really understand and empathize with others. We say, "Please," and "Thank you," and, "I'm sorry," because we understand how we would feel in the other person's shoes... but still, we are understanding those feelings through the filter of self.

In the end, society and its rules developed for two reasons: fear and empathy.

Hobbes focuses on the fear: We'd love to take whatever we want, but we know that a world in which that is permissible means it can be done to us. There will always be someone stronger, so we know that we would constantly have to protect what is ours. In a sense, we fear the freedom that others might have, so we forfeit a bit of ours to establish something of an armistice.

Rousseau focuses on the empathy: As social creatures, we understand that we need each other to best survive and thrive. Your broken leg means neither of us will eat tonight, unless I help you. Additionally, if I help you when you're in need, you'll do the same for me when my time comes.

And both men are right, though seemingly opposing. They're entering the same room through different doors, and that room is Self. In the Hobbes-ian view, we fear for our Self and what others might do against it. In the Rousseau-ian view, we empathize with the Self of others because we know what they can do for our own.

Rousseau's angle is the more advanced, to be sure. A person has to be willing to put aside or delay gratification of the Self to truly feel and act upon that empathy. But the fact that such a thing takes effort (and, for many, law) demonstrates that something about it runs counter to our nature. Meanwhile, Hobbes's approach doesn't account for the fact that society somehow emerged from that brutal and selfish nature--something about the "law of the jungle" also conflicts with our nature.

As for the games themselves, I really found New Vegas to provide a more accurate representation of our nature, in that it doesn't put the player in either camp. It shows us both sides (with the raiders on one end, and the Followers on the other, and other factions strewn in between), and then lets us choose--gradually. It's not just a matter of "choose to do combat and leave the helping," or "choose to do the helping and shun the combat." You can make those choices within a single quest, based on how you resolve it.

- Dastardly

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