69: Is Rape Wrong on Azeroth?

"In 1985, noted philosopher Michael Ruse wrote an article entitled 'Is Rape Wrong on Andromeda?' In the article, he postulated that if intelligent alien species existed on other planets in the universe, they might have different notions of morality than our own. ... So, it stands to reason that extraterrestrial morality would be shaped by a set of different environmental pressures, and that an alien's resulting moral code may be quite different than ours as a result. ... How does this relate to games? To put it simply, the environments we experience inside games are other worlds, and many of the avatars we play in them are essentially alien creatures who may seem human from time to time but are not entirely so."

Bruce Sterling Woodcock explores the morality of alternate worlds, asking the question "Is Rape Wrong on Azeroth?"

Is Rape Wrong on Azeroth?

Have you played any of the Geneforge series? Spectactular games, imo, with a really solid morality to it as well. Ultima IV I felt forced into 'virtues' and what not, and it all seemed a touch simplistic. Geneforge though, has let choose morality, but without making ersorting to the kind of Lawful Good vs Chaotic Evil thing you get in a lot of RPGs. The thing I like best is that there are often a few axis of morality at work, usually Control vs Freedom and Responsiblity vs Power. So you can stand up for the rights of the serviles, but still end up a power-mad psychopath, or you can treat them as naught but slaves to do your bidding, but still stand up to the irresponsible use of your powers.
These shades of morality, and the ability to take moral action while following an immoral course, make for a great gaming experience - especially because the choices occur in the context of such a richly fleshed out world and culture (for a Computer RPG, for sure).

I think that, yeah, simply imposing a moral system on a game is a terrible idea. Games in which a pre-defined set of 'bad' actions always have a negative effect, and vie cersa for 'good' actions, are often preachy, patronising, and boring.
That said, I do worry equally about games like GTA, in which bad actions rarely ever have negative consequences, and good ones rarely have positive consequences - and the cases in which they do are mainly in cinematic parts where the player is not making a choice.

The best way i think to handle it, which is done in the Geneforge series, and a bit in Fallout as well, is that, like in life, both ethical and unethical actions will sometimes result in immediate rewards or penalties, as well as long term rewards or penalties, depending on the situation and the characters affected. As in life, you can profit from good or profit from evil, in different ways, so you can play the game however you want. Then at the end (and don't get me wrong, I'm an athiest) your choices all come back to haunt you, as they dictate which of the myriad of endings you get, and you get the satisfaction of seeing the consequences of your actions.

For me, Fallout and Geneforge will always have something over even the most sophisticated MMO that lacks the scope for moral choice at that kind of level. It's failing to capture an important element of stories, and failing to engage a vital element of what makes us humans.

"More recently, while I was playing The Godfather and battling with the game's rather imprecise targeting system, I found myself accidentally strangling an innocent woman who was passing by, instead of the well-dressed gangster I had intended. As I dragged her lifeless body into the nearby alleyway, I felt a growing unease in the pit of my stomach."

Why did the author feel the need to lie to get his point across? In the Godfather game, it takes several seconds of continuous strangling to kill someone. Even with the somewhat ambiguous targeting system, completing this action would have to be completely intentional. When I see things like this, it makes me question most, if not all of the data in the article that is presumed factual.

The idea of a designer being able to create a morality is interesting, and one that I haven't found to have been explored very well yet. How fun would it be to set a KOTOR-style game on the Klingon homeworld, where following the 'light/right' path involves showing no mercy, and killing those weaker than you, while the 'dark/wrong' path has you playing what we would normally consider a 'good' character.

Perhaps using morality in gameplay needs to be done is subtle ways, similar to how Fable handled it. Taking Paige's strawberries from her garden, if not seen, does nothing but hurt a little girl who was growing them. No one else knows, but how do you feel when you hear her ask her dad where they went? If Paige's father saw you in the area, maybe he mentions that to other NPCs around town, and that affects how they interact with you, but you get some strawberries out of it. And, of course, if you don't take the strawberries, no one knows except you, and then perhaps you feel good when you hear Paige talking about them later. As Mr. Woodcock alluded to, the morality is really created by the player.

Of course, we would have to be careful that such a designer doesn't confuse his true morality with his created one. That could be bad for his home life! :)

And then, there's the game design where there's no concrete version of "bad", except that "bad" goes against your values (especially the believe that your existance is important). Chrono Trigger has some exercise in storytelling where all the villians are given a purpose, and the purpose is fleshed out (even if Lavos is just an alien which seeks to absorb all life because of it's programming. Is it any more evil than the being who seeks to manipulate it to become all-powerful?). (Just for note: The actual interaction with the final boss is actually extremely minimal)

About light/right and dark/wrong, it's difficult to decide the difference between that and another arbitary scale. Example: D&D games has two morality scales: Good/Evil and Lawful/Chaotic, in which both are not exclusive. In addition, there's the True Neutral which lies directly in between, opposed to any of the extremes.

In the end though, morality is still best used in storytelling than actual gameplay elements, because they tend to be quite limiting otherwise; Morality inevitably becomes an "Exclusive" instead of "Inclusive" factor.

KungFengShui:

"More recently, while I was playing The Godfather and battling with the game's rather imprecise targeting system, I found myself accidentally strangling an innocent woman who was passing by, instead of the well-dressed gangster I had intended. As I dragged her lifeless body into the nearby alleyway, I felt a growing unease in the pit of my stomach."

Why did the author feel the need to lie to get his point across? In the Godfather game, it takes several seconds of continuous strangling to kill someone. Even with the somewhat ambiguous targeting system, completing this action would have to be completely intentional.
When I see things like this, it makes me question most, if not all of the data in the article that is presumed factual.

I gotta comment on this one. I laughed pretty hard when I read that about strangling the women in The Godfather, then I laughed again when I read KungFenShui's post. Now I'm thinking they need to make serial killer games, where you're the serial killer or some kinda ghost/monster/whatever that kills the teenage girls. When I played Thief: Deadly Shadows a similar incident happened. If you've played this game then you know when you sneak up on someone, you can black-jack them or stab them from behind. Both have pretty much the same effect, but stabbing looks cooler cuz he actually holds the knife in the air and comes down right on the back of their neck, STAB! Depending on the difficulty, you got penalized for killing people, so the black jack was the safe way to go.

Alright, this one level was set up where there was nothing but guards everywhere. It required a lot of stealth and it was almost suicide even to black jack someone cuz the guards were so close together you couldn't drag the body without being seen, much less find a place to stash it they wouldn't happen across. There was a good bit of stealthy acrobatics in this level too. Eventually I got out of the castle by way of a lift and now I was sort of in a courtyard that lead to the dining hall or something like that. I expected the level to end by the time I got off the lift but it wasn't. There were 2 guards throughout this area and 3 or 4 "maidens". The first guard was no problem, he was right out by the lift and I black-jacked him np. The second guard was pretty tough to sneak up on, but you could sneak past him to the exit of the level, which is exactly what I was going to do. Until. I snuck past him into the dining hall, and I knocked over a bowl, when I did that one of the maidens turned around and was like "who's there?!" She didn't see me though. In the adjacent room I saw another woman. At that point it hit me that the one guard in the hall was their only protection, and suddenly I had the urge to stab things. I made a really cool stealth kill on him and as I was dragging his body into a side room, the woman stepped out. I don't know if I just saw what I wanted to, or if the NPCs were scripted to actually do this. When all that was visible of the guard in the hallway was his legs, sliding into the side room the woman turned and looked at it and just gasped and raised her hands to her mouth. That's not what NPCs do when they see a corpse in this game. They flip out and scream murder, they do not gasp in horror. I stealth killed 2 of the maidens and hid their bodies. The last one was all on her own. So I diecided when I would kill her I would show my face completely. Well it all worked better than I expected. She took off in a puff of smoke and I chased her all through the place. She eventually cornered herself in a round corner room that was sort of like a side tower on a castle. The room was all stone and had a slit window up high with moonlight shining through. She cringed in the corner and when I got my character in range to stab her repeatedly, something magical happened. As I stepped up to the woman cringing in the moonlight, my shadow casted over her, but not as a blobby dark circle or somethin, it was a silhouette, and so when I stabbed her I got to see the dramatic shadow of my arm with dagger in hand going up and down. I have to admit I felt a little bit of guilt by turning the game into some kinda murder movie, but I kinda made one of those sadistic "muahaha" laughs to counter any humane feelings I might have.

Ironically, this actually ruined the rest of the game for me. It's not because I got disgusted with myself, I never did, but the rest of the game was just more challenging ways of sneaking here and there. The later levels didn't really allow you to run around chasing maidens and stabbing them in the moonlight. I kinda feel like that level was intended for something like what I had done. Why else would they make the last leg of a long and moderately difficult level, so full of possibilities and at the same time, so easy to pass through.

-Thanks

The best way to make moral choices mean something is to create a game that can only be played through once. That way, even though the world is only virtual, you still have to live with the consequences of your actions. Just like real life.

Boucaner:
The best way to make moral choices mean something is to create a game that can only be played through once. That way, even though the world is only virtual, you still have to live with the consequences of your actions. Just like real life.

There's only two feasable ways to do that though: (a) ensure each playthrough is 100% unique (e.g. traditional human-DM D&D games), or (b) ensure the game world is 100% persistent (e.g. most MMORPGs)

There's an issue with most RPGs though: There is no cost for immoral actions, or even actions against allignment, unless there is some faction you upset. Right now, I'm into Minions of Mirth, and I have routinely gone into the Good city to kill guards (I'm an evil charecter); and nothing happens to me. I can do the same thing, again and again, until it gets boring. Good charecters can do the same thing to my city's guardsmen. All that happens is tht they respawn a little later, and the game continues.

The only way I see a "real" morality system ever being created is in a game where absolutes are abolished. No grand stuggles of Good vs. Evil, but instead the more human struggles of us and them and those other guys and that city over there.... With absolutes, it becomes easy to point to the "Bad guys" (who are good if you're evil) and say I'm going to kill them, becuase they are going to kill me. There is no thought as to whether or not you really need to kill them, or is avioding them acceptable (or bribing, or negotiating, or whatever else your charecter has in his/her bag of tricks).

I haven't played Fallout, but I saw some of my brother playing one of the Geneforge games (if there is more than one), and it was pretty good: there were several groups you had to ally up with, placate, or kill. However, it suffered from faction syndrome: instead of your actions being measured, it was simply a matter of which factions were effected when you killed a certain charecter or made a certain choice. Unfortuneatly, factions are the best any available game I know of has come up with yet (I remember reading about one game that had a different system, but it folded before I even read about it), but if any of you know one, feel free to correct me.

KungFengShui:

"More recently, while I was playing The Godfather and battling with the game's rather imprecise targeting system, I found myself accidentally strangling an innocent woman who was passing by, instead of the well-dressed gangster I had intended. As I dragged her lifeless body into the nearby alleyway, I felt a growing unease in the pit of my stomach."

Why did the author feel the need to lie to get his point across? In the Godfather game, it takes several seconds of continuous strangling to kill someone. Even with the somewhat ambiguous targeting system, completing this action would have to be completely intentional. When I see things like this, it makes me question most, if not all of the data in the article that is presumed factual.

Be careful about jumping to conclusions, maybe he's not lieing at all. He said that, "I found myself accidentally strangling an innocent woman who was passing by." You claim that it takes several seconds of continuous strangling to kill someone. He never said that he accidently killed her, just that he accidently *started* to kill her. As you said, completing the action would be intentional - or maybe not. Perhaps the reason he completed the kill was because he was stunned at his actions, or maybe because releasing her would create more problems then killing her. Maybe he was playing late at night and didn't realize he was strangling her and not the gangster. Also, there's a bunch of sayings in writing involving, "telling lies to reveal the truth." Maybe he combined several experiences, either purposefully or because of how memories work. Maybe his experience was from an earlier/unknown game but used a more recent game that the readers could relate to.

But lastly, I want to know - where'd you get the idea that the Escapist was a scientific journal full of 'factual' data, that would all be questionable because it contained a "fictional story?" The articles I've read all seem to be "theory." Oh, and I'm talking about theories of practice, not the kind of theory that scientists think are fact, like evolution.

PasstheController:

KungFengShui:

"More recently, while I was playing The Godfather and battling with the game's rather imprecise targeting system, I found myself accidentally strangling an innocent woman who was passing by, instead of the well-dressed gangster I had intended. As I dragged her lifeless body into the nearby alleyway, I felt a growing unease in the pit of my stomach."

Why did the author feel the need to lie to get his point across? In the Godfather game, it takes several seconds of continuous strangling to kill someone. Even with the somewhat ambiguous targeting system, completing this action would have to be completely intentional. When I see things like this, it makes me question most, if not all of the data in the article that is presumed factual.

Be careful about jumping to conclusions, maybe he's not lieing at all. He said that, "I found myself accidentally strangling an innocent woman who was passing by." You claim that it takes several seconds of continuous strangling to kill someone. He never said that he accidently killed her, just that he accidently *started* to kill her. As you said, completing the action would be intentional - or maybe not. Perhaps the reason he completed the kill was because he was stunned at his actions, or maybe because releasing her would create more problems then killing her. Maybe he was playing late at night and didn't realize he was strangling her and not the gangster. Also, there's a bunch of sayings in writing involving, "telling lies to reveal the truth." Maybe he combined several experiences, either purposefully or because of how memories work. Maybe his experience was from an earlier/unknown game but used a more recent game that the readers could relate to.

But lastly, I want to know - where'd you get the idea that the Escapist was a scientific journal full of 'factual' data, that would all be questionable because it contained a "fictional story?" The articles I've read all seem to be "theory." Oh, and I'm talking about theories of practice, not the kind of theory that scientists think are fact, like evolution.

I never said it was a scientific journal. The articles in it, however, purport to be based on fact. In this particular article, the author draws upon many explicit scenarios in video games in order to theorize about human behaviour and tendencies. If those scenarios are misrepresented, or in some way fabricated, deriving any insight from it in regards to morals is a moot point.

Now we're into meaningless semantic debate territory.

The point has been made that strangling in Godfather requires intentional actions, and cannot be wholly accidental. It's a fair point, and I would encourage the author (or anyone else) to refute it if they see fit.

I don't know if Bruce actually "accidentally" killed the lady or if he merely accidentally targeted the lady and then carried through with the killing out of curiosity. Either way his point is valid, i.e. that the act of killing innocents is not punished in anyway in The Godfatherand that this can have broad implications for the subject of in-game morality.

We can debate this point, but I'd prefer that we not cross the line of accusing the author of being a liar. That's not the way to be constructive.

It's true that we prefer to assume that our analyses of subjects here at The Escapist are based on fact, or actual events, but we are talking about in-game activities here; actions played out with avatars in a digital space. I think we can allow for a little latitude in how literally we interpret such actions.

/mod

I find that, too often, the moral choices presented in games are completely unrealistic, a decision between doing the obviously decent thing, and doing the comically evil Saturday-morning-cartoon-villain thing. I think that, more than anything else, was why I was disappointed by Fable. Not only does it diminish the significance of good, but it also really limits any possible exploration of the idea of evil, and ultimately prevents a real examination of morality. For example, right at the beginning where it gave the choice of beating up the bully to get the kid's teddy bear back, or beating up the kid for fun... how much more pathological would it have been, had the game recognized it when I tried hit the bully to get back the bear, but then kept the bear for myself? Or, hit the bully until he gave me the bear, then kept on hitting the bully until the guards pulled me off of him, or he stopped moving?

Essentially, if the game's writers leave out a course of action that I'd consider taking in the game, then they're trivializing the nature of moral decisions. And that is ignoring the tremendous potential that interactivity presents as a storytelling device.

Again, I want to ask: Has anyone, anywhere, found a game that depicts morality in anything other than faction basis? And on a related note, can you define morality, even in the real world, in anything other than a faction basis: I'm realizing in this conversation that much of out rl morality is based off of what group (religion usually) we ascribe to.

Bongo Bill:
Essentially, if the game's writers leave out a course of action that I'd consider taking in the game, then they're trivializing the nature of moral decisions. And that is ignoring the tremendous potential that interactivity presents as a storytelling device.

I think this is why Tabletop RPGs are so addictive. You can toe the line as you see fit and define your own standards. In all the D&D games I've played I've never been forced into an A or B decision - the choices are as varied as I can imagine.

ZacQuickSilver:
Again, I want to ask: Has anyone, anywhere, found a game that depicts morality in anything other than faction basis? And on a related note, can you define morality, even in the real world, in anything other than a faction basis: I'm realizing in this conversation that much of out rl morality is based off of what group (religion usually) we ascribe to.

The closest I can think of is Shadow of the Colossus. From what I've heard it's morality is based far more upon needs and actions than on anything else.

As to morality in the real world - it's something that I've wondered about - I think I try to keep a neutral mind in most things. I see a somewhat more pessimistic world than most people, I think that the natural selfishness of all creatures is misrepresented as evil. Selfish is NOT evil. If you believe it is you are exhibiting nothing more than jealousy in my eyes. When you take into account actions based on needs and a point of view morality tends to fade away and you are left with actions of pure insanity (no reason) or actions with reason that can be justified. (From a certain point of view)

What is Shadow like: it's for a paltform I don't have (I'm use computers almost exclusively for my digital gaming).

I also have to ask: where did you get your particular view on morality. Don't answer, just think about it. If it isn't based on some group you belong(ed) to, I will be very surprised.

Depends on if you count "My Parents" as I would describe mine as very much being a mix between that of my father and mother. I disagree with them on many points, but I had a very different upbringing from most peoples and was encouraged to make my own judgments.

ZacQuickSilver:
What is Shadow like?

Shadow of the Colossus uses its story as a vehicle for asking moral questions. You don't have much in the way of moral choices; it's like a movie or a novel in that the final outcome is preordained. The chief question it asks is not "What should the main character do?" but rather, "Is what the main character does right?" The interesting thing is that these questions are asked implicitly. You're given very little information about his motivations, origin, and goals, and there's hardly any dialogue. Instead, what makes you question the morality of the main character's actions is the incredible beauty of the collossi -- assisted to some extent by the excellent music.

In Shadow, there was a feeling of 'is it right to do this', but I will admit to being tainted by pre-release coverage of the game telling me that's how I was supposed to feel. Did anyone pick up this game without any previous exposure to it, and how did you feel about what was transpiring on screen?

Also, there were no choices to be made, other than just not playing the game. Morality was rendered moot if you wanted to see the ending.

My response to this thread contains spoilers for anybody who intends to play Shadow of the Colossus in future.

I got Shadow knowing very little about it, and I occasionally felt like the beasts I was tracking down and smiting didn't really deserve it, but I didn't really question the morality of the thing, because I felt that it was clear that the most important thing to the main character was getting the girl revived, and you've gotta do what you've gotta do.
On the other hand, I did often feel like I may have been being manipulated by Dormin, and was unsure as to whether helping him/them was the right thing to do, with regards what he would do with my help, and whether he would even keep his promise. This was especially so when, later on in the game, I suddenly realised that my character had been gradually getting visibly darker, and I pondered the connection between the spirits standing around me in the cutscenes and this apparent "corruption".
That's one of the things that I really loved about Shadow, its ambiguity. I still don't know whether those guys (some kind of religious order, perhaps?) were actually doing something righteous, or if Dormin was genuinely threat other than a creature those guys regarded as villainous because of Dogma or something. Or even who the girl was and what had happened to her. Brilliant, IMO.

Boucaner:
The best way to make moral choices mean something is to create a game that can only be played through once. That way, even though the world is only virtual, you still have to live with the consequences of your actions. Just like real life.

Most Rogue-likes are like that, perhaps they should just make a 3D, easier rogue-like or just make the next Elder Scrolls game deeper than Oblivion with factions, etc..

As for are players evil in RL because they are in the game. I don't think so, I mainly play evil characters to laugh at the acting, etc. ( the same reason i watch horror movies) and it's always different whereas most good sides of games tend to be similar and very predictable.

But with games like GTA:SA i think something needs to be done, because we don't have a problem with orc-killers in our society but we do have a problem with gang violence and that game definitely glorified gang violence.

Hegar:
Have you played any of the Geneforge series? Spectactular games, imo, with a really solid morality to it as well. Ultima IV I felt forced into 'virtues' and what not, and it all seemed a touch simplistic. Geneforge though, has let choose morality, but without making ersorting to the kind of Lawful Good vs Chaotic Evil thing you get in a lot of RPGs. The thing I like best is that there are often a few axis of morality at work, usually Control vs Freedom and Responsiblity vs Power. So you can stand up for the rights of the serviles, but still end up a power-mad psychopath, or you can treat them as naught but slaves to do your bidding, but still stand up to the irresponsible use of your powers.
These shades of morality, and the ability to take moral action while following an immoral course, make for a great gaming experience - especially because the choices occur in the context of such a richly fleshed out world and culture (for a Computer RPG, for sure).

I think that, yeah, simply imposing a moral system on a game is a terrible idea. Games in which a pre-defined set of 'bad' actions always have a negative effect, and vie cersa for 'good' actions, are often preachy, patronising, and boring.
That said, I do worry equally about games like GTA, in which bad actions rarely ever have negative consequences, and good ones rarely have positive consequences - and the cases in which they do are mainly in cinematic parts where the player is not making a choice.

The best way i think to handle it, which is done in the Geneforge series, and a bit in Fallout as well, is that, like in life, both ethical and unethical actions will sometimes result in immediate rewards or penalties, as well as long term rewards or penalties, depending on the situation and the characters affected. As in life, you can profit from good or profit from evil, in different ways, so you can play the game however you want. Then at the end (and don't get me wrong, I'm an athiest) your choices all come back to haunt you, as they dictate which of the myriad of endings you get, and you get the satisfaction of seeing the consequences of your actions.

For me, Fallout and Geneforge will always have something over even the most sophisticated MMO that lacks the scope for moral choice at that kind of level. It's failing to capture an important element of stories, and failing to engage a vital element of what makes us humans.

I agree completely, and not just because I absolutley love Geneforge. Consequences for your actions shouldn't be immediate changes to gameplay, they should be more subtle.

as far as I'm concerned, all you players are being utterly raped by paying a subscription fee for that terrible piece of software i dare not call a game.

@KeithBurgan
Right. And you didn't read the article did you? How do I know this? Because other than the mention of Azeroth in the title, the article never even mentioned World of Warcraft. So in future, if your going to troll, at least put a time investment in so you can do it believeably. This was you just come across as a bit of a numpty.

Interpreting the morality of a game is interesting, as well as the internal morality, there is also a way for the game to be considered in the real world. For example, when reading a film or watching a book, it is possible for the story to reflect racism, or to actually be racist. Of course, sometimes its difficult to tell exactly which it is, and ofen I've found myself wondering if the main protagonist(s) is meant to be a complete asshat, or it is just my moral foundings that make them appear that way. When yo further throw in interepretation of less straightforward parts of the text then it gets even more complicated.

Games however have yeat another layer, user action. As gamers get more choice, and as worlds become more dynamic you allow the player comit increasingly amoral acts, and sometimes will end up rewarding them for it. What is the player, and what is the game. And furthermore, just because a game allows a player to do something, or even endorses it, does this indicate an endorsement of the actions outside the game world. (I think most players would argue no, and although I think I agree, there have been times in games where I've felt very uncomoftable taking a particular action.)

ETA: Whoops, totaly didn't notice the date on this article. Sorry for that folks.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Registered for a free account here