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Does your design have a moral context?

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Morality is so open to definition by so many people that this is a fairly broad topic, but I'm more interested in two areas: Whether or not your game has a moral context; and (more interestingly) what your gut reaction to the topic is. Firstly, does the game you're designing (or games you wish to design) have the aim of having a moral context in the world at large? IOW, does it have something to say about right and wrong in terms of the life you've lived, the people you know or the ideas you were raised believing? If so, why? And if not, why not? Secondly, what is your reaction to the question in general? Do you think it has no relevance to what you're doing, or that games fall beyond the pervue of morality, even your own? Or is it just not something you think about?
This question came to me after talking with a friend about the game industry and nihilism. He's raising a 10 year old boy and struggling to counter what he feels are negative media influences with positive examples outside the realm of music, movies and games. We got into a discussion about the Grand Theft Auto games, which have long been a lightning rod where games and morality are concerned, and this prompted me to wonder how many people even consider this topic while designing. Personally, I think a lot of complaints that come outside our industry by the media centers around depiction and lack of consequences. I think the news media is always going to be stimulated to report on any sensational acts (such as GTA's gameplay around killing prostitutes), but that inclusion of consequences for behavior may reinforce the perceived moral value of a game. If, for instance, given a game where you can kill anybody the virtual society avenges virtual deaths, then it may be perceived as a game with moral merits. (Then again, this may be asking people to dig below the surface, something critics of the industry appear loathe to do.)
PS: Here's an interesting article on the morality of GTA: Vice City from three classical moral perspectives. (Access may require free registration).

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To be honest, my first thought was about my current project. In it, your characters have to take into account how their power will undoubtedbly corrupt everything and everyone if they abuse it. But they aren't strong enough to not depend upon it. Then I remembered GTA....

San Andreas pushes a lot of awful stereotypes in my opinion. I think there aren't a lot of minorities working at TakeTwo/Rockstar - that's for sure. I remember XIII's klansmen also - I just didn't sit right with killing them all like that, even as an african american.

Videogames I think are at the lower end of the offensive stuff out there. But then, just how much media has an "abundance" of morality at all? I don't think I'd let my child play videogames by him/herself anymore than I'd let him/her watch TV alone - It's supposed to be a form of entertainment, an escape. 6 year olds don't need, nor would they understand or appreciate a copy of GTA.

Hence most games tend to take an extreme, and are laced with violence, sex, and no choices/outs/alternatives. There are few exceptions: The Sims, Fable, and many others depend squarely upon you -- as it should be. Future games ought to try to distance themselves from specifiying a "moral code" of anysort, modern or fantasy. It's best, and safest, to simply allow the player to take on your world as he/she feels.

I await the day where I can play a FPS, not kill anyone, still save the planet, and can tell the heroine to shove it and go home.

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Fiction has occasionally been described as an "ideological dressing-room". I think the interactivity of the game medium makes it uniquely suited to allow players to confront moral issues and choose how to evaluate them. This concept is key to the design of the collaborative game we are currently working on in the witing forum. This is also why I avidly followed the design of _Fable_.

On the other hand, I don't like how single-player RPGs have traditionally forced players to act with a particular morality to make progress in the game (ever try playing an RPG as a pacifist? ;) ) I'm sure we've all encountered games that are preachy enough about environmentalism or some other subject to make you gag. Some games, for example _Harvest Moon_, even assume that the player belongs to a certain religion! o_O

So, I think the essential thing to remember is that RPG/Adventure games are for the player to explore, moral philosophy just as much as the game's world. It's great and admirable to want your game to teach your player stuff, but just present them with ideas (by putting them in the mouths of NPCs, for example), don't try to force the player to agree with those ideas.

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Quote:
Original post by zarthrag
To be honest, my first thought was about my current project. In it, your characters have to take into account how their power will undoubtedbly corrupt everything and everyone if they abuse it. But they aren't strong enough to not depend upon it.


IMHO this is where FF8 went wrong. As a player I really didn't like being put ino a situation where I was told that using summon materia was harmful and a bad idea but there is no alternative so we're going to do it anyway. I would have much preferred if the game let me decide whether I cared about the side effects of summoning, or let me choose to spend effort searching for an alternative rather than just telling me there wasn't one. My philosophy is, "There is always an alternative."

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Any game design that I have done has it's bits of moral inside. When I design stuff I might think an idea that I find pretty cool, but when I look at it with another light, it seems like it might affect the players feelings, toughts or the way he sees thinks, probable mixing right and wrong. So if I am going to let the player do things that I think that could be labeled as 'evil', I just try to state that even if you are supposed to do that in the game, it's probably not what a 'good' person would do.

Of course I have my limits, depending on the target. If you want to make a game for -10 years old kids you aren't going to let them murder people in the game. But even if it's for games for +18 years old players, there are always limits, certain things that I find that just shouldn't happen under any circumstance.

No, you shouldn't start to kill everyone you find just because your girlfriend dumped you. Of course you are sad, frustrated, confused and lot's of other things, but it will just make things worse to kill the majority of the living beings around you even if you don't f*cking care who lives and who dies, even if we talk about you or your friends. So I just try to keep things off the extreme.

Remember that games is about fun. Fun that might or might not get inside player's minds. People might be shielded from bad influences but they might not be, or you might be mentally shielded from videogame's influence or you might not be. So I just try to make the world a better world instead of screwing someone's mind.

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I am all for choices in a game. More choices = more gameplay options = more possibility for fun.

But where I find fault is where the choices you are presented are predominantly on one side or another of the moral picket fence. GTA, for example, forces you to take the "dark side" if you want to advance the plot. This is annoying. Liberty City indeed, but where you are only at liberty to do immoral things.

For every immoral action you can perform in a game that affects the game world, there should be a moral action you can also perform that also affects the game world.

Take care.

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Vidio games have been given a lot of the blame for violence which is truly undeserving.

Movies have been around a lot longer, so less people blame movies for spawning antisocial and amoral behavior.

Yes, Grand Theft Auto III allows you to do some pretty amoral stuff, killing prostitutes included. However, what about people who watched the movie Scarface, or the Godfather? What about the Soprano's? Sure your not 'controlling' the characters, but remember that in a vidio game thats all they are. Characters. Not yourself.

Should we also start banning books that are done through the perspective of a serial killer?

I think the real importance is to educate children of how this is separate from real life. I could play GTA3 for hours and hours and I would never act out violently. But, it only takes one kid who can't see the dividing line between fantasy and reality for the rest of us to get blamed.

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I'm not sure I entirely follow what you're getting at, but there is an angle that hasn't been tackled so I thought I'd touch on it.

There are lots of games that impose upon the player (in some way or another) an objective morality: that is, the ultimate right. The reason they do this I think is clear: it's part of the story that the player follows. Battling Zeromus at the end of Final Fantasy 4 (what a fantastic game that was!), you've got multifaceted monolithic evil and, in the end, you either confront that evil and defeat it, or the game does not end.

That's a pretty straightforward example, but there are lots more like it. What your game seems to be offering is something most games don't: nonlinear choice. If your game does have a sort of morality to it, my guess would be that it be just as modular as the rest of the game: give the player multiple choices. Multiple storylines. Multiple endings.

But if you make evil monolithic (that is, all evil operates from one source), I'll still play for the customization it offers. I looooove building my own spaceships. I do. =)

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I think it more then just trying to include morals into the backgroud of a game a designer has to make those morals relevent in the gameplay its self. FF6 and 8 claims that using guardian forces is wrong and harmful but at no time does that have an impact on the game play instead its just an interesting fact in the story nothing more. If feel that if the designer is going to include morality in a game then they should creat a game that allows the player to experince that morality and the results of their actions in relation to it.

If GF's are harmful to the player then the player experince the effects of contiuned use, whether its through gameplay effects or cut scenes. For instance if they cause memory loss then there could be a few moving scenes where after an intense battle the main character looks around only relize those who fought beside him are nothing but strangers with unfamiler faces. Or they have so single mindly pursued their goal and using the GFs that after defeating the final boss the main character descovers they have lost all they ever where and are now merely an empty shell who knows nothing but how to fight.

But at the same time if something is going to be considered morally right or wrong then let the player act according to that, if using GF is wrong then give them another path they can take it may be harder or longer but in the end they can still complete their objective.

As for whether I use moral in games the answer is yes, sometimes I like to make the morality I'm trying to portray alien to what the player may consider right and wrong, in this why I hope to get the player to experience a way of thinking that they may normally not consider.

Such as having the player play a ruthless corporate excecutive willing to stop at nothing to achive success and power. But at the same time causing them doubt and mistrust all their allies because they could be just a ruthless as the player.

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