Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Videogame Morality: How Should It Work?

On the train back from Cambridge the other day I read the most recent edition of Adbusters, which had a much better than usual interesting:ludicrous ratio. One of the most thought provoking things (to me, anyway) was this, rather difficult to answer, article. It raises the question, if it's OK to murder people in a videogame because nobody gets hurt, then why shouldn't people also commit virtual rape? Or have sex with virtual children?
The issue typically discussed around violent games such as Grand Theft Auto is that the violence or sexual behavior of the virtual worlds will surface in the real world – that violent games will eventually create violent people who do horrific things (videogames were repeatedly blamed following both Columbine and Virginia Tech. massacres, for instance). But there is another concern that has gone largely unaddressed that will become increasingly perplexing as videogames create better, more immersive models of reality: am I free to do anything I want in a virtual world, or are some things inherently wrong?
Apart from being a good article that's worth reading in full (don't worry, it's not that long), it's also a nasty central question, and not one I have any immediate answer for. Anyone else want to have a go?


lizw said...

Thanks for that - as you say, it's thought-provoking. I've posted some thoughts on my own journal, as they got a bit long (and I thought some of my regular readers might have something interesting to say, too).

Charlotte Gore said...

Interesting question... and I have a sort of answer, I think :)

If you look at the evolution of video games, they started with spaceships shooting aliens, or blobs eating ghosts. This combat metaphor was something to construct a challenging experience around, with the player controlled entity in a kill-or-be-killed experience.

As games have become more advanced so the graphics and experience has become more realistic, but the basic underlying metaphor remains the same - and the business need to make an enjoyable and entertaining game has only increased pressure to keep things mainstream.

So the players fight their way through waves of aggressive opponents until they ultimately win. Not all games are like this, and even the ones that are have made the experience richer and less dependent on simple combat experiences, because modern gamers expect a rich and often emotional experience (I consider games like Bioshock and Half-Life 2 to be the start of Games As Art, and long may it continue!!) rather than simple point and shoot.

So why not a 'rape' game... isn't it obvious? Basically the answer is simple: How on earth could you turn that into an interesting, enjoyable or profitable game? Who would enjoy such a game? How could you make a 'game' out of rape anyway? What would the challenge be? What possibly motivation would players have to do anything other than turn it off in disgust?

I can't see anyone playing such a game for any reason other than for sexual excitement, and people do not buy computer games for that reason, and that would be 'mainstream' sexuality. Rape porn would be a whole other level of 'niche'.

People have obviously tried to sell pornographic games before but they were invariably shit and financial bombs. The cost of making games prohibits the making of games that would appeal only to people on the nonce wing of your local jail.

So that's your answer. I'm not going to get involved in the moral aspects of it - personally as a scientific experiment I'd be interesting to see how many people *could* play such a game - but this whole 'story' is trying to censor computer games and blame them for why kids are so crazy, and they can go f**k off basically ;)

Andy said...

I'm not sure the "story" is trying to do anything, personally, and certainly I only posted about it because I found it a tricky question to answer to my own satisfaction (though perhaps I should have framed the issue for myself rather than simply pointing people at the frame provided by Adbusters's writer).

But anyway, I've just written the following on Lizw's blog, when in reality it's mainly a response to you, Charlotte. So here you are:

I would just like to speak up against the idea that all videogames are in some way built on the killing people = points paradigm. Personally, I suspect that if you went through my own game collection, you would find that such games were in the minority. RPGs and FPSs, yes, and, I suppose, strategy games, do fit into that characterisation. BUT a lot of adventure games, platform games and puzzle games, not to mention sport and simulation games, management sims, etc, simply don't. In some cases, deaths of people under your protection are actively bad, whilst in other cases death is simply not a central theme of the game at all. So could we perhaps reign in the easy generalisations about what is or isn't in some way fundamental to all videogames since the year dot? Because the answer is "very little".

Charlotte Gore said...

Oh I've not really been clear about what I meant. Obvious violence is a part of computer games - it's very easy to make a game around that, but increasingly the games industry provides alternative experiences. I know this - I play games like Rock Band and Tetris after all :)

All I'm saying is there's a reason for violence being 'part' of the industry, for being part of many 'traditional' computer game genres from very cartoony to very realistic, whereas there's no real reason for rape to be in there, except as part of a story, as something bad happening in a game aimed at an adult audience but not something that players are expected to do for fun.

I'm very much pro-gaming and in favour of this industry. :)