Have you ever done something evil in a video game? Something that’s perhaps a bit morally ambiguous? Who was the target? What made you do it? I’ve continued my journey in The Division and, as you can imagine, it’s got me thinking about morality. A lot of games highlight morality as a feature, “Press R2 to be Renegade,” but we don’t often think about passive morality that can happen within gaming. When it’s not an inherent game choice, doesn’t modify a player stat, or the game won’t tell you that you’re being evil. Today I’d like to explore the question “Do we struggle with morality more when it comes to game characters versus other people?” This is very subjective, and will most likely turn into an opinion piece, but I’ll try to back it up with as much information as possible. Yet if you disagree, all the better! In this post we'll be talking about a variety of games but I don't believe there are any spoilers you should worry about.... enjoy!
you’re asked to perform a paragon or renegade action and in doing so either will actually modify a stat and how your avatar looks. While emotionally strong, these games encourage people to think about their choices in a very active way. In this regard, I want to rule these out of the conversation as early as possible. Life doesn’t have visual feedback for when I perform a “good” or a “bad” choice. When games passively allow for morality choices, it’s much more interesting to see how people react.
A simple example of this, was a story a friend shared with me about an experience he had in Minecraft. Upon first going into “The Nether” or Minecraft’s hell area, he was greeted by the inhabitants of this world… the Zombie Pigmen. Right away he started slaughtering them, only to realize that they weren’t actually hostile at all… just ugly. This stuck with him as a bad choice he made in a game and he always felt a little bad about murdering their village.
universe this is the point where someone has been undead for so long that they have lost all remnants of who they once were and have lost their mind. He wanders his tomb, in a circle, naked with his clothes in the corner, unaware of the player. Vendrick will never attack you unprovoked, yet you can attack and kill him if you’d like. I always found this to be so sad, also knowing his knight was guarding… really nothing. In all my playthroughs of this game, I’ve never killed him.
subsequently died with laughter. While it was initially an accident, it sort of then became a test for me. Whenever I was summoned into this area, I’d go for the switch and see which players would survive, and who wouldn’t. I was a monster, as I watched countless players slowly dip their way into the lava and die.
Typically when engaging other players in Darksouls, and other games, I do tend to worry that they are going to be trolls in some regard. Yet there was one instance where I summoned another player into my game (a person by the name of Chiri Pepe) for some help. At one point he disappeared and I worried that I was left to my own devices… constantly paranoid of what enemy Darksouls going to throw at me next. I went to open a door and there was a huge enemy preparing to swing his weapon down and kill me. In this moment Chiri Pepe fell, seemingly out of nowhere, and killed the enemy who would have led to my imminent death. Chiri Pepe was a hero, he hadn’t left me to my own devices, he selflessly ran off to protect me from an unknown threat. I remember being in such awe in this moment and Chiri Pepe lived on as a Legend when I think back on Darksouls.
to go to a specified area, call in a helicopter, and wait for it to arrive. While it’s enroute, all other players in the area know what you’re doing, can come and try to kill you, and steal your loot. That’s the scary part about the Dark Zone, players can kill other players and steal the loot they’ve found. Not only do you lose your loot when you die, but you also lose some experience… so it can actually force you to lose levels. Even though when you kill another player, you show up as a “Rogue Agent” that other players have to try to kill within a certain amount of time… it really doesn’t stop a lot of aimless murder. I’ve seen players do some really tricky things to avoid this,like intentionally jumping into someone’s line of fire and forcing that player into a “Rogue Agent” status.There’s also a mechanic for allowing players to hear other players if they are in close enough proximity to them… I once made the mistake of exclaiming loudly that I had found a legendary item, only to find myself quickly a target for other players. It’s pretty nerve racking and the tension is high in the Dark Zone.
tried to be as helpful as possible to other players… yet as I saw some the harshness that is the Dark Zone, it was very alluring to fall to the “dark side.” A friend and I were following these other players as they were running around looking for loot. At the time my friend and I were both level somewhere in the mid 30’s. While following these other players, they weren’t aware that we could actually hear all of their conversations. Their nervousness about us, just egged us on… and when one of them was excited about being level 14, it made us laugh. They suddenly felt like “fresh meat,” and we were the predators. Why did my mind go there? Why did it feel like survival of the fittest? I suddenly felt like I had such inherent power over this other player, so much so I could bully him if I wanted to. Deciding who is your ally and who is your nemesis can happen at a moment’s notice. There were certain players who I felt obligated to help but then other players who became my arch enemies. So much so that if I saw that this player might be extracting their loot, I would definitely go and try to ruin their day as fast as I could.
Although I feel as though I’ve seen a lot of harshness in the Dark Zone, I do feel as though I’ve seen some genuine acts of kindness. At one point there was a group of us together, not in a party, but all hunting down a Rogue Agent. One of the players in the party did accidentally shoot me and become Rogue. I immediately shot back at him, damaging him, and everyone else nearby leveled their guns at him. He quickly used the surrender emote and for whatever reason it gave us all pause. We knew it was an accident, yet we could all easily kill him in this moment, take his loot, get experience, and have no repercussion. After a tense moment, we slowly lowered our weapons… no one fired, we didn’t speak to each other but we all silently agreed that we weren’t going to kill him. It felt like such an interesting moment for me, after seeing so much happen in the Dark Zone.. something about this act really gave me some faith back in people.
behavior is encouraged in these games, due to the mechanics allowing it, and that we’re just victim to the design of the game. Yet I don’t agree, by simply allowing it doesn't make it a core value of the game. I would wonder if there was more negative visual feedback after performing an “evil action” if it would change anything… but I still support the design of the game remaining neutral. At the end of all of this the only inference that I’d make is that players will make drastically different moral choices depending on the style of game they are playing. Not saying that people won’t be good, I’ve experienced acts of kindness in these zones, but it’s just a very different dynamic. One that feels much less forgiving.
I make games, I play games... and sometimes I have some thoughts about that.