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This question came about courtesy of JohnRayJr. It was inspired by a very interesting discussion on the April 12 QOTD thread (which you should check out if you haven't already).

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Here's the full question:

JohnRayJr wrote:
Do you feel uncomfortable participating in flagrantly immoral and/or cruel behavior in-game, and does the characterization of that 'role' change this to any significant degree?
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I'll take a "stab" at this question

For the most part, I don't feel uncomfortable participating in immoral or cruel behavior in-game. Hopefully that doesn't reflect on who I am as a person, but in my mind, I know the video game characters aren't real people and that, at times, playing a "bad guy" or an "evil" character is part of the experience. So I suppose my answer to the second part of your question would be, yes. Generally speaking, if given a choice between moral and immoral actions, I will take the moral route more often. I don't really have a specific reason as to why that's my preference other than that I'm drawn to it by default. However, in many cases, I do my best to play a neutral character if possible, taking a balance of "good" and "evil" actions.

Speaking of which, Fallout 3 comes to mind in this instance.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
On my longest play-through, I played a neutral character. I did everything you could possibly do in Megaton, and then I took on the quest where you detonate the nuke. I figured it would hurt my karma quite a bit, so I did mostly good things while in Megaton. Little did I know that blowing up Megaton automatically makes you max evil. I spent around 10 hours doing good to get back to neutral.


But there have been a few instances where games have made me feel uncomfortable with certain choices/actions. The two that come to mind are the torture sequence in Grand Theft Auto V and "harvesting" the little sisters in BioShock. Neither of those really crossed the line into territory I was completely uncomfortable with, but I felt like both games made how you approached those situations feel really heavy, morally speaking. At least for me. I like that the games did that. It made my actions feel meaningful, and they left me contemplative for quite awhile.

Certainly there is a line I don't want to cross, a point at which I would become too uncomfortable to take the cruel or immoral action presented to me, but (fortunately) I haven't experienced it yet. Hopefully I never do, as I imagine it would have to be particularly bad.
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I don't think I've really been made uncomfortable by in-game actions. The GTA thing was a bit gratuitous but at that point you're playing as the unhinged nutjob. While he is a PC, his general self is already defined.

I think the least comfortable I've been with a game was not with the actions but with the game's presentation. In a nutshell, here's the WP scene from Spec Ops: The Line:

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In an open world setting, I embrace my dark side. I'll steal to get ahead in any of the Elder Scroll games. I'll give no second thought to running over pedestrians in GTA when I'm on the clock. If there is gambling, I'm in although I'll exploit a loophole if possible.
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I find it very hard and will almost never participate in cruel or immoral behaviour... I don't even like asking for more money for completing quests... I'll happily travel for miles/days to deliver/collect stuff for no reward whatsoever.

Playing Fallout 4 Nuka World DLC as a Raider leader I found particularly challenging.. I always tried to get the settlers to leave peacefully rather than killing them etc.
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I would say it depends heavily on how the game contextualizes what is happening, and also on precisely what is happening.

Let's start with a softball.

In the Uncharted series, a typical week at work for Nathan Drake means murdering 500-800+ people (in the early games, almost all of them people of color). Sometimes out of self-defense, but often just because they are in the way of Drake's grand adventure. Of course, Drake is framed as not just a good guy, but a charismatic and fun person, a wisecracking rugged big-hearted stud. But, I understand that for the game to happen, it can't be the more "realistic" scenario that Drake is ambushed once by three dudes, manages to get the better of them in combat while sustaining serious injury, and then struggles with PTSD for years. I don't feel uncomfortable because I know how far off the game is from real-world consequences, because there is no cruelty or brutality, no sadistic victimization. They shoot at you, you shoot at them. "It's a game."

Next let's go with a very loaded and complex example: Trevor in Grand Theft Auto V.

I actually admire the game's depiction of Trevor and it's eventual, horrifying placement of you in his shoes. Trevor is a psychopath. He is also videogames personified. He is what you get if you try to imagine a real person behaving as though life is Grand Theft Auto, and he's a monster. But he's also hilarious, and fiercely intelligent. And rather than presenting him in some uncritical way, GTAV does the opposite. It makes sure you are unnerved by Trevor before you step into his shoes. It makes you feel bad for people who encounter Trevor even once you are the one controlling Trevor. It uses Trevor to make some of the most searing, damning commentary about the way Americans have fetishized torture in the 20 years since 9-11. He is a means to an end, not the end itself. He makes you uncomfortable, but with purpose and as only one layer of the experience.

Now let's play hardball.

The angriest I have ever been at a game has been with God of War III. I was furious; I felt loathing for the developers in my stomach. There is an utterly disposable moment in the game where, as Kratos, you encounter a sex slave chained to the floor. The game goes out of its way to linger on her predicament and her vulnerability, to have her first think of you as a potential savior, to have her haltingly ask you for help, and then become increasingly anxious as she becomes unsure of your intentions. And then you are required to drag her by her hair over to a mechanism that controls a giant portcullis, and have her body gruesomely mangled in the gears so that the door stays open for you to exit, all with her protesting and screaming. And then, to make sure you appreciate their hilarious joke, the developers award you with a trophy, with a sarcastic name, as if to say, "fuck that dumb bitch, amirite!?"

As I say, I have never been more angry at a game or its developers. I am not typically a fire and brimstone person, but if the folks responsible for this scene were stripped naked, put in solitary confinement, chained to the floor, and forced to eat slop out of a dogfood bowl for a week, I'd say that had it coming. I am completely serious. Of course the more appropriate and justifiable thing is that they are all fired.

So, in conclusion: it depends.
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As others have said, it depends.

In some Star Wars games, I was happy to become a Sith, shooting lightning out of my fingers to murder countless innocents.

In other games, even causing accidental injury to an innocent makes me feel uncomfortable.

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I'm not the first person saying this but... it depends. The weight and treatment of your choices matters. If you are participating in Saturday morning, mustache twirling evil-doings then nobody is going to feel bad. I'll use Skyrim as an example.

I don't feel bad about turning into a werewolf in the middle of a town and causing chaos. I don't feel bad pickpocketing a guy's house key and then looting it of everything valuable. I don't feel bad about participating in the assassination of an emperor.

What I did feel bad about took place during the Molag-Bal Daedric Weapon quest. For those who have played Skyrim you already know what I'm referring to. For those who haven't, there is a mission in the game that rewards you with an enchanted mace gifted by a Daedric Lord. The catch? Once you start the mission you have no option to opt out and the later part of it involves you beating a priest to death multiple times as he is resurrected. This happens until he is completely broken and pledges his soul to Molag-Bal. Other missions like with Clavicus Vile allowed you an option to be a horrible person or do the right thing, but being presented with this situation for Molag-Bal's Mace made me physically sick.
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Skyrim is a good jumping off point for this.

The game provides a good space for true role-playing, so you can explore the idea of an honorable cleric or a rogue-ish nave, or, as I did in one of my playthroughs, a hulking barbarian who joins the Bard's guild.

Being free to make these choices distances the game from the kind of emotional manipulation that players may resent (as we see in the comic-strip about Spec Ops cited earlier in the thread). If you end up feeling uncomfortable about something in the game, you have a lot of room to decide how this fits within a role, or whether you simply don't want your character to cross certain boundaries. And a lot of the wrongdoing in Skyrim is lacking grit and cruelty. I may know it's wrong and harmful to rob people blind, but the action is played lightly as mischief or shenanigans, can be thought of in Robin-Hood terms, etc etc. In a game like this you also have space to play out your character's experience of aftermath.

I remember that encounter with Molaag-Baal. It was very uncomfortable. But I could at least somewhat respect the game saying, "you have to do some really evil shit if you want this Daedric Artifact." It was a good exploration of the phrase, "if you make a deal with the devil..."

And, the player retained autonomy throughout the whole sequence. I'd feel quite a bit different if the game required me to go through with it as part of the main storyline, and afterward gave me a joke trophy saying "wasn't beating that guy to death over and over again hilarious!" GGs!
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I do feel uncomfortable about it. I get squeamish even when it's not necessarily "immoral and/or cruel," but is just a disgusting necessity. And even if it's a cartoonish game. I could hardly stand to shoot guards and dogs in Wolfenstein 3D, even though I was supposedly shooting my way out of prison in wartime. If I ever had to do such a thing in real life, I'd want to put it behind me. Why should I choose to play a game where I have to do such things?

It's different when I'm above it all, playing a strategy game--which is what I normally do. Then I'm running a nation at war or something on that order. I don't see the death and destruction up close; I just order the capture of a city and am pleased if it becomes mine. It's a power struggle and a matter of survival, and I'm always at a distance from the gruesome details. I never stop to think about such things as morality or cruelty then. It's all just business.

In AoW3, your leader slides along a scale of good-neutral-evil depending on startup choices and actions during the game. All I'm concerned with is what I get for each choice. There are bonuses for being purely good or evil, and dedicated-to-neutral characters get bonuses for staying in the middle. So, I choose a role and stick with it. Doesn't matter much to me.

In short, I just want to be at arm's length--or much further away--from any graphic violence or disgusting behavior.
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The Uncharted example John mentioned is something that comes to mind a lot for me. Drake leaves hundreds of mercenaries dead in his wake, and the game pegs him as the hero. In the recent Tomb Raider games, Lara does almost the same thing, but I feel the games do a better job at making it seem like Lara really needs to kill to survive.

When a game offers a choice that's clearly good or evil, I find it difficult to take the evil path, even in a second or third playthrough.

In Grim Dawn there are situations where you can choose a less righteous path, such as keeping a treasured heirloom rather than return it to a grieving family member, or ask for some coin before safely teleporting a merchant to town. Since the game doesn't have a way of restoring a save game, I usually don't take those kind of routes unless I've decided to go full evil for the entire game.

In Detroit: Become Human, there were a number of times the game forced me to choose a difficult path. One such situation was when Kara, Alice, and Luther are at a bus station which is sold out for the last bus out of town. A family of 3 drops their tickets, which Kara picks up. If you choose to keep the tickets, you presumably get on the bus and bypass a lot of the more difficult parts of the games. I'm not sure because I never tried a path where I kept the tickets, I just couldn't bring myself to do it.
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JohnRayJr wrote:
And, the player retained autonomy throughout the whole sequence. I'd feel quite a bit different if the game required me to go through with it as part of the main storyline, and afterward gave me a joke trophy saying "wasn't beating that guy to death over and over again hilarious!" GGs!


I'd agree partially with this. Up until you get to the beating you have choice. At that point it would have been cool for the option to help the priest seal Molag-Bal or something to be available. Once you get that far you have no further options. Believe me, I tried. Felt especially bad as I was doing a "good guy" run.
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Let's add another "it depends". And, as others have done, add examples.

I'll kick things off with Warframe. In that game you chop people in half, freeze them and shatter them into pieces, pin them to walls, burn them alive... And I don't feel a thing. It's a ridiculous space ninja spectacle fighter. Violent? Yes. But as far from realistic as it can be.

Now, Saints Row 2. I played 2 after playing 3, so I was hoping it to be less serious. While 3 goes full bananas in terms of plot and representation of violence, 2 still shows its GTA roots. There's a quest I vividly remember: you kidnap the significant other of the rival's gang boss, put her in a trunk and place said car so that it's crushed during a monster truck spectacle. And you can probably guess who the driver of the monster truck is. The cutscenes plays out switching in between the rival boss, who's oblivious to the whole situation, and his girlfriend, who's helplessly screaming inside the trunk. By the time he realizes what's going on, it's too late. When I picked SR2 up I was hoping for riding shotgun tigers, so this sequence did a great deal in tanking my enjoyment, as well as my overall opinion of the game.

And in a different tone, Civilization. I`ve always hesitated when it comes to nuclear weaponry, so I also recall the first time I dropped the bomb. It was in one game of Civ 5 where I was ahead in production, and my biggest rival was a bit ahead in science. Thus, I needed to invade several of his cities if I wanted to win. Him having advanced units didn't help, so I decided to unleash my nuclear arsenal for the first time ever. The bombs hit, there were screams, and the population numbers went down. Felt a bit bad at first, but what really stuck with me was the realization that I was seeing the inhabitants of the affected cities as numbers. Which, in turn, made me realize that's what a lot of people in positions of power do. That realization made me deeply uncomfortable, and not precisely with myself. On the plus side, I emerged all the wiser.
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I love being "evil" in videogames. It's entertainment; why not let the id loose and revel in it?

Trevor was my favorite character in GTA V, even without the subtext. That degree of callous psychopathy is what I'm here for; more of that, please!

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I like to use video games to "practice" making moral decisions, to explore what it feels like to make loving and caring decisions. Which is made difficult by the gamey nature of gaming. Like in Dragon Age Inquisition where the meat and drink of the game is to go around killing Templars and Mages. No opportunity to talk to them, just fight to the death (you can run away but they can't).

Like Andy said, I'm happy to help people without reward, although games usually attach a reward. I'm more interested in whether there is an interesting moral or compassionate story, that getting a few coins or a new item. So I'm looking forward to playing The Witcher 3.

So yes I get uncomfortable carrying out immoral actions. In the early days killing human enemies put me off and I stuck to monsters that vanished in a puff of smoke.
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Cynical wrote:
I love being "evil" in videogames. It's entertainment; why not let the id loose and revel in it?

Trevor was my favorite character in GTA V, even without the subtext. That degree of callous psychopathy is what I'm here for; more of that, please!



I admit, this is not too far off of what came to mind earlier this morning, when I thought "I wonder what will happen when Cynical passes through this topic..."

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JohnRayJr wrote:
Cynical wrote:
I love being "evil" in videogames. It's entertainment; why not let the id loose and revel in it?

Trevor was my favorite character in GTA V, even without the subtext. That degree of callous psychopathy is what I'm here for; more of that, please!



I admit, this is not too far off of what came to mind earlier this morning, when I thought "I wonder what will happen when Cynical passes through this topic..."

:D

More generally, I would argue that videogames as a medium are inherently somewhat amoral and anti-social.

(Hopefully I'm not about to RSP this thread...)

The defining factor of the medium is that player choices are driven by two factors -- increasing probability of success in challenges and unlocking content. You romance a character in a Bioware RPG because you know there's a sweet set of armor and a cool skill or two waiting for them at the end of the storyline, or, if you're of a much softer persuasion, because you want to see the really bad cutscenes. Overall "good and evil" decisions are made either based on tactical factors ("If I'm good, I lose access to this merchant with lots of phat lewt, but if I'm bad, this other faction turns into a horrible thorn in my side in the endgame"), or based on mining for content ("I've seen the 'good path' story, let's see the 'bad path'"). In either case, every decision is made to increase one's power over the game.

In society, we either throw people who make "moral" decisions based solely on accumulating more power/wealth in jail or give them high-ranking positions in the government. By simply playing a videogame at all, you're loudly proclaiming that you want entertainment that appeals 100% to your id, that you want to let the real world and its moral strictures go fuck themselves for a few hours while you indulge in the carnage. Why not go all in at that point?
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Most of the time, yes, but if the villain I'm dealing with is unrepentantly awful, a la Irenicus, Handsome Jack, etc, then I can't find enough ways to visit their cruelty upon them.
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Cynical wrote:
The defining factor of the medium is that player choices are driven by two factors -- increasing probability of success in challenges and unlocking content. You romance a character in a Bioware RPG because you know there's a sweet set of armor and a cool skill or two waiting for them at the end of the storyline, or, if you're of a much softer persuasion, because you want to see the really bad cutscenes. Overall "good and evil" decisions are made either based on tactical factors ("If I'm good, I lose access to this merchant with lots of phat lewt, but if I'm bad, this other faction turns into a horrible thorn in my side in the endgame"), or based on mining for content ("I've seen the 'good path' story, let's see the 'bad path'"). In either case, every decision is made to increase one's power over the game.

In society, we either throw people who make "moral" decisions based solely on accumulating more power/wealth in jail or give them high-ranking positions in the government. By simply playing a videogame at all, you're loudly proclaiming that you want entertainment that appeals 100% to your id, that you want to let the real world and its moral strictures go fuck themselves for a few hours while you indulge in the carnage. Why not go all in at that point?

That's certainly one philosophy of playing games, but I don't think it's the only one. It hasn't been my primary mode of video game engagement for many years.
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It's actually two philosophies with a common base, but at any rate, if you weren't making decisions to try to win/advance the game or to try to view content, then on what basis were you making decisions?
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Cynical wrote:
It's actually two philosophies with a common base, but at any rate, if you weren't making decisions to try to win/advance the game or to try to view content, then on what basis were you making decisions?

As I get older I find I frequently role-play my game choices, even when it's not strictly a role playing game. When I play a board game or a competitive game online then I will try to make optimum choices, but if I'm playing solo I find myself far less constrained to seek only the optimum path.
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Leaving aside concerns of whether role-playing is another method of content-mining (or whether it's even playing the game at all, in the sometimes-professed case of "pretending you're that world leader" in Civilization), how exactly do you role-play in games outside of the narrowly-defined sub-sub-genre of Fallout-derived western cRPGs? How would one go about making decisions based on role-playing in, say, Devil May Cry, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Doom 2, Dark Souls, Tales of Zesteria, Ys SEVEN, Final Fantasy V, XCOM: UFO Defense, Metal Slug, Monster Hunter, Grand Theft Auto III, or Legend of Grimrock?
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Nope, not a bit. One example are the Civilization games. I could go ultimate peaceful and work toward never fighting or I could go full on war mode from the start.

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Cynical wrote:
By simply playing a videogame at all, you're loudly proclaiming that you want entertainment that appeals 100% to your id, that you want to let the real world and its moral strictures go fuck themselves for a few hours while you indulge in the carnage.

You might be doing that; I'm not. It has never been a motivator for me (unless it was an unconscious one).

However, way back in 1982, Chris Crawford listed "nose-thumbing" as one of the reasons we play games (from The Art of Computer Game Design):

Quote:
Nose-Thumbing

A common function of games is to provide a means of overcoming social restrictions, at least in fantasy. Many games place the player in a role that would not be socially acceptable in real life, such as a pirate or a thief. An excellent (albeit extreme) example of this is the game CRUSH, CRUMBLE, AND CHOMP by Automated Simulations. In this game the player is cast as a 1950’s-vintage monster going on a rampage through his favorite city. He stomps on police cars, crushes buildings, swats helicopters, and creates general mayhem. The box art shows a monster about to attack an IRS building as terrified citizens flee. This represents an extreme case of anti-social behavior made acceptable by the safety of the game.

Sometimes the player’s role is itself socially acceptable, but the actions taken are discouraged in real life. MONOPOLY encourages players to engage in what the Federal Trade Commission delicately calls "predatory trade practices." Wargames encourage players to start and win wars. Some games address sexual matters, allowing players to indulge in make-believe behavior that they could never exhibit in the real world.

The most telling example of this nose-thumbing phenomenon lies in the arcade games. These games emphasize violence, and lots of it. The theme is almost universal in arcades: destroy somebody. The coup de grace is not delivered discreetly or elegantly. On the contrary, the victim is dispatched with the most colorful animated explosion possible. Like a Sam Peckinpah movie, the violence is the whole point and purpose of the enterprise. Yet, even as we pander to these distasteful emotions, we delicately mask them in less offensive garb. We never, never obliterate human beings; instead, we vaporize ugly space monsters. The monsters have perpetrated some odious interstellar crime, so the player is cast as the defender, the protector, or the avenger. The case is often presented that the game represents a time of extreme crisis ("THE FATE OF HUMANITY IS AT STAKE!!!"). This heightens the player’s sense of urgency; it also conveniently justifies the use of extreme violence, thereby allowing the player to have violence without guilt. The player can thumb his nose at social strictures and engage in violence and mass murder without risking censure. The game provides a safe way to thumb one’s nose.


Seems that only one thing has changed since 1982, when that was written: Today there's no compunction about wanton murder, etc. in games. What you go around killing doesn't have to be a monster or alien invader; it can be an innocent bystander or anybody.

But I seem to be less drawn to that than many gamers. And I steer clear of games with up-close graphic violence, especially if it's outside the context of war.
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
It has never been a motivator for me .


that book wrote:
Wargames encourage players to start and win wars.


Uh... don't you play loads of wargames?
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