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Virtually Beyond Good and Evil

About Mostly Inadvertent Offences

Previous Entry Virtually Beyond Good and Evil Jun. 29th, 2011 @ 06:41 pm Next Entry

I need to read Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil again. I've been struggling to recall it as I've been thinking for a couple weeks about the fallacy of objective morality. Though perhaps the more important question is how morality applies to video games.

I consider myself a gamer, but I don't play a wide variety of games. Usually just one at a time, and often very old ones. But I like watching some of the video commentary on modern games, like Zero Punctuation (Yahtzee) and, more recently, I've started watching Total Biscuit on YouTube after Tim first told me about him a few months ago. I find I like listening to his mailbox segment while inking since it's almost entirely audio--as it happens to-day both commentators I mentioned were talking about morality mechanics in video games, games that attach a certain moral value to actions of the player, bestowing specific powers upon the player for amounts of points accrued for "good" or "evil". Specifically, Yahtzee and Total Biscuit are talking about how these morality systems never seem to work, Biscuit citing one example I had personal experience with, the Knights of the Old Republic games which tended to make the "evil" dialogue options also pretty stupid--basically rude and heartless statements to people, implying that subtlety and complex duplicity are things which evil people apparently haven't the capacity for.

Do you get my point there? My sarcasm? If so, you either have a definition for the word "evil" or a latent conception of what the word is usually taken to mean, in either case making the KOTOR system seem relatively silly. But when you try to articulate it, I bet you'll find it's hard to precisely define what is evil. I am in the camp that says there is no objective morality, but I'm sometimes comfortable using the word evil for consistently destructive behaviour, though I usually reserve the word for fictional characters. A prime example would be the Master on Doctor Who--all there is to the guy is wanting to do bad. There's little consistency to his motives--sometimes he wants to rule the world, the galaxy, the universe, sometimes he wants to destroy one of those, sometimes he just wants to troll the Doctor. The only consistency to him is that he always wants to do the Very Wrong Thing, which is of course what makes him so uninteresting. For a better evil character, I'd point to someone like Jaffar in the 1940 Thief of Bagdad--there seems to be more to him than just a blank, default antagonism. He's possibly motivated by a jealousy of others' happiness, by his fixation on the Princess, his need for her love. Some would say he's not really evil, just misguided, but of course, to say that, you'd have to have a definition for what is evil--maybe you regard evil as just the blank silliness of the Master. I might say having a capacity for empathy and going against it anyway for selfish reasons has the potential to be far more terrifying than a simple psychopath. Calling a real person "evil" for behaving in this manner may be counterproductive--you're hardly going to convince someone to come back from the Dark Side if you casually use terms that suggest you consider them irredeemable. This is why I'm generally less comfortable using the word when referring to real people.

In any case, of course, it's all dependant on perspective--who's to say the deaths of innocents isn't a good thing to God and/or the universe. But it's evil to me and anyone whose perspective I could get with, so I'm fine having a perspective that includes the existence of a good and an evil.

However, it doesn't make sense that I get good "karma" for killing some bandits in Fallout: New Vegas and then get bad "karma" for stealing from them. One can see how this went wrong--a game designer decided killing serial murderers was good, while stealing was bad, and forgot to think about nuances. In this respect (as in several others) Oblivion was a far superior game--there was no good/bad meter for players. If you stole something, it was illegal, but that only mattered if someone saw you steal it or you tried to sell it to someone. Imposing morality is almost invariably obtrusively artificial. It's usually only fun when you're deliberately fucking with the system, laughing at the game rather than with it.

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