Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How Evil Is Too Evil?

So evil!! On A Bike! Master Criminal!

We’re really evolving as a community. Now the New Yorker wants to talk about video games. Maybe not in the best light, but hey, it’s the New Yorker. We’re in jackpot territory now.

With the release of Grand Theft Auto V this past week, the New Yorker set out to ask and potentially answer a very interesting question that we tend to overlook when it comes to video games: How evil should a game allow you to be

Good question.

We spend a lot of our time defending video games and focusing on the positive aspects of it. Most of us want to and dream about being the superhero. We want to put on the spandex outfit, fly around, and save the day. And many video games cater towards those fantasies. Very few set out with the intent for you to be evil. And given the choice, most of us still go to the good side. Take the case of Mass Effect, when BioWare posted the stats, which have been collected sine ME1, it’s amazing to see that 2/3rds of the population went Paragon, and I’m still floored that only 8% opted to not cure the Genophage. Hell, I thought it would be much higher, but people have a general understanding that genocide is a bad idea. 

Personal morality plays a big part in why we choose to go the good or the bad route in a game. While they do give us more freedom to try things without consequences, there is still a part of us that feels the sting when we know something isn’t right. Part of what makes a video game appealing are creating these dynamic worlds where we interact and grow attach to characters. We feel remorse, resentment, sadness, joy, and everything in between when something happens to said characters. So the chances of a gamer doing something evil are even less. I wouldn’t be surprised if games like Infamous, which give more obvious delineations between good and evil, had gamer stats that shows more people went to the light side. The darkness may have cooler powers, but at the end of the day, your moral compass feels like crap.

So how evil should a game allow their players to go? That’s up to the developer at the end of the day. While GTA may allow you to pick up a hooker to regenerate your health, and allow you to kill her to regain your money, that’s about as far into the dangerous level of crime you’re going to get with the game. You’ll never see a company like RockStar promote a product based on sexual crimes. Hell, it is entirely plausible to play most of the GTA games without killing a single person. Try it! It’s a challenge, but well worth the effort. Game developers have set their own limits, but many of those are a result of personal morality. Even something such as Super Columbine Massacre RPG (which the New Yorker over glorifies for the wrong reasons), where the gameplay revolves around setting up the bombs and shooting students at a school, the message and the focus is much deeper than that. In fact, the damn thing isn’t really a game. It’s an artistic piece that taps into a disturbed part of our culture. What should have been something to ignite a healthy debate about our society and gun laws turned into a snuff piece. Not on the fault of the creator, mind you.

In the same breath, is it wrong for us to ask for limitations on our games to prevent scenes of sexual assault, extreme murder, and dismemberment that is not a zombie? We would be infringing on that person’s creative freedom. I think most developers choose not to go down those paths because of backlash from, well, everyone. Even if the intent was to raise awareness regarding sexual crimes or how easy it is to get a gun in the state of Texas (which it is, by the way) and go on a murderous rampage, people don’t want to see the truth. They don’t want to be made aware of reality and they don’t want others to become absorbed into those virtual worlds where such extreme behavior is possible. And developers don’t want to encourage that type of lifestyle. I can’t say that I blame them, but even as hard core as I am about stopping sexual related crimes and standing up for women’s rights, I’m also a supporter of the First Amendment. If someone makes a game about “the fun of killing babies” they have the right to do so. Just as I have the right to say why I’m appalled by the notion. (About that Texas gun point I was making, don’t really do it. Besides, for every one dumbass with a gun and tries to do something stupid with it, around here, there are 50 more with a gun who aren’t idiots and are not afraid to stop you from making a scene. Something to keep in mind.)

Ultimately, it’s up to the developers of the products and how much they want to release to the world. Just as it is with any book, movie, tv show, or play, video games are only limited by their creators. If someone wants to release a game about being a violent sociopath in modern day society, who’s to stop them? They have that right. Personally, I only feel such a crazy game would work if it’s presented in a context to help fuel the talks about mental health and the lack of health care coverage for those suffering from psychological issues. Games such as those could really help develop the discussions needed to improve the moral fabric of society.

It’s okay to be bad in a video game. I don’t want to come out as someone who condones evil deeds in a game, because I’ve done them too. We all have. Hell, every one of us has probably driven through a red light or through a stop sign in at least one game that involves a car. And it’s okay that it happened in a game. As long as you know not to do that in the real world. Seriously. Mister SUV who always loves to run that red light at the corner of the street over there by my job. It’s red for a reason. Obey the law of the light or you might kill someone. Real world consequences are not as “cool” as game ones. 

I think that being crazy in a game can be a great stress release, and most gamers know that actions in a game are not meant to be translated into reality. Logic. It's a thing.

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