Beyond Good And Evil

Religion is a bit of a paradox for me. I love the poetry of something spiritual affecting the way we live our lives, but I flat-out refuse to believe in a higher authority that in some way manipulates us or our environments. I dont believe in God. But for some unexplainable reason, I believe in karma.

If you do something bad, something bad will happen to you in turn.

The idea being, if you do something bad, you deserve something bad to happen to you. It's such a powerful notion that it is often explored and manipulated in all sorts of everyday forms of human expression. Take films - the bad guy does something bad (to prove a point) and then is ultimately defeated by the end of the film. Balence is restored, the people can drive home happy in their comfortable bubble of fictional equilibrium.

And so, we move to computer games.

The concept of a Moral Decision in a game has become increasingly popular with developers. I'm going to referance GTA4 and Bioshock here as these are games where this concept is most apparent and most people who read this will be able to relate to these examples. You are occasionaly asked to decide between "right" and "wrong". Except, there is no Right and Wrong. Both paths will result in one form of gratification, and one form of nagativity. Pro's and con's. Arguably neither of these decisions are allegedly "evil", because the "ends justify the means". Its cool, we can do bad things in a computer game and retair our humanity. There is no such thing as virtual guilt.

 You shoot a pedestrian in the head in GTA for no reason - and the cops will chase you. Thats your punishment. But one death and one loading screen later and you are back to square one, walking the streets with gun in hand - free in every sense of the word. The punishment is in itself a form of enjoyment. Pedestrians do not recoil in fear with fresh memories of the slaughter that happened not ten minutes beforehand. You are emotionally free of you sins. You cannot retain your evil status. Is that appropriate Karma?

How often are we offered to take on the role of the bad guy? All the time. We love playing criminals, we love escaping from the cops and we love the whole "rape and pillage" thing. Its good fun. The consequences may be negative, but they are still entertaining. In the games we play, we always win. At the end of the day, we are winners. The characters we play are never evil. They are neutral, and we chose to do evil through them. Just because you are given the option to do bad, should you always leap at the oppurtunity?
There is always an underlying decency apparent in ourselves - through our detachment to computer games.

Fable 2 looks like it could be interesting. You can take on the role of the bad guy, and people respond accordingly. The thing is, at the end of the day its a computer game. You can be as dastardly as you like, but you are still going to enjoy the experiance, and still laugh with spiteful glee as you perform public indecency after public indecency. The fact that you are rewarded an achievement for doing so only confirms the concept that Evil is fun. What happened to the concept of Karma. Wheres the sense of doubt? Wheres the guilt? Wheres the Karma?

And this, I think its important to state, is why I love Shadow Of The Collosus. I know I keep going on about it, but I genuinely feel that this game has tapped into a completely new resource in computer games. The concept of our actions having an effect on US as oppose to having an negative effect on our character. You can progress through the game without recieving new abilities or rewards, just a progressive build up of guilt as you destroy these beautiful creations in your quest, which becomes increasingly clouded by human doubt. The only impulse is the end of the game, the finish of the story. But you will remember how you felt much stronger than you remember how you played the game.

And so I think its time computer games begin to transcend the realms of emotional indifference. Not all the time, but I think some more emotionally provacative games are needed. Moral decisions are all well and good, but are ultimately still within the boundaries of the "good and evil" concepts. Isnt it time we were actually affected by our flipancy within these virtual environments?

Thanks for reading what has become a mad jumble of reflection, I hope you guys understand this stuff and that I havent finally taken the last steps to insanity.
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Sweep
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Posted by Sweep

Religion is a bit of a paradox for me. I love the poetry of something spiritual affecting the way we live our lives, but I flat-out refuse to believe in a higher authority that in some way manipulates us or our environments. I dont believe in God. But for some unexplainable reason, I believe in karma.

If you do something bad, something bad will happen to you in turn.

The idea being, if you do something bad, you deserve something bad to happen to you. It's such a powerful notion that it is often explored and manipulated in all sorts of everyday forms of human expression. Take films - the bad guy does something bad (to prove a point) and then is ultimately defeated by the end of the film. Balence is restored, the people can drive home happy in their comfortable bubble of fictional equilibrium.

And so, we move to computer games.

The concept of a Moral Decision in a game has become increasingly popular with developers. I'm going to referance GTA4 and Bioshock here as these are games where this concept is most apparent and most people who read this will be able to relate to these examples. You are occasionaly asked to decide between "right" and "wrong". Except, there is no Right and Wrong. Both paths will result in one form of gratification, and one form of nagativity. Pro's and con's. Arguably neither of these decisions are allegedly "evil", because the "ends justify the means". Its cool, we can do bad things in a computer game and retair our humanity. There is no such thing as virtual guilt.

 You shoot a pedestrian in the head in GTA for no reason - and the cops will chase you. Thats your punishment. But one death and one loading screen later and you are back to square one, walking the streets with gun in hand - free in every sense of the word. The punishment is in itself a form of enjoyment. Pedestrians do not recoil in fear with fresh memories of the slaughter that happened not ten minutes beforehand. You are emotionally free of you sins. You cannot retain your evil status. Is that appropriate Karma?

How often are we offered to take on the role of the bad guy? All the time. We love playing criminals, we love escaping from the cops and we love the whole "rape and pillage" thing. Its good fun. The consequences may be negative, but they are still entertaining. In the games we play, we always win. At the end of the day, we are winners. The characters we play are never evil. They are neutral, and we chose to do evil through them. Just because you are given the option to do bad, should you always leap at the oppurtunity?
There is always an underlying decency apparent in ourselves - through our detachment to computer games.

Fable 2 looks like it could be interesting. You can take on the role of the bad guy, and people respond accordingly. The thing is, at the end of the day its a computer game. You can be as dastardly as you like, but you are still going to enjoy the experiance, and still laugh with spiteful glee as you perform public indecency after public indecency. The fact that you are rewarded an achievement for doing so only confirms the concept that Evil is fun. What happened to the concept of Karma. Wheres the sense of doubt? Wheres the guilt? Wheres the Karma?

And this, I think its important to state, is why I love Shadow Of The Collosus. I know I keep going on about it, but I genuinely feel that this game has tapped into a completely new resource in computer games. The concept of our actions having an effect on US as oppose to having an negative effect on our character. You can progress through the game without recieving new abilities or rewards, just a progressive build up of guilt as you destroy these beautiful creations in your quest, which becomes increasingly clouded by human doubt. The only impulse is the end of the game, the finish of the story. But you will remember how you felt much stronger than you remember how you played the game.

And so I think its time computer games begin to transcend the realms of emotional indifference. Not all the time, but I think some more emotionally provacative games are needed. Moral decisions are all well and good, but are ultimately still within the boundaries of the "good and evil" concepts. Isnt it time we were actually affected by our flipancy within these virtual environments?

Thanks for reading what has become a mad jumble of reflection, I hope you guys understand this stuff and that I havent finally taken the last steps to insanity.
Love
Sweep
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Posted by Player1

I personally think that Karma and God go hand in hand. If you do something good, God will be pleased with you, and reward you. And visa versa. My question to you is this. When you do something good, who rewards you with good karma? If there is no higher being then you, that can manipulate the world, then who would reward you? IF you did somthing bad, who who punish you. If there is nobody out there (in your beliefs) then Karma can't be true. 

Or maybe I just dont understand karma. But good and bad things don't  just happen. People make the decisions themselves. I mean its pretty obvious if your nice to a person, they will be nice back. But thats not exactly karma. Thats just life. 

And I'm not trying to get you to believe in a God or anything, just throwing something out there. God doesn't exactly manipulate us.  He gave us free will, so we have the decision to do whatever we want. So maybe that guy with good karma won't get what he deserves, because a human decided on his own to hurt him or whatever. I just don't want to be under the notion that a God controls our entire life's. If he did, there wouldn't even be an earth, wed all be up in heaven on our knees praising him 24/7. He gave us earth, so we could enjoy it, and made our own decisions. Not so he could manipulate us.

The next question is, is their actually a God. Thanks for another rant. 
Posted by Sweep

one belief does not neccesitate the other. i can be a supersticious athiest.

Slightly missing the point I feel, but thank you for your contribution nonetheless... I was more concerned with the concept of emotional negativity as a consequence of a computer game, but whatever...

Moderator
Posted by Lies

This post had nothing to do with Beyond Good and Evil. I have been mislead!

Posted by Oni

I would definitely like to see a game where everything you did would persist and not get erased or 'cancelled out' by doing a good deed. I mean stuff like that happens on a small scale in games like Mass Effect, where being a dick to one person will make it so that one person hates you, even if you're a saint to everyone else, but that's on a very small scale.

Posted by tokyochicken

This is a really interesting article sweep. I've been thinking about this concept for a while and it really can be hard to think of. Its a really hard thing to really make a person care about his/her actions in a game. Its odd to really think about what the developer can do, I mean sure they can make the game harder on you but in a way its just another obstacle for the player to go through. Yes, they get re payed for they actions but I don't think most players will really care about the towns people in fable hating them. I've always loved the concept of making the player care for someone or something in the game and taking that thing or person away on behalf of their actions. Sure it takes some work to get the player to care about someone in a game but hell Portal did it with as god damn cube. All in all this is a really interesting idea that hasn't had its full potential tapped yet. Love the article sweep.

Posted by Claude

I'm agnostic, but I also believe in karma. I have faith in the human spirit, the human endeavor and within this faith lies my belief in karma. As for games, they are treading lightly in this area, I feel. Entertainment is the first focus of a game, much like the majority of movies being made. I've often wanted a different approach in my games, instead of moving games toward the movie industry in story telling, move them more toward a written novel. I know it's not for every game, but there is a need for better writting and moral choices in a game. Only time will tell this story, leaving us with one question. "As the industry grows, will they grow up or become stagnet and lose their spirit?"

Posted by Claude

Sorry about the double post, but I thought I would mention a movie I just saw called "Reign Over Me". It's set in New York and stars Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle. It's about this guy who has post traumatic stress disorder, his family died on 9/11. Now here is the cool thing, he plays "Shadow of the Collosus" almost religiously and the game plays a supporting role in the movie. That's it and I loved the game as well.

Posted by Sweep

Thanks for your comments everyone, its made me really happy to see there are other gamers out there who are prepared to reflect on such advanced game concepts like this.

Claude - i gotta check that film out, when was it released?

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Posted by Claude

Here's the imbd article, it well tell you everything you need to know. March 2007.