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.