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Weekend Reading: Moral choices in gaming

10:05 PM on 03.18.2007
Weekend Reading: Moral choices in gaming photo

Y'know, sometimes it's just impossible to find a picture that depicts what you're talking about in an article. In an abstract way, I guess this picture fits well. Over Spring break, I had to read My Lai: A History with Documents. If you know anything about the incident, it isn't exactly our proudest moment as a military power. It brought to mind though, thoughts about games like Battlefield Vietnam and the Rainbow Six series. Now, what if a game actually put you in a position where you had to make a moral choice like the soldiers at My Lai did?

This week, I'd like to address the idea of moral choices in games. A while back, RevAnthony did a piece on all this, and in some respects, I'll be building off of his generalities, as I plan to deal with some specific cases. So, I suggest giving his article a read when you get the chance.

Alright, so let's jump back to Vietnam. In a game, say you start off by being put into a new company. As you play through the game, you have to deal with landmines, hit and run attacks, and uncooperative villagers. Essentially, the game is trying to agitate you. Now, one of your missions is to rout out enemies from a traditionally VC-friendly village. Before the mission starts, you commander reminds you of all the poeple in the company that have died. Once your chopper lands, there is no immediate resistance (which is rather odd), and so the landing zone is easily secured. As you go through the village, you hear gunfire coming from other areas, but are only encountering old men, women, and small children. RememberL any of them could be an enemy. The kids could walk up to your jeep and drop grenades in. Would you gun them down just to be safe?

Later on, you're guarding about 80 villagers that have been rounded up. Your commander comes by and orders you to waste them all. What do you do?

This doesn't necessarily have an impact on your gameplay, but it does present you with a moral choice, and puts you in the mindset of the soldiers who experienced this. Now, I realize that these games would probably do poorly with the mass market, since you're putting them through a game where they are actually experiencing what it was like in Vietnam, not just getting to go around, guns ablazing. Of course I could be wrong, and the mass audience would love this sort of game; but for now let's put it under the category of "games as art."

For another example, here's a game whose gameplay revolves around your decisions. Take something like Front Mission 4, where the setting is in international politics. Now, have the player as a leader of a country, where they have to make diplomatic decisions as to what to do in a wartime setting. When I was thinking up this example, the big thing that comes to mind is post-WWII US. Having the player make decisions about containment polcy in Europe and East and South Asia allows for a myraid of possibilities in how the game turns out.

Now, the second option really doesn't sound like a full game, and more like a history simulator. So then imagine combining the two examples, where you get to experience the reprecussions of your actions on the frontline. Providing the player with both an experience of a situation at both the micro and macro level would create an interesting perspective on what their actions do.

What I'm trying to get at here is that there's this really nice avenue where a genre can be completely turned on its head and provide for something that's truly innovative. Normally, FPS games are all about the wanton killing of anything that isn't on your side. Add in what I've described above, and it actually gives the story mode some meaning, as opposed to just acting as a training mode for multiplayer.

Actually seeing this game made, and even finding out the results of how people acted in situations really fascinates me. Would you enjoy seeing these sort of moral choices placed into games? Or am I just rambling on about something that'd utterly kill the gameplay for you?

Also, I really do recommend picking up the My Lai book, as it does a great job of telling the story of what happened, almost completely through the soldiers' own words.

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