A/N: Essay written for my subject; INF10014 – Information Methods.  I received a High Distinction grade.


As human beings we are constantly bombarded with change, the increased use of information technology in our society has led to a shift in the way we are entertained.  There is constant media attention on the increase of violence in video games and the consequent effects this has on our values and morals as a society.  The reality is, that video games have not become more violent, but more graphically enhanced as our technology advances.  This subsequent enhancement has not desensitised us as a society nor has it had a negative impact on our values and morals, rather the opposite. Video games in recent years have increased our awareness of decisions and the resulting affects this has on the people around us. This essay aims to prove that video games do not make crazed killers out of everyday people, rather more conscious members of society.

Society, morally, finds video gaming, especially those said to be violent, distasteful (Schulzke 2010). It began in the 1980s with the emersion of arcade games such as Street Fighter which was released by Capcom in 1987, this game involved fighting ‘to the death’ with another opponent (Ferguson et al. 2008). Another game that was considered ‘immoral’ when it was released was Wolfenstein 3D developed by ID Software in 1992, amazingly this series is still alive today and Wolfenstein: The New Order was released earlier this year. These types of games sparked all sorts of out cries from religious groups concerned with Satanism and moral depravity to health professionals concerned with subsequent psychosis and the worry that children cannot determine the difference between the virtual world and reality (Ferguson 2008).  Surprisingly, this isn’t far off from what men believed about women during the 19th century where reading novels was concerned (Kirschenbaum 2007).  When put into this context it is hard to believe that humanity still believes such ridiculous fallacies.

Violence within video gaming is a very controversial topic; there is a strong view with some researchers that there is a connection between simulated violence and aggressive behaviour (Schulzke 2010). However studies on the link between the two have shown that exposure to violent games has not increased aggressive behaviour in the participants (Ferguson et al. 2008).  In fact, it was determined that aggressive feelings within the female participants significantly decreased after playing a first person shooter for thirty minutes, going as far as to question the common conviction that playing violent games creates violent people (Ferguson et al. 2008) When considering these research results, it is fundamentally difficult to believe that the media and other prominent television personalities plug this as the ‘main reason’ why students go homicidal within schools.

Exposure to simulated violence has been around for many years. So it is surprising that considering violent cartoons like the Looney Tunes have been around since the 1930s that people would latch onto video games as the source of today’s violent teenagers, when they themselves grew up watching Elmer Fudd shoot Bugs Bunny in the face every Saturday morning.  While the media throws around video game violence as the founding factor of school shootings, investigators have proven this wrong in many cases; in fact some of the students didn’t even own computers, let alone video games of any sort (Ferguson, 2008).

So despite the common perception it seems that games have no effect on human aggression or increase violent crime (Schulzke 2010). Aristotle (1999, p. 45-50) even goes as far as to state, “certain displays of violent entertainment can actually have a morally edifying effect on the audience”.  This is an interesting perspective that can be tied in with moral decisions within many games. These types of games offer up many choices in which a gamer has to dig deep within their own morals and values to figure out what is ethical by their own standards.  While this may seem a touch farfetched to the non-gamer, it is unlike any other feeling, you become one with the character, immersing yourself into the game world and the psyche of your chosen character (Lewis et al. 2008).  Although the character is not real it becomes a reflection of your own personality, thereby imprinting your own morals and values onto the avatar. It is a form of amalgamation, melding your own mind with that of your character (Lewis et al. 2008). Character attachment is common in RPG (Role Playing Game) gaming, you become fond of the other AI (Artificial Intelligence) characters forming a sort of bond with the game.  One of the best AIs in recent gaming years is Elizabeth from Irrational Games final game in the Bioshock trilogy, Bioshock Infinite.  The co-creator of the trilogy, Bill Gardner called her the “heart and soul of the story” and the majority of gamers couldn’t agree more (GamejunkieNZ 2013).  It is these types of attachments and pure human moral fibres that make it hard to believe people see gaming in such a negative light.

According to Batista & Vaz de Carvalho (2008), games “influence many human cognitive functions, such as memory, imagination, perception and reasoning”.  Games help us to acquire important life skills such as creativity and critical thinking; they can also increase our technological abilities and mental abilities, such as reaction time (Batista & Vaz de Carvalho 2008).  Not only this, these games can be used to teach morals and values.  One Norwegian high school is even using the series by Telltale games, The Walking Dead, to teach students about ethics (Hamilton 2014).  This game is one of the greatest masterpieces to arrive on the PC screen in the last two years.  It’s not a traditional RPG but rather a point-and-click game that serves up some of the worst moral dilemmas I have ever experienced in gaming.  The majority of choices within the game are emotionally jarring with no clear cut answer on how to deal with the situation; you spend half of the time wondering if you could have done something better (Butler 2012).  In the zombie apocalypse life is very tough and the decisions are even tougher, you begin the second episode of the series with an intense decision. A man is stuck in a hunting trap that is broken, you can either chop off his leg and hopefully he will survive or you can leave him to the ‘walkers’, the worst part about this series is that each decision has a limited time in order for you to chose your option, you get 15 seconds, if you’re lucky.  This game in particular increases the functional abilities of the brain and allows us to make faster and more accurate decisions, increasing the reaction time, while allowing the player to weigh up many outcomes in a short amount of time and pick the one that they feel is ethically correct according to their own values.

While video gaming has received a considerably bad rap in mainstream media, it continues to be immensely popular (Schulzke 2010). Many people find it satisfying to successfully complete a game and it has been likened to finishing a very good novel.  While many games have explosions and destruction, similar to blockbuster action films, it is the ones who have choices that give the player the option to use violence for good or evil that changes our moral fibre.  There are many instances within games that require decisions that can be, as Schulzke (2010, p. 130) states, “a potentially valuable source of moral training”. In games such as, Fallout 3, every mission has several possible outcomes.  As a player you can choose to multiple different paths which ultimately depend on whether you choose to be good or evil (Schulzke 2009).  It also changes the other characters and the way they interact with you based on your decisions. From a personal perspective I have played Fallout 3, 5 times now and have never played the same path. This form of gaming is not only enjoyable but it provides us with significant moral predicaments which ultimately improve decision making (Schulzke 2010).

The hardest moral decision I have ever had to make within a game was at the ending of the RPG Trilogy by Bioware, Mass Effect. In this game you are a commander of a ship in the human army called the Alliance. The whole galaxy is at war with a race of sentient machines called the Reapers who have been programmed to come every 50 billion years and exterminate all organic life from the galaxy. The council, which is a collective of different alien races, built a weapon to wipe the Reapers out. As the commander you end up having to ‘trigger’ this weapon. At the end of the game when you come to trigger the weapon, you are given three choices. You can fire the weapon and destroy all artificial intelligence; this includes a friendly race of robots called the Geth and the AI who runs your ship, the Normandy, called EDI who has become part of your crew. You can merge all organic life with mechanical life or you can become the “Catalyst” and your conscious is downloaded into the machine, you become the controlling force of the Reapers, which means you can stop the war, however your body is destroyed and you are forever stuck as the Catalyst.

So what do you do? Destroy innocent machines that have nothing to do with the Reapers and are theoretically beings with conscious thoughts and feelings? Merge organics with machines and make a decision for billions of humans, aliens and machines without their consent? Or do you become the control for the Reapers, forever alone and watching the galaxy for billions of years to come?  This decision took me over an hour to make and even then I was distraught as I believe I made the wrong choice.  Many people were dissatisfied with the ending, whether this was from the decisions they made or from the actual storyline itself is not clear (Clarkson 2013). The whole trilogy was fraught with moral dilemmas that torture the players, the worst one seeming to be the decision within the first game as to which member of your crew to save, Ashley or Kaiden (Hardest Moral Choice you had to make in a game? n.d.).

I have recently begun to play the Bioshock series and within the first game (Bioshock) you are given an extreme moral decision that is repeated throughout the game that shook me to the core.  You can either choose to kill a small child for a maximum hit of a substance called ADAM which improves your character or you can ‘save’ them and receive a reduced amount, which still enables you to progress, just at a slower rate (Tavinor 2009).  It is these types of decisions that allow people to work through moral obstacles and really consider their personal values (Schulzke 2010).  Personally I couldn’t kill them; I just found the idea horrifying and it seems most people within game forums agreed with me (Bioshock and the moral dilemma 2007).  It’s these types of forum discussions between gamers that prove even when you are gaming your personal morals and values play a big part in the decisions you make.

Research clearly shows that gamers are not violent human beings.  Aggression and violent behaviour is not increased by playing violent videos games, if anything it has the opposite effect.  Gamers are obviously more conscious of decisions they make in everyday life and are more in touch with their own morals, values and ethics.  Video gaming increases human abilities such as cognitive functions and physical reaction time.  It allows us to make decisions faster and more accurately, thereby helping us in everyday life. This essay clearly shows that video games do not make crazed killers out of everyday people, rather it makes them more aware of the decisions they make and the resulting affects on others within society.


References

Aristotle 1999, Nicomachean ethics, Upper Saddle River, Prentice Hall.

Batista, R & Vaz de Carvalho, C 2008, ‘Work in progress – learning through role play games’, Frontiers in Education Conference, 2008, FIE 2008, 38th Annual, vol., no., pp.T3C-7-T3C-8.

Bioshock and the moral dilemma 2007, Neoseeker, viewed 11 July 2014, <http://www.neoseeker.com/forums/31136/t991712-bioshock-moral-dilemma/>.

Butler, M 2012, Opinion: Five Reasons Why ‘The Walking Dead’ Might Be the Game of the Year, FMV Magazine, viewed 11 July 2014, <http://www.fmvmagazine.com/?p=9329>.

Clarkson, S 2013, Mass Effect 3’s Ending Disrespects Its Most Invested Players, Kotaku, viewed 11 July 2014, <http://www.kotaku.com/5898743/mass-effect-3s-ending-disrespects-its-most-invested-players>.

‘Digital Gaming’ [image], viewed 11 July 2014, <http://rack.3.mshcdn.com/media/ZgkyMDEzLzA5LzIxLzAxL2RpZ2l0YWxnYW1pLjkxM2Y1LmpwZwpwCXRodW1iCTk1MHg1MzQjCmUJanBn/e2f30e68/9ac/digital-gaming.jpg>.

Ferguson, CJ 2008, ‘The School Shooting/Violent Video Game Link: Causal Relationship or Moral Panic?’, Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, vol. 5, no. 1-2, pp. 25-37.

Ferguson, CJ, Rueda, SM, Cruz AM, Ferguson, DE, Fritz, S & Smith SM 2008, ‘Violent Video Games and Aggression: Casual Relationship or Byproduct of Family Violence and Intrinsic Violence Motivation?’, Criminal Justice Behavior, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 311-332.

GamejunkieNZ 2013, Gamejunkie, viewed 11 July 2014, <http://gamejunkie.kiwi/2013/03/28/elizabeth-is-the-heart-and-soul-of-bioshock-infinite/>.

Hamilton, K 2014, A School using The Walking Dead Game to Teach Ethics, Kotaku, viewed 11 July 2014 <http://www.kotaku.com/a-school-using-the-walking-dead-game-to-teach-ethics-1503533906>.

Hardest Moral Choice you had to make in a game? n.d., Escapist Magazine, viewed 11 July 2014, <http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/9.305935-Hardest-Moral-Choice-you-had-to-make-in-a-game>.

Kirschenbaum, M 2007, ‘How reading is being reimagined’, The Chronicle of Higher Education, vol. 54, no. 15, pp. B20.

Lewis, ML, Weber, R & Bowman ND 2008, ‘They May Be Pixels, But They’re MY Pixels: Developing a Metric of Character Attachment in Role-Playing Video Games’, CyberPsychology & Behavior, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 515-518.

Schulzke, M 2009, ‘Moral decision making in fallout’, Game Studies, vol. 9, no. 2.

Schulzke, M 2010, ‘Defending the morality of violent video games’, Ethics and Information Technology, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 127-138.

Tavinor, G 2009, ‘Bioshock and the art of rapture’, Philosophy and Literature, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 91-106.

Creative Commons License
Technomancer: Gaming is NOT a Crime by Sheridan Brownlie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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