Tuesday, June 23, 2009

GAMERS' BAD CONSCIENCE: Moral emotions in games & other news

The semester is over and I am reading through my students' essays and assignments. I realize that it is very hard, almost impossible, for some of them to write anything else than a game review. The question is: to buy, or not to buy. Or rather: to download illegally, or not? This confirms what José Zagal wrote about in his paper on teaching about digital games.
Apart from that, my paper about "moral" decisions in single-player games just made it into a book called Ethics and Game Design. It basically explores the feelings of guilt and bad conscience we get while playing scoundrels in video games. Kicking innocents, teaming up with vampires, abusing doctors sans frontiers, such things. I tried to come up with a model (oh yes, a model!) of what has to be considered while thinking about our moral emotions in gameplay. Of course, much of what I'm talking about came up in the discussions in the Valuable Games Harvard-MIT sessions, which I dearly miss. Another source of inspiration was John Walker's incessantly entertaining and disturbing account of playing evil in Knights Of The Old Republic.
It was one of those papers that make you read stuff, read more stuff, turn your brain into jelly and read some more. I read many an investigation on moral decision-making and moral identities. Most of them were even completely useless for my purposes. In the end, I found that Prinz's and Greene's neo-Humean (and relativistic) take on moral emotions were most inspiring. Especially Greene's dissertation is great read, although I did not find it as shocking as the author seems to think it is. I guess I had already been a moral relativist. See you in hell.

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