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TRCH July

Taking the Moral High Ground

11 July 10 words: Jag
Is the world's morality really being bludgeoned to death by making it acceptable to kill and maim without consequence via your gaming machine
Grand Theft Auto - a mirror for our whore-slaughtering, police hating inner psyche?

To kill the lady of the night or to pay for her services then kill her and take the money back? This is the question that has plagued the ‘sandbox crime sim’ gamer since the PlayStation 2 introduced us to Grand Theft Auto III in 2001. Morality in gaming has been thrust in to the limelight like a blood covered chainsaw attached to an automatic machine gun and I for one am intrigued as to whether or not we can legitimately compare real morals to those in video games.

In the run up to the recent general election, the Conservative Party heavily backed a UK Film Council role in video gaming; at least, it looked at a potential involvement from the UK Film Council. That was until the budget was announced of course, now all the promised tax breaks and support for the gaming industry have been axed. So with the lack of support for a booming industry from the coalition government that is supposed to be getting us out of an economic recession, how can the gaming community get rid of a stigma that has plagued it since erm... ages ago?
 

Manhunt
Mr. Cameron’s “Broken Britain” has no love for gaming and has always taken a “blame the games” stand point in the press for violent acts committed by the inner city yoot. One particular case comes to mind and that’s the murder of Stefan Pakeerah. The press directly tied this young man’s death to the game Manhunt in 2004 which was promptly banned and yet very little attention was paid to the psychological stability of the murderer himself. Now, with all due respect, I’m not going to bore you all with tales of woe from the gaming murder archives (of which there are plenty).
 
What I would like to do is question whether or not I or anyone else for that matter can be deemed “sick” to find it hilarious when a prostitute is killed in a video game? Is it wrong to beat the shop keeper to death digitally? Can a shotgun blast of algorithms and 1s and 0s really drive our youth to commit real life atrocities? The simple answer to these questions is an emphatic NO! Regardless of how many studies are conducted by the naysayers out there, I don’t think it can ever be proved that if you can throw a satchel charge on a hooker in a fictional, digitized town, you’ll do the same to your average working girl on Forest Road. Besides, where exactly does your every day gamer get a hold of an explosive device? All that advice in Fight Club was nonsense!
 
I’ve been playing video games as long as I can remember and I’ve been watching films even longer. In all that time I’ve jumped on mushrooms, shot plasma rifles at space dragons, defied death as a samurai and defeated wave after wave of decrepit zombie flesh eaters. I’ve seen men skinned alive on celluloid, paid money to see people decapitated and watched dismemberment be glorified. In all this insanity I’ve managed to avoid bludgeoning anyone to death with a claw hammer and I imagine millions of other gamers have avoided the same. So now that the link between violence in gaming and reality has been severed by my flawless logic - let us move on to moral choices.
 
You can’t swing a severed limb these days without hitting a video game that has a morality meter in it. So many games developers now want us to make the moral choice; Kill the spy or let him live, give the peasants the money or steal more from them, set off the nuclear bomb or disarm it (that one is real by the way). Games like Fallout 3, inFamous, Red Dead Redemption and the Fable franchise ask the gamer to make the hard choices and these now directly affect the game play. Is this something games developers really need to be doing to move along with the times or is it something that is done to alleviate the blame when some young scoundrel takes it upon himself to shoot up a school? If you ask me, I’d say it’s the former.
 
Rockstar Games' Western moral minefield - Red Dead Redemption
Games developers have an understanding with their audience which a movie studio or TV producer doesn’t always have. The developer knows that the consumer isn’t stupid and the recent release of Red Dead Redemption shows that. Red Dead is set in the dying years of the old West and shows us all exactly how moral choice games should be done. Should we be rewarded for terrible deeds? No, of course not. It has a story that rivals most Hollywood tales and while the option is always there to play the game as a cold hearted outlaw, it just doesn’t make sense for the story to do it and will greatly hinder your ability to progress through the game. You have the option to right your wrongs by doing good deeds and helping others. This is how all interactive morality tales should work and as far as I’m concerned, anything less than this from now on will pale in comparison.

Regardless of all of this, I still love the idea of going online and killing some guy who I’ve never met and listening to him groan from the afterlife about how it was a cheap kill. I enjoy the crunching of bone when I execute a perfect combo in Street Fighter and always will. What I won’t be doing is obtaining a firearm and unloading round after round of frustration in to somebody. That... by the way, was not a euphemism.

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