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Nobody actually plays a game for morality lessons, or lessons of any kind. No game that has ever tried to teach you things by requiring you to read extensive manuscripts or large amounts of data has ever completely succeeded. Skyrim tested my patience this way when massive numbers of books, strewn all over the beautiful land, contained elegant notes on the history and contemporary events of the world. As time went on, I found I cared less and less and gave up entirely. RPGs tend to do this a lot with Dragon Age's lore, Mass Effect's data logs and Dishonored's notes. Teaching through a game, done through gameplay or storytelling has been a far more effective tool in instructing the players about the ways of the real world. Morality is a subject that has been touched by many games and, unfortunately, not to good effect in many cases.
Gaming has a few classic elements that make such a form of entertainment so popular. These are mainly to do with the ability to escape to an alternate reality where you don the role of the hero. You are challenged, you overcome these challenges and ultimately, you get the prize. The prize is, in most cases, the simple satisfaction of achievement. You helped save this little virtual universe, ridding it of its evils, and emerging as its messiah. The journey too has been enjoyable with all its trials and tribulations which made victory all the more sweeter. This is, in essence, what almost every action game has been since the dawn of gaming when that little white pixel bounced about the CRT display. But many things have changed since then and these changes have altered our perception of what is accepted and what is taboo in the virtual worlds created for your benefit.
The first enemies were the unexplained and weird. We had a gorilla throwing down barrells holding a poor princess hostage. We moved on to walking mushrooms, flying turtles, pernicious guppies and the Lord Turtle himself. Metroid had aliens, Castlevania had the paranormal and the unexplained and Megaman had robots. In every one of these early games there was one common factor, you were the human (or anthropomorphic at the very least) protagonist, facing down legions of aliens. And I don't mean that simply in the vein of extra-terrestrials; every thing weird, unexplainable or most importantly, unrelatable. You were talking down enemies who did evil so there was no sympathisation. There was no pity to be spared. Metal Gear had human enemies but they were more than often either not economical to kill, or encased in a giant metal shell.This went on for a long, long time. We experienced Wolfenstein but again, you were killing Nazis. In everyone's mind (unless you've been living under a very shady rock for a century) Nazi's were the ultimate evil and they deserved to die. Then came the hurricane that turned gaming upside down.
Really, Kudos to the people that actually let this game exist. Rockstar took some massive risks, created the biggest flurry of controversy gaming had seen yet, and came out of it smiling and rich. Sure there were games that involved killing people but never had it been made so much FUN. Blasting your way through people, throwing molotovs at mobs, spreading bloody hell all over a city earning your own life as you did so, all this made for one heck of an experience. Of course the sequels followed and got themselves banned, new IPs spawned, gorier (not a real word) than their father-product and those got banned and now it is one of the most anticipated sequels in gaming history. As graphics got better and better, more games continued began to take bold steps forward and combat simulations were born. War gave the easiest excuse to kill people and this new franchise bloomed. Another ground breaking new series developed whose latest iteration is THE most anticipated game of all time.
I will skip along the timeline to the game that really shocked me in how it dealt with morality. Cut to an elevator that just opens. You see multitudes of people ahead. You step out, take out your gun, and your comrades begin firing. You join in as pandemonium breaks loose. You run out of bullets and you press the reload button. I look at fallen people, crawling to an unspecified destination as if anything would save them. I gunned them down. Subconsciously it became my mission to try and get anybody who moved. The police try and intervene, you fill them with bullets. Epiphany struck and stopped hitting the keys, sitting back I looked at the carnage. I was horrified and disgusted. I was ENJOYING this. For the sake of finishing the blasted mission I tried to get through as fast as possible but the game only allowed me only a very slow pace of movement and I realised, the game is forcing me to continue to bask in this as long as possible! Eventually you escaped the hellish place, you plough through the rest of the game and you are declared the hero at the end. This made me think, was this what gaming was about now? Was it all about the satisfaction of being the one hero who truly saves the day? Was it simply about the thrill of slaughtering down other humans in a virtual safehouse where nothing is true and everything is permitted? Each Call of Duty game puts you through the "trials" of being a soldier and ending with your triumph at the face of great adversity. You take down the singular enemy who you believe did all this evil with a single bullet or knife and you are raised to the skies.
All this takes me to Spec Ops: The Line. This was a masterpiece (which was unfortunately highly underrated for its moral and serious message). People who believed it to be a game about PTSD and the horrors of war were gravely mistaken. It was about the war YOU wage on innocent digital recreations of men leading to the ultimate saving grace of victory which was snatched from you in the final moments of the game which, to this day, make my hair stand on end. I will not elaborate further as it is an experience you need to feel and understand. People did not understand and did not accept, but the very fact that this game exists gives me hope for gamers and I am sure it will be handed down to future generations as a cult classic.
And finally, the recent game that took the gaming world by storm for its excellent writing, beautiful aesthetics and the freedom of choice, Dishonored. Many reviewers have praised the choice Dishonored gives you in carrying out your missions. Slice and dice, or sneak and hide. The choice that you make leaves consequences which gravely affect you as you play. The chaos rating system is an example of superb game design where a bloody warpath simply continues with rats and corpses littering the world. As you have been playing the game with a vengeance upon the world's inhabitants, so shall the world retaliate, making it harder for you. The contrary too is not only possible, but greatly appreciated with an achievement for never killing a man. Reviewers have complained about how it is extremely difficult for you not to kill a man as there are times where it is simply unavoidable or just too convenient. But this is what makes the game all the more beautiful.
Morality and being a good citizen do not come easy. As you make choices in the real world, sometimes the simpler way, though not the morally correct way, is too enticing. You may not have to make decisions on which lives depend but whatever you do, your consequences follow. The choices too are never black and white as demonstrated by the now famous Lady Boyle mission. It is difficult to follow the path of the righteous man and all manner of decisions may return to haunt you.
Gaming is reaching the cusp of entertainment and morally wrong. As graphics increase in their fidelity, the visceral nature of combat becomes an ever-looming threat that may scar gamers in ways we have never experienced before. Being in an electronic age, such issues have never needed to be dealt with. It is not to me to dictate how game studios go about preaching the message of peace and goodwill, but as games become more and more mainstream, the saturation of electronic media will affect our progeny, making them more and more impressionable to the graphic violence that pervades the action gaming scene. Developers need to stand up and take risks, teach lessons that need to be taught, handle carefully these volatile subjects and treat them with devotion and awe. Because if we do not respect it, how can we expect a player to understand, let alone a dispassioned third party? They who see these images and are filled with revulsion will forever oppose gaming which has the potential to develop as a true form of art.
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