BETRAYING MORALITY SANS EMPATHY

Surprise.

Surprise.

Scott Thurlow

04/29/2015

In the latest batch of ‘casts, we covered three topics in games that are broadly related--the ethics of betrayalsmorality choices, and empathy-inducing characters/moments. We discussed the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of many instances of each, and why we thought some worked while others fell flat. Each of us had a number of examples that were, if not impactful, at least memorable for some particular reason.

...the burden of invoking impact lies almost as much with how willing the player is to suspend their disbelief...”

 However, an integral related issue, and touched upon variously, is the highly subjective nature of all three elements. What is ‘moral’ to one may not be to another, and likewise for the other two subjects. Syntax Error attempts to focus on the oft under-explored philosophical angles of such considerations, filtered through the narrative of games. But in the case for these, because of the fact that individuals will be affected on wildly different scales, it becomes much more of a tangle than it would normally. It is a Sisyphean task to attempt to invoke feelings about something or someone to whom one has little to no connection or feelings for. Conversely, something which is greatly affecting for one may be met with apathy in another. Because there is no ‘absolute’ set of right/wrong codes (despite perhaps the many attempts over the course of history to impose such), these considerations will by necessity be relative to any given situation or set of circumstances.

I myself have been accused of being (to put it lightly) ‘amoral.’ And my usual counter-argument is that philosophically and logically, that is the only way one can be, at least according to me. Mayhaps that indeed makes me a monster. Nevertheless, that is how I approach video games. Additionally, because games are, at the end of the day, merely a proxy, then the mechanisms become further removed from reality when confronting them within an artificial setting. Since there are no concrete consequences to the actions chosen or disregarded within a given game, the burden of invoking impact lies almost as much with how willing the player is to suspend their disbelief as with the content of the game itself.  

Ultimately, which elements in a game are affecting and to what degree, will always be relative in some measure to the individual player that is experiencing them. So it is, and so it will ever be. I think it’s important to both recognize the mutable nature of a game’s components, and at the same time--as a much greater philosopher than I once said--to Know Thyself. So that the next time a game (or other medium) attempts to manipulate your mindset, it may be possible to see how, and why it succeeds, or fails, in doing so.  

Scott Thurlow

As far beyond monsters as they are beyond you.