Do You Feel Like A Hero Yet? Externalised Morality in Video Games

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Abstract (in English): 

Video games have a long tradition of including elements of moral decision making within their ludic and narrative structures. While the success of these endeavours has been mixed, the systems used to express moral choices within a game have grown more popular. However, these morality systems are inherently restricted and limited by ludic and business considerations. Coupled to this is the concept of the “magic circle” in which games are considered to be morally discontinuous spaces where the normal rules of what actions are and are not permitted are different. Moral choices then become flattened down into mere narrative flavouring rather than a reflection of an individual’s ethical makeup. Moral choices within games are thus shallow and lack the ability to truly offer us an opportunity to reflect on the actions we have taken. Rather than offering insight, they instead cheapen and simplify nuanced topics and concepts.

However, several games released in the past few years have made an effort to break free of this mould by explicitly externalising moral choices. In this paper we discuss two of these games: Pope’s 2013 title Papers, Please and Yager Development’s 2012 title Spec Ops: The Line . We discuss the way in which these games break out of the traditional convention of video game moral decision making, and how they create opportunities for the player to reflect on the deeper meaning of their in-game actions. We discuss the narrative and ludic elements of these titles, and how they interleave to create a gaming experience that allows for a meta-textual appreciation outside of the bounds of the text itself.

While experimentation with narrative and mechanics is sometimes considered the exclusive purview of the “indie scene,” these two games represent titles at both the professional and indie ends of the development spectrum. We argue thus that “mainstream” titles need not eschew genuine, engaging moral choices

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Eivind Farestveit