Video Games, Violence, and Society (Part 3)
A good game must be one with entertaining gameplay, an interesting plot, and appealing graphics and sound, meanwhile operating on a budget and somehow turning a profit.
The desire for interactivity in entertainment is, in some regards, a product of social evolution. Instead of watching television, children often play in imaginary worlds. Many adventurous persons have a passion for exploring the wilderness or traveling to different cities, to enjoy the alternative aesthetics and atmosphere. It is this same spirit that leads to the appreciation of quality video games. Movies and books do not afford the reader the kind of flexibility and freedom that video games do; the actions of the characters always happen no matter what the reader says or does, and all he can do is try to imagine otherwise. The video game provides the interface by which the audience can instead be the protagonist, for a change.
Many games, especially role-playing games, offer character customization schemes that both affect the aesthetic role of the character on screen (clothes, hair and skin color, body shape, facial features, etc. as well as his substantive role (attributes, skills, and abilities). Throughout the game, characters can collect items or earn experience that gives them more abilities, often at the player’s choice. The result is character development, which leads to close identification with the character at play and even sentimental value (try deleting someone’s character in World of Warcraft and receiving an indifferent response).
The Sims creator Will Wright keenly observed that video games are the only medium in which anyone can feel guilt about the actions of fictional characters.  The concept of ethics and character in video games is by no means a new phenomenon. Several games have also offered choices of actions with moral consequences. In Lord British’s Ultima series, a chronological and consistent lineage of role-playing games, one persistent feature (particularly in the older games of the series) was the determination of a character’s attributes via qualitative and ethical questions, organized along the virtues as set out by the storyline’s main religion. “Thou art sworn to uphold a Lord who participates in the forbidden torture of prisoners,” it states. “Each night their cries of pain reach thee. Dost thou: Show Compassion by reporting the deeds, or Honor thy oath and ignore the deeds? ”
Most other games place ethical questions as part of the main plot and small side plots. In Deus Ex (2000), a revolutionary combination of a first-person-shooter with a role-playing game, the protagonist is faced with a startling amount of moral decisions. He must decide whether to vanquish defeated enemies at his mercy or not; he can opt to steal from or swindle the honest, for a higher payoff; at the end of the game, he must choose a course of action that will decide one of three fates for the entire world. At some junctures, the consequences of a choice he makes have little to no effect on the gameplay (no reward). This blend of moral quandaries that only sometimes have extrinsic payoffs serves to make the game far more realistic by forcing the player to think critically about his decisions.
The Effects of Video Games on Society, and the Effects of Society on Video Games
The most controversial issue surrounding video games is the omnipresence of violence as central themes of their gameplay. A 2003 study of 90 popular video games discovered that 90% of teen- or mature-rated games 57% of games rated for all audiences contained violence. Of course, the entertainment value of games need not lie in flying about on dragons, shooting fireballs, and killing police officers. The Sims (2001) is a perfect demonstration of “life as a video game. ” It is precisely a game about the mundane; its tagline- “Build. Buy. Live. ”- is exactly what the player must do. Nevertheless, violence is the chief attraction in the contemporary video game world. One reason that watching violence is so appealing is that it entails experiences of a certain kind. Likewise, the reason that “playing violence” is so appealing is that it requires skills of a certain kind. The problem for us in the civilized world is that we can not have either without compromising our ethics (or our personal safety, for the more cynical), except for when we simulate it via fantasy of some kind (media, contact sports, or mock-warfare).