One of the things I love (which to my knowledge I’ve never talked about on this blog) is video games. I don’t know if it’s the escapism of them or what, but I’ve loved them ever since I first saw my dad play Doom when I was about four years old. Since then I’ve always played games in some form or other, whether it was playing Donkey Kong Land on Gameboy Pocket, to the various instalments of Grand Theft Auto, to the magnificent World of Warcraft. There’s something about dropping out of your everyday world and jumping into a new persona in another universe.
I was playing the latest Assassin’s Creed, an open-world historical fiction game, the latest of which being set in Ancient Egypt (an awesome game that thoroughly satisfies my childhood love for Egypt civilisation, by the way), when the thought popped into my head of moral culpability when playing video games. You play as a Medjay (someone who was meant to protect people in Ancient Egypt) and I was riding a chariot through Alexandria and kept (somewhat) accidentally running over civilians. A message continued to pop up saying that a Medjay isn’t meant to harm innocents.
It made me wonder. Does karma, divine justice, whatever you want to call the moral law of the universe apply to video games too?
When I play games, I quite like to drop who I normally am, and assume a persona of malevolence. For example, I do some nasty things in Grand Theft Auto that I don’t really want to mention here! But there doesn’t seem to really be any consequences for running over countless people on Santa Monica beach (unless you count the inbuilt function of police, who let you off really easily with all of your weapons!). I guess, because you’re only harming simulated programs with no consciousness, there’s no harm, no foul (even though they sometimes look frighteningly realistic).
So with this in mind, I’ve concluded that virtually all single player games, it appears, has no consequences for your behaviour unless it’s programmed to have a moral dimension like the Fable series.
Multiplayer games, however, seem like quite a different ballpark. It is shocking how often I receive my due ends if I’ve behaved either virtuously or maliciously towards other people. And just like karma or divine justice in real life, it may not be immediate but can happen when you least expect it.
I can think of no better example than from my long years playing World of Warcraft (WoW). In this MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game). For those who don’t know, in WoW there are two factions, Alliance and Horde, who are continuously fighting a war against each other. In this game, you level up a character, meaning it gets stronger and stronger the more you play – level 1 being the lowest, and 110 the highest (currently). When you have a high level and if you want to, you can go hunting (or ganking, as we like to call it) low level players. And I’ll tell you, it’s a lot of fun, even though it’s very ruthless to the person on the other side of the world who’s just trying to progress in the game. But sooner or later, divine retribution will strike, because you’ll want to level up a new character of your own, and someone will come along and kill you, again and again and again, just for fun. Karma is a bitch.
A more immediate example of karma in full play is when you behave improperly against people on your own team. Years ago, I recruited at least twenty people to go kill a dragon. When you kills things in this game, there is a chance you might receive some stuff from them, but it has to be divided up among players (some might get a nice new sword, others will get nothing). The dragon I wanted to kill gives you a smaller dragon to ride on (don’t question the logic) if you defeat it. And I wanted it – really bad. So with this group of twenty or so people, we killed the dragon, but instead of everyone getting a fair chance of winning the rideable dragon (resolved by a random number roll between 1 and 100), I took the dragon for myself and ran away. I lied and cheated to get my way, nefariously laughing until I was reported and banned from the game for several days, my pretty new rideable dragon being confiscated from me.
But the times when I’ve been good, maybe help someone on a quest or save them from some kind of monster, I’ve later been rewarded with good fortune. I remember once I’d spent an hour or so assisting a relatively new player with quests and the general ropes of the game. Later on that day, I had an incredibly lucky streak winning a lot of matches in battlegrounds (a game mode where two teams of players fight against each other to achieve a particular goal). It could be just a coincidence or it could be the moral workings of the universe having a hand in the little things of our everyday existence.
My friend and I eventually even created an name for this apparent video game bringer of justice: GMG – the Game Master God. And we’d invoke its name every time a moral judgement appeared to be lain out before us. If we were assholes (pardon my French) to other people, we would more often than not pay later. But if we were good, then we might get those shiny new boots we’d always wanted. We prayed out loud to the GMG to bless us in our pursuits. All of this was mainly applied to WoW, but other games seem to follow a similar moral code not too different from the one we had discovered.
One thing that I’ve noticed is that this Divine Video Game Moral Law only appears to apply to within whichever video game you’re playing at that time. What I do in WoW doesn’t seem to apply to the next game I play. And even more thankfully, the GMG seems to at least distinguish between video games and real life! Killing someone in the world of Azeroth doesn’t quite justify being severely punished when I’ve left it. So for that, I praise the glorious GMG!
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