There is a thread that has been running on the women-dev mailing list (igda’s list for women in game development) addressing feelings of guilt related to killing in video games; it’s been somewhat nebulous in that the degree of guilt felt varies depending on the creature, the situation, and the video game being played. For example, in WoW there is a mission that requires the player to kill 10 cougars with the explanation that the population needs thinning. One woman found that she couldn’t bring herself to kill the animals, while many others cited the fact that it was for population control rather than for pelts or teeth (as is the scenario in several other games) that enabled them to kill the animals without feeling much guilt.
The thread started with a discussion surrounding issues of guilt in strategy/war games in which a player has options to enslave, kill, or [fill in the blank] conquered civilizations. This lead to a broader discussion of violence and video games (one of my favorite topics…) with issues of morality and responsibility thrown in. One list participant says:
“BUT violence is not a social taboo in this society… players should realize that they are making a game out of something that in reality costs lives. A they should be aware that they’re choosing to make that sort of tragedy as personal entertainment, the moral dilemma is first not choosing between extermination, enslavement, or occupation, but whether or not they want to play the game in the first place.”
As I read it, the problem is one concerning the level of abstraction involved, not morality or the status of violence within a society. Chess is a game of war - a strategy game - but a game of war. However, it is abstracted enough that people aren’t going to assume that playing chess poses a moral dilemma or influences cultural tendencies towards violence. I think there is something in saying that the closer a game comes to being “real” (lots of semantics involved in that one that I won’t touch right now) the more likely it is to garner accusations and debates linking it global issues of conflict and violence which blur the lines of reality and game. I’m conflicted about the level of importance accorded to this issue (with a focus on morality) and don’t want to draw any conclusions yet… I feel the video game/violence issue is synonymous with the tendency we have in the States to fix symptoms with medicine rather than to search for the underlying problems that are causing the manifestation of the symptoms in the first place. Topical solutions for tunnelvision mixed in with a pinch of being “caught in the now.”
“I think both stories and games are model building blocks for empathy. I think games can evoke emotional response. In games, I feel emotions like guilt and pride that I never saw before during a movie.”
- Will Wright, creator of The Sims
There is more I need to flesh out here, but I really should get back to work…