Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Self-Reflection and Morality in Critical Games. Who Is to Be Blamed for War?

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Self-Reflection and Morality in Critical Games. Who Is to Be Blamed for War?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Unlike other media, considered 'passive', games invite players' interaction. Interactivity is a core property of games, and if players do not have enough scope for acting, they may not consider it a game anymore. These actions take place in a space of rules that define winning and losing moves; also, they often take place in a fictive world, in which actions acquire an additional meaning (such as 'killing', 'asking', 'giving', 'running' and so on).

Games can be persuasive through their procedures, using what Ian Bogost (Bogost 2008) names procedural rhetoric. Game affordances make certain actions possible, while others are restricted. Following the affordances and the story of a game, the players learn how to play, what the rules are, and thus they ascribe meaning to their actions. By judging the results of their actions, players may consider that they played well or not, and they may continue to follow these rules or change their approach. Through its procedural rhetoric a game renders a player's actions as successful or not and they orient a player's decisions while delivering a certain type of experience.

The game as a space of rules may, through its procedurality, make use of certain types of ludicity or "the degree to which the game allows play" (Conway 2010) to deliver diverse kinds of experiences to players. These types of procedurality can be placed on a continuum from hyper-ludicity, where the players either are given or obtain by themselves an advantage like a superpower, or a special weapon, to contra-ludicity (Conway 2010), when the game is difficult to play, the players lose an advantage or are constrained to make a difficult choice which may lead to frustration, but may also stir competition and a profound engagement with the game. A good game is often considered to be a game in which the constraints and the players' advantages are balanced (Juul 2010; Conway 2010).

In games that open a fictive world, players become co-authors of stories through their gameplay. The stories in games may open up a space for moral decisions - and many games rely heavily on creating ethical dilemmas for characters and for players (Zagal 2009), situations of difficult choice. Moral dilemmas thus rely both on the design of the game and its ludicity and the players' capabilities and skills, along with their interpretation.

Besides creating opportunities for choice, games contribute to ethically relevant actions in other ways, too. They may propose descriptions of characters or actions that imply ethical values or judgments. Also, games allocate success or failure for certain choices, thus implicitly encouraging certain courses of action through the use of rhetorical procedures. Games may support ethical reflection by creating 'wicked problems' that defy computation, or, alternatively, may discourage such involvement by creating computationally tractable choices (Sicart 2009; Sicart 2010).

Thus, games can be morally relevant (Sicart 2010), as a medium which offers players a time and place for making decisions and reflecting on them, judging themselves and others by the way they play. At a higher level, games can 'modulate' actions in the real world (Rughinis 2012), offering players experiential metaphors that shape their understanding of daily life situations (Rusch 2009).

As we will see, games have the power to determine certain ways of play and engagement from the players, but they are also dependent upon the players' interpretation practices. A game may be fun or not, easy or difficult, art or product, and these attributes seem to be related to each other in the gamers' discourse.

Games stir moral reflection not only through gameplay per se, but also through what Consalvo terms the game 'paratext' (Consalvo 2007): the rich cloud of forum discussions and game reviews which is part and parcel of experiencing a game for many players. These are veritable sites for collaborative learning, as players debate not only technical aspects, such as game walkthroughs or bugs, but also attempt to formulate the meaning of the game and the lessons to be learned (Marinescu Nenciu & Rughinis 2015). …

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