Ethics In Gaming

Many “concerned individuals”, some genuine, some not, complain about the themes and mechanics of certain games. Some of the complaints are against the murder, assault, rape, stealing, cursing, sexual content, and more that players can experience in such games. The arguments vary from “It’s just wrong/unethical/immoral!”, to “It’s unsuitable for children!”, to “It will make people more violent!”. Lets look at each of these in turn, starting with the ethical argument.

Ethics are essentially a list of rules stating what is right, and what is wrong. This is a personal list, there is no real “universal code of ethics”. However, most people can agree on some basic ones such as it’s wrong to kill, rape, assault, or steal from other people. There are many controversial aspects to ethics though.

For example, we can generally agree it is wrong to kill. But what if you had the chance to kill Hitler, and stop World War 2 and the Holocaust from happening? Would that be wrong? Kill one man to save tens of millions? Ethics is filled with these “grey areas”, so that in practice it is almost impossible for everyone to agree on a complete, definitive set of ethics. Capital punishment, religious oppression and prisoner torture are all things I would consider unethical, yet others feel are justifed. Clearly, just flat out saying something is “unethical” is a pretty meaningless phrase that is just a single person’s opinion.

Some would say the appalling murder of a civilian. Others would say the rightful execution of a criminal.

For arguments sake, lets just say we have a 100% complete code of ethics, which states what is right and wrong for every possible situation we can encounter in the real world, and everyone accepted it.  Could we apply that same code to a game world? To me, the suggestion is just silly. A game world, in depth and believeable though it may be, is still a completely fake, artificial construct. The people in it are machines, designed to mimic humans, they are not actual thinking, feeling beings. When someone says it is wrong to kill in a game, to me they might as well suggest we treat the toaster with kindness and respect, or stop hammering the poor hurt nails, or stop pulling the arms off those Lego men.

I would argue the reason shooting and killing a human being is wrong, is because you have caused pain and death to another person, a human being with emotions, thoughts and feelings. The mere mechanical act of firing the gun was not wrong in any way. This is obvious from the fact no one minds firing ranges, shooting contests and the like. I don’t think anybody has a single problem with a gun being fired at targets in safe controlled conditions. It’s when that gun is fired at a person, people become outraged.

So, it’s the fact damage and/or death is being inflicted on a person that is the problem. Obviously, shooting an enemy soldier in game doesn’t actually harm anyone, so how can the mere act of firing the gun be wrong, regardless of how realistic and bloody it appears? Isn’t a game enemy just an elaborate target?

Firing a gun into a target is fine. Firing a gun into a human’s face, not so fine.

The argument of “It’s unsuitable for children!” is a dead end to me. Yes, these games are unsuitable for children, that’s why they have a big sticker saying the age group they are suited for. Saying “Kids will play them anyway” is rubbish. One of the basic assumptions of our society is that there are things suitable for adults, not suited for children. These include but are not limited to alcohol, tobacco, adult magazines, cars, medicince, bleach, rat poison and chainsaws. Do children NEVER get their hands on these items? No, sometimes they do and the results can be tragic. Is this a reason to ban these products outright? No, we accept a certain low level of risk (that can be minimised with good parenting), so that the adults of our society can use/enjoy them responsibly. We have warning labels on the games, parental controls on the consoles, and shops that refuse to sell unsuitable games to kids (in theory at least, the law needs to be harsher for shops that do). So, to quote The Who, the kids are alright.

As for making people more violent, there is no evidence of this. Provide evidence or don’t make the claim. And even if it did cause violence, which is unproven, what of alcohol and religon, between them causing terrifying amounts of carnage? Far worse then any game. At the end of the day, we live in a democratic society. Freedom of speech is one of most important rights, and that should never be banned, censored or taken away from us. In my view, adults are intelligent enough to decide their own entertainment, enjoy what they want and leave what upsets them. And furthermore, that we aren’t hysterical or stupid enough to bring pretend violence into the real world.

Overall I think the arguments about gaming being unethical are nothing more then shrill hysteria from people who dislike games in general. They simply wish to clamp down on a form of expression and entertainment that they do not understand or enjoy, nor do they care to try to. They see something vaguely unknown and threatening, and wrapped in the cloak of “Save the children!” false morality, they attempt to ban games in a blatant disregard for freedom of speech, not to mention the logic, facts and evidence of reality.


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