Thought Experiments in Games

Mankind has always been interested in philosophical dilemmas which have arisen throughout history. It is only natural that these questions would find themselves well placed in the modern medium of games. Since they provide a more casual, non-academic approach to these problems, a wider variety of people are willing to engage them. Moral choices are intrinsically tied to the degree of freedom a player has but also to their ability to accurately predict the outcome of their actions. Many games such as The Witcher series, Dragon Age series, Mass Effect series, and most RPGs in general provide an environment that can facilitate different enough effects from decisions. However, they may not always represent the actual choice the player would make in a similar real-life situation due to a variety of factors such as the limitations of the game itself, the curiosity of what lies behind a specific path, and the realization that this has no consequences in the real world, i.e. it is fake.

These situations are magnified in games in a more fantastical than realistic setting. It is more difficult to relate to non-existing creatures and characters than an equally well-told story about real life situations. Choosing to slaughter an entire platoon of “bad guys “may prove easier than to sacrifice one friend to save many.

 

dragon-age-inquisition-multiplayer-platinum-dlc_pdp_3840x2160_en_WW
(BioWare Edmonton 2014)

 

The game I have decided to make is based around relatively real questions and uses the fact that Twine is text-based to not distract with flashy graphics from what the player really wants to choose. It ultimately falls under the same scrutiny that choices can simply be made from curiosity but the goal is to invoke thought even if the action is insincere. The game begins with the protagonist captured by unknown individuals who begin asking questions for “evaluation”. It quickly becomes clear that their moral compass may not be the same as yours. Games like Dishonoured provide a moral choice in certain situations but may also offer a specific reward for completing the task a certain way. (Arkane Studios 2012) In my project Into the Void, the only goal is survival and to reflect on why certain choices are made the way they are.

The way the game operates is inspired by elements from Saw and The Witcher 3 along with Gettier’s argument that the reason behind the choice also matters. (Gettier 1963) (Wan 2004) (CD Projekt Red 2014) While the former provides a setting, the latter inspired the idea that good intentions do not always end well and sometimes a more pragmatic approach may be necessary.

saw
(Wan 2004)

 

In CD Projekt Red’s game it is not always apparent how events interconnect and where they eventually lead which is represented by both actions and conversations the player has with other characters. This heavily influences the overall narrative in surprising and varying ways with the outcome sometimes being not what the player wants. Unintentional consequences can be very healthy for a video game because it makes one think why this version of events unfolded despite believing to have done everything for the opposite.

Witcher3choices-1024x576
CD Projekt Red 2015

 

My game has several endings which may not be wildly different but that is also part of the overall experience. In Braveheart the protagonists faces overwhelming odds and even though he does everything possible and beyond in the end he is still captured and murdered. (Gibson 1995) The film concludes on a positive note with the idea of inspiring hope and still honors the realistic outcome of events. This melding of spiritual with physical also ties in with the debate whether physical loss is preferred to a moral one (dying to inspire others) and if so is the soul separate from the body. (Robinson 2017) This clash of monism and dualism is difficult to solve because we do not have the required scientific knowledge of some of the fundamental building blocks of the mind like consciousness, how exactly is information stored, how are memories recalled, how do emotions relate among others, all required for the full understanding of one’s true self.

TV series such as Westworld propose the question of what is consciousness and how is it achieved. (Nolan 2016) The dilemma of artificial intelligence is also present in video games like Mass Effect, Halo, System Shock which all present the issue of what morality is and how it defers for individuals.

Into the Void provides a playground to ponder some questions which may have never come to mind while offering an appropriate atmosphere.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Arkane Studios (2012) Dishonored – Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One. Bethesda Softworks

BioWare (2012) Mass Effect 3 – Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U. Electronic Arts

BioWare Edmonton (2014) Dragon Age: Inquisition – Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox On. Electronic Arts

Braveheart, 1995 [film]. Directed by Mel Gibson USA: Paramount Pictures

CD Projekt Red (2015) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One. CD Projekt

Gettier, E. (1963) ‘Is Justified True Belief Knowledge’, Analysis, 23(6), pp. 121-122, 123.

Robinson, Howard, “Dualism”, (2017), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2017/entries/dualism

Saw, 2004 [film]. Directed by James Wan USA: Evolution Entertainment Twisted Pictures

Westworld, 2016- [tv series]. Directed by Jonathan Nolan USA: HBO Entertainment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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