Virtual Morality and NPCs

| Sunday, June 27, 2010
Is it possible to be immoral in a virtual world?

Can we be immoral to a NPC?

What is a NPC? It is essentially a physical object in the virtual world. It acts and we interact with it, but it is ultimately a scripted object which exists for a purpose. Morality is hard to define, but in the case of NPCs, let's define immorality as violation or denial of purpose.

Taken strictly this would imply that it is immoral to not complete the quests of a quest NPC. But maybe the NPC exists to offer the quest and rewards, not necessarily to give the quest. That suggests that not talking to a quest NPC is immoral, which seems ridiculous. However morality rarely rests on a foundation of "don't be ridiculous", because if it did, then I'd be getting hit by lightning often enough to give America energy independence.

Let's rewind a bit: who is defining purpose? The developers define the purpose of a NPC, so logically it would seem that they could define the related morality. This is a big assumption, but I assume that the developer-gods wouldn't define an immoral action and have no punishment for it. However there is punishment for ignoring NPCs: loss of income, items, and reputation. It is clear that we are behaving immorally when we do not talk to, accept, and complete quests from NPCs. We are awful people.

There are of course other NPCs. Vendors exist to offer goods for sale. We visit them, but not all, which similar to the quest NPCs implies a massive subversion of purpose and therefore immorality. Trainers exist to provide spells, so as long as we have all our spells on that character, our morality is untainted. This suggests that perhaps we should apply the same to vendors, that if we have completed all our needs for buying and selling, that we have sufficiently interacted with vendors as a whole. This also means that if we leave a NPC area with our bags fuller than we'd like, that we are behaving immorally by denying the vendor his purpose. Guard NPCs are meant to fight, meaning they are meant to possibly die. The same goes for all hostile NPCs.

Can the vendor argument be applied to quest NPCs? Can we ignore their quests if our needs for quests are met? I do not think so, because as long as there is a quest, we have not yet completed all we can, so it remains immoral to ignore a quest giver.

By this reasoning, only Loremasters are anywhere close to moral, but even they fail to complete all daily quests. However this is inevitable as there are too many daily quests. This does not excuse them from all daily quests, but instead means they must seek out those quest givers most in need of offering. And here is where I must end, because I cannot say which quests are most needed. Are they the most recent quests, or are they in fact the least recent quests, those which have been neglected?

Let us pray on this to our developer-gods.


Green Armadillo said...

On the other hand, doing all the quests sometimes means doing the most arguably immoral things (in some cases, turning on one questgiver to help out another). Does this mean that Loremasters are also the most immoral? Or is their ability to hold both titles at once proof of their Loremastery?

Shintar said...

I don't think it makes sense to talk about NPCs as objects with a certain purpose and then try to talk about morals. A tv set has a purpose too but not using it is not immoral.

Talking about NPCs in regards to morals only makes sense if you're willing to think of them as people (thinking like a roleplayer), in which case the normal morals for "dealing with people" apply.

Klepsacovic said...

@Green Armadillo: The purpose of such targets is to be killed and tortured, so in fact to not kill and torture them would be immoral.

@Shintar: TVs are created to be purchased, not necessarily to be used.

Tesh said...

NPCs exist to make the world seem populated and make PCs feel important. Whether those succeed or fail is debatable, but in the end, NPCs serve their latter purpose best simply by being the completely incompetent doorstops that they are. These folk can't even get their laundry done or communicate with neighbors without PCs. Our existence gives theirs meaning and validation.

The logical result is that refusing to play the game and make their existence relevant is itself immoral. They depend on us!

Klepsacovic said...

But Tesh, might that be extended to all MMOs, perhaps even all games with NPCs, even all fake characters at all? Is it possible that we are all damned unless we spend every possible second affirming the existence of these poor NPCs?

Tesh said...

Yes, absolutely. There is a special place in a digital hell for those of us who do not consecrate our life's work to give NPCs meaning and solve their problems.

Of course, one might just be able to shunt the responsibility to the NPC creators, now that I think about it. After all, who is worse, the creator who creates an empty existence, or the user who doesn't do their part to give meaning to that existence?

... if an NPC dies in the forest, and nobody is there to mourn his fate, can he truly be dead after all? Was he ever truly alive? Who mourns for an automaton?

...tongue slightly out of cheek, I'll just second Shintar's second paragraph.

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