Casual evil in video games

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013
We all know that we can do bad things in games. I'm not referring to people an asshole on xbox live or something like that, but to the actual gameplay. It's not even the obvious stuff that bugs me. Yes, in Grand Theft Auto games you can rob and murder people and that's bad, but what would the game be without that? Without the horrible things you can do the GTA series is really just a bad third person shooter blended with a bad driving simulator. I'm instead concerned about the incidental evil, the bad things you can do that the developers might have not even thought of. Yet it is there.

Take the Elder Scrolls games, for example. As in all fictional worlds, there are no psychiatrists. If you're traumatized, that's it; your mind is done for. Your best option at that point is to just embrace it, join a demonic murder cult, and do what comes naturally. And of course you cannot kill the children. You can, of course, kill their parents. In front of them. And then when the guards come you can kill them too. That kid is done for.

Or in the Civilization series there are the casually-committed war crimes. In Civ III I used to intentionally starve foreign cities I don't know if that actually helped with the cultural conversion, but there were definitely fewer foreigners after I got done with them. I tended to run a thriving slave trade as well. These weren't written into the game to fit some karma meter. There is no karma meter. The closest thing is being a warmongering menace to the world and odds are, whoever is calling you that is himself a warmongering menace to the world. It's the pot calling the can of black paint black.

There's another thing: you can shoot at anything if you're at war with it. Generals, well of course! Admirals, duh. Those are both obvious. And then there are the workers. Guys are just trying to build roads and you're ordering air strikes on then. Maybe a missionary wanders by and what do you do? Open fire!

The best part, at least as I roleplay it, is the reason why: they're bored. There aren't any enemy military units, so they're just firing at anything in sight. Some guy is trying to save souls and they're just lobbing shells at him. Odds are his civilization is some backward dump and he's got this great opportunity to leave and we're just shelling everything in sight. It makes me miss how in Civ IV you could use air strikes against improvements. I'd be doing that constantly. Just shoot up all the farms; get jet fighters with the depleted uranium rounds.

This is all beside the times when I go full Honor and get gold from killing units. At that point I see no reason to ever end a war. Why wouldn't I just keep slaughtering people? It's not costing me anything. I need my army anyway, since I need to defend myself from all the people who are mad that I keep starting wars.

[edit] And since posting this I've destroyed the Zulu empire for the sole purpose of stealing their art.


Jarrod said...

That's nothing. You want stone cold evil? Go play a paradox game. You're more or less encouraged to be a Machiavellian bastard in that game.

I once married off my lesbian daughter to the prince of Scotland knowing she'd never bear him an heir just so it would cause that country to go into a civil war death spiral and I could claim the ashes.

Klepsacovic said...

I'm not even sure how to respond to that. I could be horrified or I could re-up the ante. I'll go with horrified. You're a bad person who does bad things.

Jarrod said...

The funny thing is I'm normally not. I'm full paragon in mass effect and lawful good in Neverwinter Nights.

There's just something about games like Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis 3 that push you towards being evil. I think that might say something about global politics.

Anonymous said...

I never play evil in any game. I just can't do it. It feels wrong and it doesn't matter to me if the game allows it. Everytime I sit down to a round of Civ and say "I'm gonna pillage and burn everything this time just to see what it's like!" I always end up negotiating peace and avoiding war. Evil genuinely bothers me.

I find Jarrod's comments really interesting. They are at the crux of the conversation: why do we play this way in certain games but not others? Is it designed this way? To a great degree, yeah it is. Afterall, I can't marry off my lesbian, infertile daughter to cause a civil war unless the mechanics exist to achieve this.

Which brings us to the question of why we shouldn't do these things. Of course the fact that they are allowed should not itself be the reason. I think this is what happens when we rely on rules to tell us how to behave. Taking the position that "well it's legal/allowed" as the "good" reason to do bad things is corrupt.

You're both corrupt. ;)

Klepsacovic said...

@Jarrod: Why even bother with the "global" modifier?

@Doone Woodtac: In regard to Civilization games, is it evil to destroy the wicked and barbaric? If you destroy a warmonger, haven't you saved more lives? Just imagine that every other leader is Hitler.

In real life I certainly agree that we should be good, and that we shouldn't resort to "if it is legal then I should be able to do it". That's the defense used by people who have no other. Yet these are games, not real life. In a single player game I see no reason to bring in any outside rules or values except to the extent that they make it more fun.

Jarrod said...

The way I've always justified it is the whole "greater good" schtick. Sure I've caused a civil war that kills thousands and ruins lives and I'll do so again when I conquer the country. But at the same time my country is peaceful and stable while most others are suffering perpetual plague conflict. So in the long run it's in their best interest to be ruled by me.

I'm pretty sure this is like the textbook definition of "Lawful Evil".

The question I've never been sure of is whether this is the result of the game win condition encouraging this kind of behavior (bigger country=higher score, happy/peaceful/liberal country=conquered by France in months) or given real power would I immediately invade one of my neighbors based on a coin toss.

Klepsacovic said...

@Jarrod: Can you guarantee that once you've conquered the country it won't face another similarly-deadly invasion? It takes two to have peace.

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