Video games and morality


I don’t play video games. But new developments in the field may get me to change my mind. That’s because some games now have built-in moral meters, which measure the quality of moral decisions players make as they choose one course of action over another.

Learning morality via videos is still at a primitive level. Given the violent nature of most games, the moral dilemmas in the games lack subtlety. Decisions are pretty much on the level of, “do I shoot this person or that one?”

But advances in gaming technology are opening new possibilities. Video developers are working on creating more complex and interesting virtual worlds and some new games are moving away from action and towards drama.

Why I think this holds possibilities for moral development in implied in the book Inventing Human Rights: A History, by Lynn Hunt. Hunt makes the intriguing argument that the introduction of the modern novel in Europe “invented” human rights. This happened because imaginative literature, and novels in particular, widened the reader’s circle of empathy, as she identified with the lives of strangers, people of different classes, different places and different times.

A reader saw the world through new eyes and thereby entered into the subjective lives of others. They sensed that despite the apparent differences between people, fundamentally all human beings share similar loves, desires, fears and aspirations. This led to the support for constitutions and legislation that protected human rights.

Human rights laws rest on accepting the inherent worth of all people. I think that when video games begin to deal with real life issues, they will indirectly promote identification with characters in the ways that good novels and movies do. At that point, video games potentially become one of the many tools of moral education. And they may do it better than novels in books form do because they are interactive and the choices the players make will affect the outcome of the game they play.

When I can buy such a video game, I will join the crowd in playing.

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