Meaning Versus Morals

What follows is something of a sensitive topic for me, but I feel it needs to be discussed. You see, I have engaged in several conversations in another course pertaining to games here, about games with meaning, and what it means for a game to have meaning. Everyone seems to be convinced that for a game to have meaning, it must have a clear message, something it’s trying to tell you either explicitly or implicitly. This is, to me, a problem. It is a problem because it stifles change, and it stifles change because as long as the majority of people are convinced of this, game design companies will give their games heavy ethical skews whenever they want to be deep or artsy, leaving the player with, essentially, three character builds: Saint, Antihero (read: person who completes the main story as a good guy and randomly slaughters towns during side quests), and Horrible Monster of the Year. This is not innovative. Nor are “propaganda” games like Darfur is Dying, though I support their cause. (By propaganda games, I mean games which are pushing a particular real world cause, like shutting down oil companies, or any of the many, many vaguely unnerving games PETA puts out).

You see, there is in my mind a difference between a game which has a dichotomy in its view of the world (this is the way things should be, and this is the way they should not), and a game which simply presents the user with a dilemma which they must seek to answer (this is the way things are. Is this right?). Games are intrinsically interactive. Does it not stand to reason, then, that those games which engage with tough issues should do so interactively? I’m not saying all games have to or should do this. Sometimes you just want to shoot people, or throw a ball, or collect rings and be a blue furry mammal. These are normal human drives, or something like them. And sometimes, propaganda games are not too bad, after all. Though a bit heavy handed in its delivery, Darfur is Dying seems like it does a fairly reasonable job of raising awareness about crises in Darfur. That’s awesome, and I love that. But there seems to be a misconception that all games which handle deep issues should do so in the manner that titles like this do, as far as I can tell from my conversations with people. So, what is the consensus here? Do games need to deliver the truth to you, one bite at a time? Or should they make you do the digging yourself? Perhaps, what we need, is more of both.

And in case you need examples of games that present serious issues without answering them, I’ll leave you with a few, drawn from personal experience. Bioshock deals with the philosophies of Ayn Rand and their feasibility, as well as what it means to have free will, and what it means to kill another human being. The Path deals with growing up, and the sometimes violent realizations we have about our future, and who we are. Limbo deals with… something. I wish I could tell you. But what it does do, is it forces you to think, and to me, that’s the point. So, hopefully, I’ve done the same, and running with it, what do you think?

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