Grand Theft Opportunity

He hath set water and fire before thee: stretch forth thy hand to which thou wilt. Before man is life and death, good and evil, that which he shall choose shall be given him.- Sirach Chapter 15

There is nothing so damning to the human spirit as free will. No murder so heinous as one with forethought, planning and cold execution. When choice is consciously made, the most petty of actions become greater than the sum of their results. We raise our glass to men defending their homes from invaders. We would damn them without their justifications, their lack of choice because they were just protecting their families. In games we rely on the ends justifying means that would make the cruelest of dictators cringe.

This being the day Grand Theft Auto IV slips into gaming consoles all over the world, we’re going to be faced with questions of morality again. Not just from the media or concerned parents, but more importantly - ourselves.

The Grand Theft Auto series confronts us with something few games are willing to take on. It thrusts the player into a world that demands violence on a grand scale with no more justification than personal gain. Often there is no family to save, innocent to protect or even someone in a position of moral authority offering salvation. It’s just our willingness to do the drive-by because we’re told we have to. It’s a point system, and raising those numbers is usually all the comfort we need to squash any concern over what these actions say about us. We’ve been trained for over 20 years to think in these abstracts, to view digital people as obstacles and mobile treasure chests.

What Rockstar offers us is choice – the opportunity to shuck the responsibility of moving the story forward or gaining new territory. You can simply put it all aside, collect an AK-47, stride into a hospital and start shooting. Forethought, planning and execution. This is where we cannot hide behind the constructs of mission, points or saving the Presidents daughter. It’s just our guns and a lot of innocent treasure chests. Or people, depending on your viewpoint. We’re offered a chance to execute what society considers to be the worst kind of murder.

In those quiet moments when there are no friends to urge us on, we have an opportunity to see which side of the line we fall on. Sitting alone in the living room and gripping the controller lets us play out some of our basest fantasies. It’s an interactive opportunity that no other medium can claim to offer. Just how much is too much? How do we feel while we’re driving through crowds of innocents with the police hot on our tail? Are we still having fun, or just exorcising demons?

The answers are intrinsically personal because we all internalize things differently. It’s for this very reason that non-gamers are horrified at the prospect of having this kind of choice laid before them. There is no goal abstraction for them to get behind – there’s just people being gunned down. They cannot easily confront this aspect of themselves through a safe, interactive experience. It's an avenue largely unexplored by the older generation.

For gamers, Grand Theft Auto IV affords an opportunity to do more than just shock and titillate. By giving us the tools to plan and execute carnage on a grand scale we can learn something about the human experience. We can push further and find out where our primitive, club wielding aggression ends and our reason and compassion begins. We can make choices without the safety blanket of justification or righteous goals.

The freedom of choice, however limited it may be, is a rare opportunity in the gaming landscape. To cast story aside, pick up a gun and see what shakes out is another step toward learning about ourselves. Even better, we can explore these experiences and possibilities without hurting anyone in the real world.

What an opportunity!

- Shawn Andrich

Comments

I'm perfectly fine with beating an NPC to death in GTA because even though the realism is upped a bit, it's fairly cartoony and i'm still emotionally removed from it all.

Have you seen that highlight reel of strippers, hookers and post coital homicide?

I'd hardly call that cartoony.

Morality spoilers:

Last chance... wrote:

[color=white]In the mission where Vlad orders you to kill Ivan, you're given the option to either kill him or spare him. Has that ever happened before in a GTA game?[/color]

wordsmythe wrote:

"The unexamined life is not worth living."

Henry Ford's axiom that "Quality means doing it right when no one's looking" applies to quality of character the same as it does to quality of manufacture. The test of quality is determined by choices made when there were options. You have the option to dismiss this discussion as not worth having, but I disagree, and I think you're making an immoral choice in refusing to examine your life and your choices.

You can opine that choosing to kill innocents in a game is tantamount to murdering living people, and I think it's hard to deny that there's a degree of truth in there. It's a scary thing to admit, since it seems an incipient threat on our shared pastime. At the core, though, it's a question that needs to be asked--and answered.

I don't think it's hard to deny at all. It seems to me a sensible prerequisite for something to be "tantamount to murdering living people" that a living person actually die.

I do agree with you that a person's character is defined by what they do when no one is looking, but I don't think that this applies to video games - even outside of the flippant observation that people are often looking when you kill a person in a video game. If a universe existed where all of my actions were consequence free, and I knew that I would never be found or punished for killing a person, I still wouldn't do it. On the other hand, in a universe where that person wouldn't actually die if I killed them, or feel any pain, or even be inconvenienced, I wouldn't care. Because it wouldn't matter.

There is a crowbar separation between the act of killing a non-existent person and a real one. In no defined system of morality that I can think of, from J.S. Mill to Immanuel Kant, is a person a murderer for killing a construct of their own imagination.

Now, a game can raise an ethical issue - it can, in the hands of an artist, be compelling enough to inspire empathy and identification between yourself and the people on screen. It can make you think about the morality of your virtual actions, if that's what the creator is trying to do, and that can be a very powerful and worthwhile experience. But, as with any art, that is just one aspect of it. Sometimes it's just there to make you laugh.

That said, part of the reason people may be "in a tizzy" is because they reject the notion that our play-time-pretend is an accurate or meaningful reflection of ourselves.

Yeah, it doesn't help that I was totally in the mood to stir the pot today. Not like in a, 'flame the forum up' way but 'let's try to have some meaningful discussion about an ultrasensitive gamer topic' way.

Certis wrote:

Holy sh*t Wes, you're OLD.

You're tellin' me....

now get off my lawn.

Switchbreak wrote:

If a universe existed where all of my actions were consequence free, and I knew that I would never be found or punished for killing a person, I still wouldn't do it. On the other hand, in a universe where that person wouldn't actually die if I killed them, or feel any pain, or even be inconvenienced, I wouldn't care. Because it wouldn't matter.

Well said.

Switchbreak wrote:

There is a crowbar separation between the act of killing a non-existent person and a real one. In no defined system of morality that I can think of, from J.S. Mill to Immanuel Kant, is a person a murderer for killing a construct of their own imagination.

I wonder if the people who are offended by the violence that can be enacted in GTA are offended by authors killing off their own characters.

Switchbreak wrote:

Now, a game can raise an ethical issue - it can, in the hands of an artist, be compelling enough to inspire empathy and identification between yourself and the people on screen. It can make you think about the morality of your virtual actions, if that's what the creator is trying to do, and that can be a very powerful and worthwhile experience. But, as with any art, that is just one aspect of it. Sometimes it's just there to make you laugh.

I have a lot of empathy towards Dexter, but I don't think that softens my moral structure. At worst, it shows me that humanity can exist in all people, even those monsters who haunt our nightly news.

Ah well... I think I've said all I can say here.

New to the site and have to say really impressed with all the comments on this link and to some degree see all the points. Never been a GTA fan before, but was almost tempted with so many of my gamer friends on line working through as we speak.

But the style doesn't appeal, somehow for me the fantasy is essential. I can follow the missions in Mass Effect, Oblivion, Fable because they are total imagination. For me GTA is too real life, the day to day does tweak at my conscience although I know it is not life it resembles it too closely.

I would be the sadsack sitting at the traffic lights, waiting for green as the world dissolved around me..

Hurry up Force Unleashed, Fable 2 and an update so I can play Strangers Wrath after clubbing again!!

Thank you all for the input, it was so much appreciated..

Switchbreak wrote:
doubtingthomas396 wrote:

It's not that hard, really. You just have to understand that there is such a thing as right and wrong, even in fantasy, and even if the game has crappy writing that makes moral justifications "thin."

There is a difference between what justifies an action as moral in reality and in fiction. In reality, it doesn't matter how ridiculous the circumstances, because the context around a particular action is real. In fiction, when the moral justification for an action is nothing more than a silly excuse for that action to take place, it does matter, because that reality was intentionally created.

Yes, the game reality was intentionally created. However, I look at games as wish fulfillment. I play, for example, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance because chances are I'll never get to lead a team of suped up freaks into battle versus the forces of evil, and it's something I'd want to do if I were a suped up freak and some other suped up freak was trying to take over the world.

Let's not ignore the elephant in the room here: People who play GTA are playing GTA because they want to do the things GTA allows them to do-- at least in the game. The fact that the virtual world was created so they could do these things without real world constraints doesn't matter all that much.

This is not to say that everyone who plays GTA would go out and start murdering hookers if they could count on a catch-and-release police force to pat them on the head and say "be good now," but that doesn't change the fact that people do lawless, immoral things in GTA because they consider it fun to do those lawless, immoral things. At least within the context of a game that makes it fun to do those things. Even if you don't think as hard about it as I do, there's no denying that.

And that's where the game leaves me cold. I don't want to have fun mowing down waves of virtual policemen. It's not a person I want to be. Other people don't have that problem, and as I've said they can have at it. I make my decisions for me, not other people.

When it is obvious that the violent action is the point, and the context is only there to make the violent action "okay," then the writer has tipped his hand. If you were actually in a crazy contrived situation such as being on a real mars-moonbase covered with demons that had killed everyone and were heading toward Earth, saving the base and Earth would be real concerns to you. When you're playing Doom, you don't care one whit about the base or the people back home. You move on to the next level in order to find more demons and kill them, because that's what's fun about the game. The stupid story doesn't justify your actions because (unless you have horrible taste in fiction and are actually really into it) it has no bearing on them at all.

But this gets back to the whole fantasy vs reality thing. If I were really defending earth from hell-spawned demons, I wouldn't be having fun. But in fantasy, it can be fun. That's one of the points of fantasy-- to do things that you want to do and have fun doing them, even if you wouldn't necessarily consider them fun in the real world. Indeed, if you're not having fun with a fantasy, why are you having it?

Are there games that present compelling stories and motivate you to act out of actual concern for the character? Yes. But most games don't. Most games are violent simply because conflict is fun and interesting. And that's okay.

I disagree with this premise-- the conflict in itself isn't ipso facto fun. Or are all violent games fun? The violence can be made fun with clever level design and competent control mechanics, but that doesn't mean "violence = fun."

In the interest of storytelling, conflict has always been a fertile field to plow. You don't really have a compelling story without some kind of conflict, be it internal or external to the main character. I'll choose to believe this is what you meant.

But, just to get back to flogging this particular dead horse, that conflict is inseperably tied to the context in which it occurs. Even with a "thin" story , a game in which you exterminate zombies has context that is almost independent of the writing-- eg, there are hordes of brain-eating ghouls trying to eat your vital organs; what do you do in this situation? It doesn't really matter why the zombies exist, which evil corporation created them, or how you found yourself surrounded by them. What matters, from a contextual standpoint, is that it's them or you.

Do I care about the character in every game I play? Yes, insofar as I have assumed his identity. The character is, from a gameplay perspective, me. Do I care if my brain gets eaten? Let me think about it... yes.

It's not the violence per se in the violent fantasy I object to. It's the nature of the violence perpetrated.

You should try what I've had to do the past few nights, which is to play GTA4 with my Mother in Law watching. That certainly makes you reexamine the actions you take in the game (and notice just how sweary Vlad is, for example). And totally skip over any "coital noises" cutscenes. I was initially uncomfortable with Vlad's "collecting protection money" missions, and if the game was [color=white]going to make me kill that old Chinese guy[/color] I was ready to stop playing. Needless to say [color=white]I let Ivan survive[/color]. But I generally take the nice guy's path if a game allows me to, anyway.

I suppose when playing these sandbox games, you need to split off the actions you are obliged to take to progress the game from the ones you are able to make above and beyond that. Of course, one can always make the decision not to play the game at all, or to play the game but ignore the story missions completely. Playing through the story in a game like this is no different than playing a part of a baddy in a play. I mean, to what extent is it possible to play GTA4 in a morally defensible way? So far, I've only hurt or killed people labelled by the game as "baddies", though I imagine that at least one of the missions will cause that to no longer be the case for me.

The code objects I've killed have no existence independent of me. They are created specifically to be killed by me, and if I choose not to kill them and turn off the game, then they cease to exist just the same. Also, if I restart the story campaign, they will be created again as if they had never died. So it seems to me that the action is no different than making a drawing of a murdered individual. That action has no moral value in of itself. But I guess that your mindset as you take the action could attach a moral component to it. If, as you shoot a digital character, you pretend in some sense that you are taking a human life, perhaps taking pleasure from the action of taking the life, then I think one could argue that you have personally made it an immoral act.

Anyway, that's how I justify playing it to myself (and my Mother-in-law)

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

Let's not ignore the elephant in the room here: People who play GTA are playing GTA because they want to do the things GTA allows them to do-- at least in the game.

It's not an elephant in the room, it's a gross assumption on your part as to what "things GTA allows" that people want to do.

The things that I want to do in GTA include: playing pool; stealing nice cars and joyriding in them; trying for maximum hang time in a vehicle; playing multiplayer with goodjers.

The things that I don't want to do in GTA include: playing Carmeggedon in Central Park; beating the sh*t out of random bystanders; massacring orphanages.

It's presumptuous and offensive for you to tell other people what they're going to do and then decry them for doing it (or wanting to).

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

This is not to say that everyone who plays GTA would go out and start murdering hookers if they could count on a catch-and-release police force to pat them on the head and say "be good now," but that doesn't change the fact that people do lawless, immoral things in GTA because they consider it fun to do those lawless, immoral things. At least within the context of a game that makes it fun to do those things. Even if you don't think as hard about it as I do, there's no denying that.

So what you're saying is people do things in games because they're fun to do in games? There is no denying that; I just don't see how that necessarily applies to anything outside those games. In real life, most people don't find bludgeoning pedestrians fun; the fact that a game makes it a fun thing to do immediately divorces the game from the real world.

Andy wrote:

This will now probably turn into a philosophical argument about my relativist / borderline nihilist philosophy.

That can be a real problem.

DSGamer wrote:

Wordsmythe, you're my hero. I take back anything bad I may ever have said about you. Put into words what I have felt (in part), but have failed to do.

Hey, not all of us can be big and intimidating in real life. I've got to get my hustle on somewhere. 8)

Switchbreak wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

You can opine that choosing to kill innocents in a game is tantamount to murdering living people, and I think it's hard to deny that there's a degree of truth in there. It's a scary thing to admit, since it seems an incipient threat on our shared pastime. At the core, though, it's a question that needs to be asked--and answered.

I don't think it's hard to deny at all. It seems to me a sensible prerequisite for something to be "tantamount to murdering living people" that a living person actually die.

That's where the "degree of truth" comes in. Killing in GTA is certainly and obviously different than killing in real life, but it's also obviously closer than playing hoop and stick. If you think, though, that there's no connection between what your character does and who you are as a person, think for a second not just about who controls the character, but also about how you talk about the character's actions. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that you talk about your character in first person. Doesn't that mean a little bit of something?

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

However, I look at games as wish fulfillment. I play, for example, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance because chances are I'll never get to lead a team of suped up freaks into battle versus the forces of evil, and it's something I'd want to do if I were a suped up freak and some other suped up freak was trying to take over the world.

Let's not ignore the elephant in the room here: People who play GTA are playing GTA because they want to do the things GTA allows them to do-- at least in the game.

...

Are there games that present compelling stories and motivate you to act out of actual concern for the character? Yes. But most games don't. Most games are violent simply because conflict is fun and interesting. And that's okay.

I disagree with this premise-- the conflict in itself isn't ipso facto fun. Or are all violent games fun? The violence can be made fun with clever level design and competent control mechanics, but that doesn't mean "violence = fun."

I think you're getting close to a major draw of fiction there, especially the more traditionally "masculine" genres like sci-fi, fantasy, action, etc. It certainly applies more to more action-oriented media like movies and games, but at the core, a lot of the escapist tendencies that drive people towards these works comes from the conflict between the frustrations of real life and the aspirations and dreams we held when younger, or perhaps still hold. To take a few big chunks of it, we play games like Ultimate Alliance because 1) we wish we were more powerful; 2) we wish problems were easily recognizable, with no grey area; and 3) we wish problems were solvable in easier, more straightforward ways. In the real world, we face problems with complicated solutions involving compromise and moral ambiguity--and they're often problems we're not sure we have the ability or understanding to effectively handle.

We want fantasy because we daydream about the world being different. We like darker fantasy because we wonder what things would be like if our lives were worse, at least in some ways.

When you're playing Doom, you don't care one whit about the base or the people back home. You move on to the next level in order to find more demons and kill them, because that's what's fun about the game. The stupid story doesn't justify your actions because (unless you have horrible taste in fiction and are actually really into it) it has no bearing on them at all.

That's a failure on the part of the writers, I think. I know it's accepted that the plot has to meet a certain minimum level of quality or immersion to rise above superfluity. That aside, the game design, type of enemies you kill, and player involvement do create a narrative in themselves. It's a fairly basic narrative:

"I enjoy playing ______ because I like (the challenge of) pretending to kill ______s in the methods the game allows."

I completely understand the idea of playing games simply for the challenge. I used to feel that way about Counter Strike. I especially liked the tactical side of CS, and the fact that an organized and communicating team was significantly better. Simply, it was the most convenient way to satisfy my desire for simple, solvable problems that incorporated my skill set and fit the time slot I had to work in. I'm willing to own that it meant virtually killing thousands of squeaky-voiced high-schoolers, which I admit held a certain satisfaction all its own (especially when they had microphones). At the same time, though, I do wish that the paintball FPS I'd heard about would have been better and more popular.

Dudley, playing while your mother-in-law watches sounds a fair bit like what a religious person might say about these games. Regardless of religious views, though, the Kantian imperative still applies.

Chumpy_McChump wrote:
doubtingthomas396 wrote:

Let's not ignore the elephant in the room here: People who play GTA are playing GTA because they want to do the things GTA allows them to do-- at least in the game.

It's not an elephant in the room, it's a gross assumption on your part as to what "things GTA allows" that people want to do.

The things that I want to do in GTA include: playing pool; stealing nice cars and joyriding in them; trying for maximum hang time in a vehicle; playing multiplayer with goodjers.

The things that I don't want to do in GTA include: playing Carmeggedon in Central Park; beating the sh*t out of random bystanders; massacring orphanages.

This isn't really about the game, though. It's about how we play the game and whether we're willing to investigate what our play means. Wanting to have fun in cars without getting hurt or actually hurting other people is not morally reprehensible. Wanting to go on a rampage, killing innocents is something else. If you play GTA for the former, I have few qualms with you, but if someone else chooses to drop $60 because he want to beat up hookers, then maybe he should think about that for a while.

Andy wrote:
LilCodger wrote:
Reaper81 wrote:
Yeah, so? Fine with me. What's your point again?

Ethnic cleansing is justifiable, then.

Well, he is in Germany ...

Damn, I'm fired aren't I?

Yeah, you're fired This is the second time that somebody makes this connection here (the last one seemed more or less accidental) and it already starts to get on my nerves. I hate the stuff that happened here as much as the next guy.

I really was just being coy. You don't often meet folks in civilized society who believe ethnic cleansing is acceptable under any relativistic rationale. I'm guessing I agree with you in many ways as far as philosophy goes, but would point out that ethnic cleansing usually happens under one of two guises, religion and "cultural relativism". Feel free to point out wholesale slaughter of Indians to any American who gives you grief, or "colonial issues" to pretty much any European. History is littered with "it seemed like a good idea at the time".

Please allow me to suggest that you not use "cultural relativism". I was quite surprised to learn the tenets of that phrase in college. As taught to me, a cultural relativist cannot find other's actions unacceptable. The very fact that ethnic cleansing was considered acceptable by those doing it, makes it acceptable. My personal philosophies use the word "subjective" frequently, and avoid "relative" as much as possible.

Really though, most philosophical arguments are theories about how things ought to be, instead of the way they are. I found group study of philosophy quite tedious. I grew tired of answering questions like, "So it's okay to kill defenseless babies? So it would be okay if I killed you right now?" when they really didn't care what my answer was.

As far as games go, I do worry about folks who would spend money on a "murder of innocents simulator". I enjoy playing games like the GTA series. If someone told me that their primary enjoyment from the game was the wholesale slaughter of innocents, I imagine I'd find myself backing up a few steps. I have never met anyone who purchased the game primarily to shoot random people in the streets. Even if I did, I doubt that they would consider the same act acceptable in the real world. If you consider it acceptable, why bother with the game really?

wordsmythe wrote:

This isn't really about the game, though. It's about how we play the game and whether we're willing to investigate what our play means. Wanting to have fun in cars without getting hurt or actually hurting other people is not morally reprehensible. Wanting to go on a rampage, killing innocents is something else. If you play GTA for the former, I have few qualms with you, but if someone else chooses to drop $60 because he want to beat up hookers, then maybe he should think about that for a while.

I agree completely. My primary beef about this conversation is that there are a number of folks (here and elsewhere) who assume that, because you play a game where you can do morally reprehensible things, you play to do morally reprehensible things. I have no problem with people wanting to talk about how I play, what I do in games, and what that represents; I have a significant problem with being reprimanded for someone else's assumptions about how I play and what I do in games.

I didn't do anything differently in the game because the Mother In Law was there, but it did make me more aware of the game's content.

It's interesting that you mention Kant there, Wordsmythe, because I was just thinking how a Utilitarian would consider GTA4 to be neutral morally, and wondering if that was interesting enough to mention. But wouldn't Kant take the view that all computer game playing is a pretty pointless end and therefore not worthy of being a universal law? Caveat: I know bugger all about philosophy, so pardon me if I'm misunderstanding or making dimwitted interpretative errors.

Just to throw the cat among the pigeons a bit, I would consider almost any action in GTA4 to be less immoral than, for example, hunting non-food animals or possibly even shooting at human-shaped targets if you want to go down the murder fantasy route to its end. But then I don't "get" guns at some fundamental level, and I've never even touched a real firearm.

Games, like books or movies, can make us consider moral and ethical choices. A morality tale asks us to consider the moral choices made by characters in a narrative and think about the consequences of those choices. But of course games go beyond a simple narrative and allow our participation. Unlike a play or a movie or a book, we are not asked to simply observe and think, we are made an actor in the drama. And while most games have traditionally put the player in a similar role to an actor, who is asked to do specific things to progress without much choice in the matter, GTA of course opens up the choice of how to progress to the player.

So a person could see this not a just a morality tale, but a morality test, due to this freedom of choice.

This viewpoint is where people are coming from when they see a person's actions in the game as making some kind of real-world ethical statement. But the flaw in this reasoning, is that it only true if the person playing the game is engaging in the experience as a morality test.

I would say the vast majority of GTA players are not playing with this intent. Because while you could play with the intent of making ethical choices, you could also play the game as just that - a game. A toy. Divorced from reality in a fundamental way, a plaything for the imagination. Judging a person's ethics from how they play when their intent is simply to play a game is fundamentally flawed, because you are assuming their motivation, guessing their intent.

How can you try to make any truthful statement based on guesses and assumptions? If you play the game with real world morality and ethics in mind, fine, just don't presume to make judgements on how or why other people play.

DudleySmith wrote:

It's interesting that you mention Kant there, Wordsmythe, because I was just thinking how a Utilitarian would consider GTA4 to be neutral morally, and wondering if that was interesting enough to mention. But wouldn't Kant take the view that all computer game playing is a pretty pointless end and therefore not worthy of being a universal law? Caveat: I know bugger all about philosophy, so pardon me if I'm misunderstanding or making dimwitted interpretative errors.

The way I see it, killing a video game character, who is not a rational or autonomous entity, would not either use a human being as a means to an end, or create universalizable law that would invalidate human life, whereas murdering a living human would do both of those things. You could argue based on his ideas about animal cruelty, that man operates out of a duty to increase compassion in himself and therefore should not act brutally toward animals, but on the other hand, you would have to prove that playing video games actually did numb your sense of compassion in a way similar to being violent towards animals, which are actually capable of feeling pain -- and I can tell you anecdotally that this is just completely untrue, or else 90% of the gamers on the internet wouldn't think twice about killing a real life puppy dog.

LilCodger wrote:

I really was just being coy. You don't often meet folks in civilized society who believe ethnic cleansing is acceptable under any relativistic rationale. I'm guessing I agree with you in many ways as far as philosophy goes, but would point out that ethnic cleansing usually happens under one of two guises, religion and "cultural relativism". Feel free to point out wholesale slaughter of Indians to any American who gives you grief, or "colonial issues" to pretty much any European. History is littered with "it seemed like a good idea at the time".

Please allow me to suggest that you not use "cultural relativism". I was quite surprised to learn the tenets of that phrase in college. As taught to me, a cultural relativist cannot find other's actions unacceptable. The very fact that ethnic cleansing was considered acceptable by those doing it, makes it acceptable. My personal philosophies use the word "subjective" frequently, and avoid "relative" as much as possible.

I don't think cultural relativism is the best term to describe what I think about this topic since cultural relativism, moral relativism and relativism seem to have different, well defined meanings. (And I used only the latter one) I'd say that the former doesn't really fit my opinions and moreover, a single term doesn't encompass all my views, anyway. As you probably know conveying your philosophy to others is quite difficult and using a single term to cover my opinions probably wasn't the best approach. Let me just say that I unfortunately came across as more radical than I really am.
I think I steered the discussion a bit off topic.

AcidCat wrote:

This viewpoint is where people are coming from when they see a person's actions in the game as making some kind of real-world ethical statement. But the flaw in this reasoning, is that it only true if the person playing the game is engaging in the experience as a morality test.

I would say the vast majority of GTA players are not playing with this intent. Because while you could play with the intent of making ethical choices, you could also play the game as just that - a game. A toy. Divorced from reality in a fundamental way, a plaything for the imagination. Judging a person's ethics from how they play when their intent is simply to play a game is fundamentally flawed, because you are assuming their motivation, guessing their intent.

How can you try to make any truthful statement based on guesses and assumptions? If you play the game with real world morality and ethics in mind, fine, just don't presume to make judgements on how or why other people play.

Ooh! Your post just reminded me of something.

When I was a kid, my cousin had close to a hundred GI Joe figures (and his older brother had a bunch of BattleTech figures). Anyway, the abundance of army men and molded plastic walking tanks led to quite a bit of wanton destruction amongst their ranks. My younger cousin used the tools at hand (rocks, the occasional match, gardening tools) to disfigure and hobble his common cannon fodder, while my older cousin used his BB gun and the occasional fireworks-popper on his larger figurines. When they were bored with reshaping their toys (or when they were thoroughly useless), they buried them in their backyard in a designated spot.

I'd be wary of assigning them some kind of genocidal urges, despite the fact that they had their very own GI Joe mass-burial site over by the pool area. Was it destructive as hell? Obviously. Was it a reaction to having (in their perspective) an endless amount of something on hand? Quite definitely. I'm not gonna go and say that their "souls" (to bring up the term from page 1) were adversely affected by their inability to recognize the cost of the action figure they strapped to a BiC lighter, any more than I would say my classmates and I were horrible monsters perpetuating the legacy of the Trail of Tears by playing Cowboys and Injuns on the playground.

I will say that there is a measure of difference in screaming "Bang, you're dead you Indian!", or twisting the rubber-band "spine" of a toy until it snaps and seeing someone in a virtual playfield shot, bleeding, and crawling away. But then again, little kids can be morbid bastards ("nuh, uh. I shot you in the belly and now you're bleeding all over your shoes!").

So, I think the de-facto assignment of a moral state for playing a certain way is a little over the top. I do think that looking at the way we play is a very interesting and worthwhile investment in time, and the improvements in lifelike forms and gestures will continue to cause us to stop and consider our actions. I'd like to think Rockstar realizes this. The implementation of the Taxi system, for instance, is a perfectly valid way to get around the city without carjacking. So does one use it as a convenience, or does one use it to avoid the violence of theft?

Spaz wrote:

I'd be wary of assigning them some kind of genocidal urges, despite the fact that they had their very own GI Joe mass-burial site over by the pool area. Was it destructive as hell? Obviously. Was it a reaction to having (in their perspective) an endless amount of something on hand? Quite definitely. I'm not gonna go and say that their "souls" (to bring up the term from page 1) were adversely affected by their inability to recognize the cost of the action figure they strapped to a BiC lighter, any more than I would say my classmates and I were horrible monsters perpetuating the legacy of the Trail of Tears by playing Cowboys and Injuns on the playground.

Kids have no reference in order to assess their actions, especially when it comes to "mass genocide". If your neighbor was back from Iraq, and was doing the same thing, would you still think of it as harmless fun, or even a therapeutic activity, or would you be worried about what might be going on in his head? That's the key difference we have here.

GTA in many ways is a game aimed at kids 13-16, but has a theme appropriate for 18 and over. A fourteen year-old running over loads of innocents in a video game is far less creepy than an adult doing it, because the adult has the reference point to understand how messed up it is.

I don't think GTA affects anyone. It's a game. But we are all judged by the games we play, and how we play them.

I've played through a bit of the GTA IV single player now. It's kind of cool, but the farther I have gotten in it, the less appealing it is. I haven't played multiplayer yet, but that looks like it would be a blast. I'm hoping to get some of that in before I return the rental. But after having played it, it's just kind boring now. The more bored I got, the more alluring it was just to mug a few people to get some cash. But that's where I have to say it is time to move on.

It's a lot like reading magazines. Maxim and FHM have such low standards, and are written at a junior high (or lower) level. Pick-up Vanity Fair or Esquire, and you get similar stories, but they are written for educated adults. Maxim and FHM are not going to make you a dork, it just won't lift you out of the juvenile state.

GTA seems to have the same appeal. It's all titillation, but there is no payoff. The missions require no thought at all. I never felt like a accomplished a task by using problem solving skills. Halo has more payoff in this arena.

Jayhawker wrote:

A fourteen year-old running over loads of innocents in a video game is far less creepy than an adult doing it, because the adult has the reference point to understand how messed up it is.

How is it "messed up" when it results in no more harm to anyone than simply closing your eyes and imagining the same scenario?

You are making assumptions on what is motivating this hypothetical adult running over pedestrians. Maybe he's not playing Ethics Simulator, maybe he's playing a Game. Maybe the pedestrians in the game are just in the way and it's easier to run them down when he's in a hurry. Maybe he has an atrocious real life commute and running down pedestrians is a therapeutic stress reliever. How are you to judge it "creepy and messed up" when you have no clue about motivation or what's going on inside his head?

Jayhawker wrote:

GTA seems to have the same appeal. It's all titillation, but there is no payoff. The missions require no thought at all. I never felt like a accomplished a task by using problem solving skills. Halo has more payoff in this arena.

Yes. I came to this point last night. I asked myself the following questions (not exactly, but roughly in my brain).

Q: Does this game require more problem solving than Halo, Viva Pinata or Skate?
A: No

Q: Is this game prettier to look at than Viva Pinata or Skate?
A: No

Q: Do I enjoy role-playing as a criminal?
A: No

Q: Is the game worth playing because of the humor?
A: No

Most importantly....

Q: Are the missions interesting to me?
A: No

Q: Is the story more interesting than just reading a book? Does the story make playing the missions worthwhile?
A: No and no

So for me it does kind of hinge on the MP. So far I'm a bit into it and it hasn't grabbed me. It feels somewhat rote and there are other games that can be rote (Viva Pinata), but yet be more fun.

I will soldier on, though, mostly because I want to get to the point where I can start playing with the sandbox. I want to jump in the Helicopter and see where I can go. I want to see what happens if you land a helicopter on top of a bus and then drive the bus around. I'll think of more, I'm sure.

My favorite parts so far have been racing in a forklift, shooting water from a fire truck at Goodjers and yesterday when I stole someone's car, then jumped out and had him chase me until I found some cops. I let him punch me, then he got arrested. That's the kind of stuff that will keep me playing. Testing the limits to see where I can bend the game. The missions already have me bored.

Wordsmythe broke the planet!

AcidCat wrote:
Jayhawker wrote:

A fourteen year-old running over loads of innocents in a video game is far less creepy than an adult doing it, because the adult has the reference point to understand how messed up it is.

How is it "messed up" when it results in no more harm to anyone than simply closing your eyes and imagining the same scenario?

You are making assumptions on what is motivating this hypothetical adult running over pedestrians. Maybe he's not playing Ethics Simulator, maybe he's playing a Game. Maybe the pedestrians in the game are just in the way and it's easier to run them down when he's in a hurry. Maybe he has an atrocious real life commute and running down pedestrians is a therapeutic stress reliever. How are you to judge it "creepy and messed up" when you have no clue about motivation or what's going on inside his head?

Well, it's my opinion, so that's how I judge it. Feel free to disagree, but I think you made my point. An adult will feel the effects of the game much more dramatically than a kid. That why I think it is creepier for an adult than for a child. My wife and I were amused by our daughter locking the doors to her zoo and releasing the animals in Zoo Tycoon. My wife and friends would see me as a creepy guy if that's how I spent my time.

Jayhawker wrote:

I don't think GTA affects anyone. It's a game.

Jayhawker wrote:

Well, it's my opinion, so that's how I judge it. Feel free to disagree, but I think you made my point. An adult will feel the effects of the game much more dramatically than a kid.

Don't these contradict?

Quintin_Stone wrote:
Jayhawker wrote:

I don't think GTA affects anyone. It's a game.

Jayhawker wrote:

Well, it's my opinion, so that's how I judge it. Feel free to disagree, but I think you made my point. An adult will feel the effects of the game much more dramatically than a kid.

Don't these contradict?

No. I don't think games affect someone in that way. Feeling the effects of something doesn't change you necessarily.

But feel free to debate the semantics of this all you want.

So... Will starts up the game. We watch the intro together. He finally gets control of the vehicle and, coincidentally, a pedestrian walks right in front of the car. I stare at that guy for a good few seconds and pondered the outcome. I knew exactly what was going to happen.

Sure enough. He slammed on the accelerator button and killed his first pedestrian.

ME: "I don't believe you did that!"
WILL: "Did what?! HAHAHAHAHA!!"

Yup. That's my husband. A sick, twisted, evil mass murderer. And, according to a few of the comments I've read here, I should be highly concerned. Oh no! Whatever shall I do?

Mystic Violet wrote:

So... Will starts up the game. We watch the intro together. He finally gets control of the vehicle and, coincidentally, a pedestrian walks right in front of the car. I stare at that guy for a good few seconds and pondered the outcome. I knew exactly what was going to happen.

Sure enough. He slammed on the accelerator button and killed his first pedestrian.

ME: "I don't believe you did that!"
WILL: "Did what?! HAHAHAHAHA!!"

Yup. That's my husband. A sick, twisted, evil mass murderer. And, according to a few of the comments I've read here, I should be highly concerned. Oh no! Whatever shall I do? :cry:

Considering your prowess with a chainsaw, I think Will is the one that should be concerned!

Jayhawker wrote:
Mystic Violet wrote:

Yup. That's my husband. A sick, twisted, evil mass murderer. And, according to a few of the comments I've read here, I should be highly concerned. Oh no! Whatever shall I do? :cry:

Considering your prowess with a chainsaw, I think Will is the one that should be concerned! ;-)

I recommend matching His & Hers restraining orders!

Jayhawker wrote:

GTA in many ways is a game aimed at kids 13-16, but has a theme appropriate for 18 and over.

Really? You think this game is aimed at 13-16? I wouldn't want my 13-16 year old playing this game, with its lap dances and prostitutes complete with price menus. I won't even get into the violence, because it's automatically assumed that kids are mature enough to handle the cornucopia of violent acts permitted (and even required by) the game. Ah, good ol' American culture.

p.s. I'm currently playing the game and having a lot of fun with it!