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Article - 'Ethics in RPGs - Part 2' by Faust

An item about Game Design posted on Aug 12, 2003

Blurb

The second part of Faust's guide to involving ethics in games to give them greater depth.

Body

Ok my friends; I finally got around to writing the second part of this ethical guide.

I will be describing (yet again) a few ethical ways of living in this article, and explaining how they can apply to the denizens of your worlds. This second peace will cover “Christian” Ethics, Kantian Ethics and Natural Law. Enjoy!

Christian Ethics

I honestly have NO idea why this school of thought has the title “Christian” ethics, but it actually refers to all of the following teachings, Islam, Jewish or Christian alike (Oh, and Sikhish, Whahay for the Gurus!).

Predestination

Predestination is the theory that God predetermines what is going to happen in the world, much like a puppetmaster. He decides who will be saved and who won’t be before they’re even born, so sayeth the protestant theory of “the elect”. Therefore we have no control over our lives or over our actions; it was fated that we acted this way. God, being the omniscient and omnipotent being he is, is impossible to fight and as such we cannot change our predicament.

The theory of the elect comes from the hypothesis “God is like the potter. Should he wish, he creates two pots: one pot to place on the highest shelf to be admired by all others, one pot to scorn and destroy in his failed pottery bin”. As we are God’s creations, he has every right to treat us and do with us whatever he likes. Our purpose on Earth is for whichever reason he chooses it to be.

Many of the criticisms of this theory are to do with rewards and punishments; if some of us are created innately with sin then why are we punished for it? And as the “Elect” will always choose God (they have no choice in the matter either), then why are they rewarded for it? It isn’t our or their choice whatsoever.

One of the Catholic teachings to do with Predestination is to do with Homosexuality; God gives this to people as a test to show his love. Those who give in to this vice move further away from God’s love and are punished accordingly. However, if we can’t control our actions and it was fated to happen this way, what is the point of the test? What is the point of Earth itself as a testing ground? (My apologies, too much personal conjecture added in there).

(Christian Ethics, being such a large topic, is going to be broken up and looked at in future articles too).

Kantian Ethics

One of the philosopher Kant’s most famous sayings was “Ought does not exist”. Kant believed in his Categorical Imperative that if we OUGHT to have done something then we should have done so, and the fact that we didn’t makes it an immoral act, as if everyone followed the same practice society would crumble. Kant does not see why we don’t take the moral route if the chance presents itself (i.e. Ought), as it is illogical to look back afterwards and state “I ought to have done that instead”, as the past is over.

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” – this statement is the second major part of his Categorical Imperative; acts are universal. If one person can commit an act then, in theory, everyone can commit the same act. For example, if suicide is made legal then everyone has the opportunity to commit suicide. If everyone chose to, it would lead to the destruction of society and pretty much wipe out humanity. The same goes for paying bills, murder and urinating in public places; it may not be the case that everyone would take part in this acts, but the fact that they could if they wished is a concern.

Kant presented the "formula of the end in itself" as: "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means." This places more emphasis on the unique value of human life as deserving of our ultimate moral respect and thus proposes a more personal view of morality. In application to particular cases, of course, it yields the same results: violating a perfect duty by making a false promise (or killing myself) would be to treat another person (or myself) merely as a means for getting money (or avoiding pain), and violating an imperfect duty by refusing to offer benevolence (or neglecting my talents) would be a failure to treat another person (or myself) as an end in itself. Thus, the Kantian imperative agrees with the Christian expression of "The Golden Rule" by demanding that we derive from our own self-interest a generalized concern for all human beings.

Due to the fact that the “universalised maxim” is conflicting in itself, it would be illogical to run society off it, and Kant concluded that we have a perfect duty (to which there can never be any exceptions whatsoever) not to act in this manner.

Kant’s teaching reflect characters such as Paladins in RPG worlds, who strive for the good out of honour, duty and loyalty, who commit acts because they should do them in the name of morality. However, a person following this school of ethics would have to apply the treatment of others universally. He couldn’t, for example, save a maiden for a dragon but then not save a necromancer or serial killer, hence where the criticisms come into it.

(N/b: some notes taken from the “Philosophical Dictionary”, including “formula of end in itself”)


Natural Law

The natural law theory is primarily the belief that God, the alleged creator of everything, created this world, and we, as humans, have no right to interfere with his natural processes. It rarely goes to the extremes however (such as clothes, which are required for warmth, and food, which must be cooked to purify it), but does disagree with most unnatural processes. What it defines as unnatural, however, can be very controversial.

Obviously genetically modified items are the anti-christ to the followers of Natural Law, and cloning/creating life of any kind is prohibited. As such, most followers of Natural Law tend to give a “bad name” to other Christian-esque philosophies with their overzealous nature (a lot of them physically act against such processes rather than just protesting).

Homosexuality, masturbation, abortion and Euthenasia are also frowned upon by Natural Law, as they end life (or prevent the starting of life) before it is due. It is up to the grace of God to decide who dies and when, and interfering with this process is considered a sin. Most don’t take it to extremes (such as Eco-Warriors; they’re seen to be very liberal people outside the whole freeing Animals and blowing up EVIL CORPERATIONS thing), but those with a religious ethical backing can be quite dangerous.

“Avalanche” (from FF7, not the Game Creation group!) are an excellent example of followers of Natural Law on a very basic level. They care about the planet, and actively take on those who wish to destroy it. The game itself also draws a number of ethical questions concerning Natural Law, such as the modifying of the “Soldiers”, the cloning of Sephiroth as well as the obvious “Mako” problems.

Another example of RPG characters who would fit this mould is Druids or hardline Clerics/Priests. The religious influence behind the theory (not present in the FF7 style freedom fighters), can make for some very controversial situations and really raise some important questions, especially if they’re seen as the “good guys” in the campaign.




Ok, tying it up – hopefully this’ll give you all an insight into philosophical aspects of characters rather than Stevester’s psychological works. Remember to feel free with mixing and matching philosophies – or even coming up with your own. That’s how they’re BORN.

In the next article I’ll be discussing Virtue Ethics, Existentialism (although I class this as Existentialist Nihilism, many others disagree so I’ll give it its own section), and situation ethics. Look out for this next Tuesday!