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Gods from the Machine: Godhood and Morality in Roleplaying Videogames


Abstract and Figures

This dissertation aims to situate moral play under a structure of godhood. This comprise two distinct but intertwining elements: the player-as-god and diegetic gods. The player-as-god is a concept I will outline that describes the player-avatar relationship as a dualistic notion that encompasses the avatar as a distinct, diegetic character, and the player as a controlling being who transcends the gameworld. The two collide in player-avatar relationships to create a ‘fantasy self’, as Katherine Isbister terms, that is neither solely player nor avatar. The player-as-god, as both transcendental but simultaneously native to the gameworld, must forge new moral and social frameworks according to the different ontological and cosmological fundamentals of the created gameworld. These frameworks, I will argue, are predicated on higher diegetic powers that guide and inform the player-as-god. I will examine this topic through four case studies. In Grand Theft Auto V, I will illustrate the player-as-god as part of a player-avatar relationship that involves a pre-characterised avatar, in the form of GTA V’s playable protagonists. In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I will analyse a more ‘blank slate’ avatar in the player-avatar relationship, and consider how the player-as-god is directed by diegetic gameworld gods and higher powers. In Diablo III, I will explore the highly intertextual nature of its moral framework, as it borrows extensively from Judeo-Christian tradition. Finally, in Dark Souls I will add a moral dimension to Daniel Vella’s notion of the ludic sublime, examine how moral futility is instituted in the game’s lore and mechanics.
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Too monstrous to be truly accepted, too human to be entirely and comfortably cast out. The giant has traditionally held a unique position amongst monsters, an "Intimate Stranger" (Cohen, 1999, p. xi) who threatens the boundaries of the categories we impose upon the self, society and culture. In this thesis, I consider what the position of the giant is in digital roleplaying games and how digital games provide a new and particular arena for the giant. A familiar figure in myth and legend and no less familiar in digital games, I combine traditional monster theory and scholarship on giants with work on videogame monsters and digital game research more broadly. To do this, I first introduce the figure of the giant and its definition and then undertake a brief literature review, summing up the present state of videogame monster research and other theories which are relevant to my thinking and arguments. Then, I consider the giant in digital roleplaying games through three lenses. First, as monsters of excess, a perspective that considers giants as an exaggerated manifestation of those traits which we deem monstrous when taken to their extremes. Second, as technological giants: giant robots, cyborgs and so on whose appearance as giants links the age-old figure of the giant with our more current anxieties regarding our future and our increasingly intimate relationship with technology. Finally, as aspects of nature: giants that seem to be more a living part of the gameworld than as a horrifying and excessive human monster. I explore how these giants seem to relate more to how we think of and understand our relationship with nature, from its sublime beauty to its hostile wildernesses. To conclude, I attempt to draw these perspectives together to gain an oversight on what role the giant plays within digital roleplaying games, arguing that the giant is a particular figure used to consider and work through our socio-cultural anxieties at the most fundamental level and is one that requires medium-specific consideration within game studies.
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Shaman, paragon, God-mode: modern video games are heavily coded with religious undertones. From the Shinto-inspired Japanese video game Okami to the internationally popular The Legend of Zelda and Halo, many video games rely on religious themes and symbols to drive the narrative and frame the storyline. Playing with Religion in Digital Games explores the increasingly complex relationship between gaming and global religious practices. With contributions by scholars and gamers from all over the world, this collection offers a unique perspective to the intersections of religion and the virtual world.
In his Metaphysics, Aristotle claims that he is seeking to establish a science of being. Being, at the most general level, is divided by Aristotle into the following four types: 1. Accidental being 2. Being as truth 3. Potential/actual being l 4. Per se being Per se (kath hauto) being can also be translated as "being in its own right" or "intrinsic being". This type of being has been referred to by Aristotle in different ways. The list of per se beings includes substance, quantity, quality, place, time, etc. , and this is also the list ofcategories. At Meta. ix. l, 1045b28 Aristotle calls this list the "categories of being" (hai kategoriai tou ontos). At Meta. vi. 2, 1026a36 and ix. 1O, 1051a33-b2 per se being is called "being with reference to the figures ofpredication" (ta schemata tes kategorias, or "figures ofcategories,,). 2 Of these four types of being, accidental being is briefly treated in Meta. vi. 2-3 and there Aristotle claims that the study of accidental being can be dismissed on the grounds that accidental being is indeterminate and cannot be 3 the object ofknowledge. He also does not pay much attention to being as truth and treats it briefly in two short texts: Meta. viA and ix. 1O.
p>Choice and ‘agency’ are frequently named as key factors in describing videogames and their unique features in respect to other forms of media. Through a multitude of minor and major decisions (or illusions thereof), players are given the impression of being an integral part of the narrative and ludic experience of a game, oftentimes forcing them to face the consequences of their actions in the game world. This paper aims at providing some insights into academic and public discussions of ‘agency’ in the context of digital games and, drawing on the examples of Call of Duty: Black Ops, The Graveyard and Mass Effect 2. An argument is made for a further emphasis on the role of ‘agency’ within the field of religion and digital games as well as a more differentiated (yet still complementary) approach toward ‘player agency’ and ‘game agency’.</p
Lilith and the Nephilim are not uncommon characters in modern day pop culture at large and in video games culture specifically. In three video games, the Diablo series (three games, between 1996-2012), the Darksiders series (two games, in 2010 and 212) and the Devil May Cry series (2001-2013, especially in the so called ‘reboot’ of 2013), Lilith and the Nephilim are both named and (in different ways) connected to each other within the greater narrative of the games. In this article I want to describe the three game narratives in which the Nephilim and Lilith have their place, and in what way those three narratives are connected to each other. The central question of this article is: what have the narratives of Diablo, Darksiders and DmC in common regarding the Nephilim and Lilith, and what theological implications follow from this common ground? I will argue that the combination of Lilith and Nephilim in these three game narratives is key for creating a mix of ontological and cosmological dualism in relation to a more complex anthropological ‘holism’. The three narratives provide a more or less psychologically convenient explanation for the existence of evil in the world, and at the same time take into account the experience that the human beings we encounter in our everyday life appear to us as incorporating both good and bad deeds, intentions, inclinations, traits and thoughts.
This article explores the Interpretive potential of adopting an ethnographic approach to single-player gameworlds. Using the Grand Theft Auto series as a case study, I investigate the inherent affinities of gameplay, tourism, and ethnographic fieldwork. Analysis of game design decisions and players' accounts of their own experience shows how the GTA games encourage players to cycle between immersive participant-observation and experimental or ironic detachment. By addressing the themes of touristic subjectivity, colonialist exploration, and collaborative complicity that run through the GTA series, I work through what it might mean to undertake ethnographic fieldwork in a single-player gameworld - not only in gamer culture, but in the gameworld itself. I show how GTA players think and behave like both tourists and ethnographers as they explore and interpret these gameworlds, collaborating with game designers in the performance of narratives that comment on urban American life and commercial media.
Many open world games give players the chance to make moral choices, but usually the differences between good and evil paths through a game are slight. In order for moral choices in games to be meaningful they must be fairly calculated and have significant consequences. The Fallout series is one of the best examples of how to give players thoughtful moral problems and multiple paths to resolving them. This essay looks at the series, and Fallout 3 in particular, as examples of how moral choice can be incorporated into video games. One of the oldest fears about art is that it may corrupt observers and lead them to immorality - a criticism that has resurfaced with attacks on video games. Fallout 3 does the opposite. It encourages players to think about the morality of their actions in the virtual world, thereby teaching them the practical wisdom that Aristotle considered essential to being a moral actor.
How can every virtuous action be chosen, on Aristotle's view, if choice requires deliberation (since surely some situations do not permit time for deliberation)? How can Aristotle claim, and what does he mean in claiming, that deliberation is not of the end? This chapter offers distinctive interpretations of key notions in Aristotle's moral psychology in answering these questions - including choice (prohairesis), wish (or 'rational wanting', boulēsis), practical wisdom (phronēsis) and happiness (eudaimonia). Aristotle's notion of ethical deliberation reduces neither to instrumental reasoning, nor even to explicit reasoning that can be captured in practical arguments.