Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Role of Games in Ethics

For those who perceive video games strictly as entertainment, that may be the case where most games are concerned, but there are games that actually teach philosophy and ethics. Some companies are more concerned with profit and appealing to the largest audience, but there are others who aggressively combine entertainment with education and philosophy.

Natsume never ceased to amaze me with its games. Harvest Moon games in particular very cleverly weave a tapestry that combines both superlative fantasy and entertainment with a very clear message about our planet and society. In the latest Harvest Moon game, Rune Factory, the hero needs to restore a farm but at the same time, he will confront monsters and be required to learn swordsmanship. This may sound like a traditional RPG, but it is unique. 'Monsters' actually are ordinary animals who have been forced from their natural habitat and behaviour patterns by human neglect and interference with Nature. The aim when fighting monsters is not to kill them but to return them to their innocent state of being. One then can work with them on the farm or ranch. In other words, a tamed 'monster' chicken will give eggs. A tamed 'monster' cow can be persuaded to give milk. Wild creatures can be persuaded to become allies in defeating other monsters.

Throughout the game, there are references to the ultimate state of 'harmony in being' that would bring fruitfulness to the land and happiness to all the inhabitants. Human beings in Harvest Moon are not really full owners of the land, because they must serve both Nature and their community. If one ignores the needs and desires of others, one will not profit. The best rewards are those obtained by working in harmony with all forces and creatures.

Second Life is another 'game' that has a real connection to this world but, unlike Natsume games, the messages of Second Life depend entirely on its residents. There are people in Second Life who are active politically, both with respect to events and causes in this world and in the world of SL. I saw my first political protest yesterday in Second Life. It was a 'real' protest against the corporation that runs the Second Life world. It concerned a proposed ban on gambling in Second Life, a real concern to Second Life residents if not others. In fact, the usual conflict between freedom and control is evident as much in Second Life as in this world. Whether or not individuals should be free to choose for themselves is a pressing issue in both worlds. Those who wish to control the actions and choices of others are as determined to do so in Second Life as they are here in this world. Fortunately, political activists are willing to confront these forces in both worlds.

At the same time, 'first life' causes are promoted in SL, such as organised events to raise awareness and funds against hunger and disease.

Second Life therefore is not simply a venue for people to entertain themselves with fantasies of every kind. It is a place where history is being made. Due to its truly international nature, it is a place where world events could be influenced.

Many prominent universities have campuses in Second Life, including MIT and Princeton. Education, therefore, is another element that can enrich the 'resident' of the Second Life world. In some universities, immersion in the Second Life experience is not mandatory but is strongly encouraged. This trend only will increase as more members of the 'general public' become aware of the potential of a virtual world that offers free membership and allows an individual to communicate and interact with people from every walk of life and every society.

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