Tuesday, 4 August 2015
Game Mechanics and Real Morality
I’ve mentioned before in this blog that one of my hobbies is the running and playing of table-top roleplay games. I think that I’ve also mentioned that I have written up my own set of rules, and created several different campaign settings to use them with.
My rules are in a constant state of development and play-testing. They’ve gone through 3 distinct ‘editions’ and uncountable minor tweaks and changes. Almost all roleplaying games (and mine is no exception) describe both player and non-player characters though a series of numerical statistics that show how strong or weak they are in various mental, physical and interpersonal aspects. I’ve recently been toying with the idea of inserting another appendix into my rulebook dealing with additional character attributes that could be included, depending on the genre of game being played.
Many games make use of an ‘alignment’ mechanic of some kind to track a character’s morality and ethics. The classic example is Dungeons and Dragons’ double axis system of Lawful-Neutral-Chaotic and Good-Neutral-Evil, allowing a character to choose one of nine alignments, from Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil, to represent their moral outlook.
I’ve been tinkering with this idea, mostly thinking about how it would work for an Arthurian-style game, and I’ve been considering 2 separate numerical traits, Virtue and Glory. Virtue is gained through acts of generosity, mercy and kindness, and lost through acts of cruelty, ruthlessness and evil. Glory is gained by defeating enemies, courageous deeds and completing quests, and lost by being defeated, and through cowardice and failure. It would be possible to increase both scores at the same time, or increase one and decrease another (by, for example, defeating a powerful enemy and gaining Glory, but then killing him after he’d surrendered, losing Virtue).
A certain level of Virtue would be required for a character to be able to enter a particularly sacred place, use certain magical items, be approached by certain magical being, or to look upon, or even be allowed to drink from the Holy Grail.
The idea is that it encourages player to play their characters in a certain way (which is why such a mechanic is only suited to certain genres). However, there is a problem with such a mechanic (and this goes back to the whole ‘means and ends’ thing I’ve been chewing over recently, and to my pondering on ways of giving to charity even further back) in that it encourages characters to do good not because this is how their characters ought to be behaving, but for an out-of-character reward.
“Ok, so I murdered that peasant because it was funny, but I can just get that Virtue back by donating money to the next five beggars I meet.” It ceases to be a reward for good roleplaying, and becomes a currency for which they sell their good behaviour, in the expectation of being able to spend it further down the line.
And now; the inevitable real world analogy! (You knew it was coming!)
It is my belief that people ought to do good, and avoid evil for the sake of doing good, and avoiding evil, as ends in and of themselves, and not as means to some greater reward or evasion of punishment. I always refused to get involved in the very public displays of charity that the supermarket I was employed by indulged in, because it was done as a form of marketing, and with the good of the intended recipients as a secondary consideration, at least by the company itself.
Should it matter? If good is done and evil avoided, if charities are supported and people helped, does it matter whether it is an ends or a means, and whether our motivations are pure or self-centred?
In a word; yes. In fact, my understanding of my religion is such that I think it’s possibly more important. As I’ve said before, you cannot buy or bargain your way into Heaven. God does not award Virtue points, and there is no threshold of points which will give you entry. In fact, I believe that humans are incapable of ever earning enough Virtue points to ever get in. This being the case, our motivations are far more important than our actions, although of course if they never become actions at all, our motivations count for less than nothing.
We should play our characters the way the great Games Master wishes them to be played, without any thought of out of character rewards. We will be rewarded, but not because we have earned it. In the meantime though, the Game will be that much better for our playing it well.