Video game

Exploring ethics and video games – The Medium

UTM’s Experiential Education Unit and Office of the Dean
have collaborated with Mississauga’s Library System to host lectures meant to
display contemporary research occurring at the university. The series, titled
“Lecture Me!” is designed to be engaging and entertaining for all, regardless
of profession or interest.

Professor Lawrence
Switzky, from the department of English and Drama, facilitated the most recent
lecture entitled “How Video Games Can Make You A Better Person,” held on March
5th. Switzky’s presentation centered on a matter of ethics and
morality—specifically whether video games possess the potential to make one
more aware of their own choices and, ultimately more mindful of the dilemmas
that they face throughout everyday life.

Prior to the lecture an
analogy comparing video games to basic art forms, such as paintings, statues,
and works of writing was proposed. Switzky harbours strong sentiments that
video games could be regarded as the modern expression of art. “I do believe
that like novels, films, plays, and other time-based art forms, that video
games can encourage you to ask questions about your motivations, obligations,
and intentions.”

While it’s of no doubt
that video games possess the potential to greatly move and motivate an
individual just as an iconic piece of art may be able to, talk of ethics, or
rather the lack thereof in certain video games, has been a topic of hot debate
for many years. “Talking about ethics in games in the first place might be a
little bit odd or counter-intuitive to some people,” Switzky explains. “There
is a quite powerful strand of mainstream culture that says that games might be
the least ethical things that exist.” Video games such as God of War and Mortal
Kombat often utilize varying levels of physical violence as the main driver and
motivator for gameplay.

Upon observation of the
elements of violence that appear to be almost omnipresent in video game
culture, many people often ask whether the violence committed on screen could
translate in any way to certain malicious tendencies in the real world. Indeed
Switzky fully acknowledges this concern and its existence. Speaking of an
author named Dave Grossman, Switzky states that “He wrote a book called
Assassination Generation, concerning the psychology and rationale of killing.
He makes quite a broad and difficult argument.”

To paraphrase what
Switzky quotes from Grossman verbatim, Grossman argues that video games teach
players to kill and commit acts of violence in much the same way that military
soldiers would learn to do so during training, such as through conditioning.
However, firm discipline distinguishes the two seemingly similar concepts.
While those trained in military are made well aware of that their gained
proficiencies must only be used against enemies of war, there is no such moral
reinforcement when one plays a video game.

Looking past violence, video
games and their design, an incredibly complex topic, warrants further
exploration. Looking back on the analogy of video games to a thought-provoking
piece of art, one game that Switzky highlighted, titled Hush and developed by
Jamie Antonisse and Devon Johnson, perfectly encapsulates the ability of video
games to move people and stir up feelings beyond the simple satisfaction of
linear progression.

Hush is, at its core, a
rhythm game where a mother must soothe her crying baby to sleep at the dead of night.
Hutu soldiers, raiding the Tutsi village that this mother resides in, actively
seek her out and will be alerted to her presence if she fails to calm the
infant. Tension and fear come front and center in the game, and by stimulating
these feelings, Hush manages to bring to light the horror that was the Rwandan
Genocide of 1994 and what those who experienced it firsthand may have felt

Evidently, video games
can raise questions possessing incredible depth that many might respond to in
different ways. Switzky draws insight from Roy A. Sorensen and a book of his
titled Thought Experiments, wherein Sorensen describes what is called the
“wicked problem” —any scenario in which one must make a decision that has the
potential to cause harm to oneself or others, with no clearly defined answer as
the most morally palatable.

Switzky outlines a
classic example of a wicked problem: the Trolley Problem. A train barrels
towards a track with five people lying on the track: as a bystander, one may
choose to allow the train to continue as is, killing five people, or instead
pull a lever that alters the train’s projected path, killing one person

While some may consider
the outcome that saves the most people to always be most optimal, the Trolley
Problem possesses many variations that could alter responses—what if a train
was to kill five people, and the only way to save them was to push a person off
a bridge overhead and onto the track? Although the scenario is constructed in
the same manner as the original, it’s not hard to see that the degree of
involvement could become an issue for many.

Switzky, when not
playing video games during his spare time, pilots fascinating upper year
courses that pertain to the narrative of video games and their significance.

The final Lecture Me!
Event of the year takes place on Tuesday April 2nd.


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