Tag Archives: ethics

Audacious Compassion Podcast

My partner Melissa and I have started a new project: a monthly podcast called Audacious Compassion about how to demonstrate empathy in difficult everyday situations. The first episode, “Go Buy a Caddy,” is up and you can subscribe via RSS or iTunes. You can even rate us five stars on iTunes if you like!
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Theft, Murder, and Morals in Skyrim

Maven Black-BriarSkyrim made me want to murder.

I’m usually a kind video game player. I choose non-lethal options when available, act morally, and generally roleplay as a responsible (if sometimes abrupt) character when given the option. The character I played in Skyrim was an ambitious but magnanimous barbarian-mage, seeking the power to rule and protect. I didn’t seek to kill anyone unprovoked… until I met Maven Black-Briar.

Maven1 is the rich de-facto ruler of the city of Riften. She is rude, cruel, and entitled. In a world of racist Vikings and execution-happy Imperials, she stands out to me as the most loathsome humanoid character. Sure, there are strange avian hags that eat people and vampiric assassins, but she is just a brewery owner who’s happy to kill and torture and extort for personal wealth and power. She mirrors her city, a place that represents corruption and villainy, and in doing so says a lot about Skyrim‘s attitude toward morality.

She’s also immortal.

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  1. Despite sounding like a title, “Maven” is her first name.

The Brutality of Saints Row 2

I’d like to take a moment to discuss a game that does some really interesting things with character and storytelling: Volition’s GTA3-em-up, Saints Row 2. Wait, where are you going? I’m serious. Here’s the thing: SR2, more than any other game I’ve played, makes me despise my player character. By the end of the game, my PC is the most reprehensible person in Stilwater.

SR2 is a game that borrows liberally from Grand Theft Auto 3 and its successors. The player character is a sociopathic criminal, doing a series of missions to gain power in a city while murdering thousands of people in the process. Playing a game like this, the player should expect to do horrible things; it’s a game (in this case) about a street gang leader taking over an entire city. These games set up an environment in which the player can suspend their ethical disbelief. The world is farcical, with corrupt police, over-the-top raunchy radio ads, and stereotyped characters. All of the characters with dialog are criminals, and none of the bystanders get enough characterization to make the player empathize with them.

But there’s something weird in SR2‘s approach. The middle of the game consists of three parallel storylines, corresponding to the PC‘s strengthening of her gang, the Saints, through destruction of three rival gangs: the Sons of Samedi, the Ronin, and the Brotherhood. The Sons of Samedi plotline is a drug-running crime story in the Tarantino vein. The Ronin is a full-on action movie, complete with katana duels. But the Brotherhood is the brutal story of the cold-hearted destruction of a man and his family.
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