Wednesday, January 16, 2013
'I Used to Be a Hero ... Then I Took an Arrow to the Knee.'
So my 22-year-old son tells me (or he would, if he wasn't so polite). What for him is just a video game becomes, for me, a study in comparative morality.
I'm talking about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim--a game that, ever since I bought it for my son last Christmas, I can't seem to stop playing. My son was so frustrated that I never let him play his own game--a game that I bought for him, after all--that this Christmas, he bought Skyrim for me and then just kept the thing.
For those who aren't familiar with Skyrim, it's essentially Dungeons and Dragons with less dice, more random conversations with NPCs and way better graphics. You fight giant spiders and cast magical spells and shed lots and lots of blood as you try to save the land of Skyrim from an infestation of dragons.
It might be the most habit-forming video game I've ever played.
Early last year, I played all the way through the primary quest: I killed the evilest of dragons and dutifully fought and smithed and enchanted my way up to level 60 or so. It was fun. But I refused, on moral grounds (really), to pursue any of the major storylines that, ahem, required me to compromise my virtual ethics (other than the necessary killing of bandits and plucking wings off of butterflies and such). I did not join the Thieves' Guild. I did not join the Dark Brotherhood, Skyrim's nefarious league of assassins. I did not cow-tow to any of the game's diabolic gods.
And my son told me that I had missed some of the best parts of the game.
We discussed my moral predilections, and (stifling a smirk) he suggested I play Skyrim like a redemption story: Horribly misguided at first, only to reform later on and become a true hero.
So sometime in November, I picked up the game again. I told myself I was not going to feel bad about pickpocketing innocent people. I was not going to mourn my horse if I accidentally killed it during a fearsome skirmish. And I was going to do some of the things that my bizarre sense of video game ethics wouldn't let me do the first time around.
And so I did. To a point.
I joined the Thieves Guild. And admittedly, it was pretty fun. My favorite part of Skyrim is skulking around in the shadows, anyway, and the Guild gives me plenty of excuses to do that. But I still have a hard time actually--well, stealing anything. At least from people who've not done me any wrong. And the Dark Brotherhood? I just don't think I can do it.
Clearly, I'd never be able to get through a game like Grand Theft Auto without serious professional counseling.
Some people see video games as an escape--not just from real-world mundanity (if that's a word) but from the morals and worldviews they embrace, too. It's like dressing up for Halloween, but requiring more thumb-based dexterity. For me, though, it's almost just the opposite. I want to be a role model to these virtual people in ways that I don't always replicate in my day-to-day life. In Skyrim, I always help anyone in need. In the real world, I'm not sure if I'm always so considerate.
Does this make me a bad person? Or, at least, a bad gamer?