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FPS Gaming and the 'Just World Hypothesis'

Hugh Pickens writes (1984118) writes | more than 3 years ago

Games 1

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Jamie Madigan writes that when people witness someone subjected to some misfortune, they’re susceptible to suggestions that the person deserved it and thus see the misfortune as evidence of karma or justice –hence the “Just” in “Just World Hypothesis”. Now consider the controversial new first-person shooter Homefront, which has you play as an freedom fighter in an America occupied by a North Korean superpower where the introduction to the game goes to great lengths to relieve you of any moral misgivings you might have about plugging away at the enemies it’s getting ready to throw at you. "You see enemy soldiers not only brutalizing American civilians, but outright murdering a mother in front of her children and callously tossing corpses around," writes Madigan, a gamer with a Ph.D. in psychology, who writes on the psychology of successful games. "The message is clear: Hey, these guys are evil. When we give you a gun, SHOOT THEM and FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT." Madigan says that the interesting thing about Homefront is that it’s not leaving any blanks to be filled in which robs the game of some narrative depth. "Some of my favorite gaming moments over the years have been born of difficult decisions about who to let live and who to gun down. Let me decide, act, and ruminate on those actions once the smoke clears; that will keep the game with me for longer.""

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Mass-murdering heroes (1)

Kelbear (870538) | more than 3 years ago | (#35859688)

Shooters are rooted in well, shooting. Whatever moral conflict you may have about the taking of a life is quickly resolved and cast aside as you blast your way through hundreds, even thousands of enemies over the course of the game. Any hesitation must necessarily have been overcome in the first few minutes in these games.

This is largely due to the power fantasies that accompany the shooter genre. Players are powerful, and their "shooting" ability must be sufficient to overcome all obstacles thrown at them. Justification is needed to resolve the dissonance stemming from gunning down so many enemies. Uncharted is one example of a (great) game that has received some criticism for failing to address this point. Charming off-the-cuff quips are jarringly out of place after slaughtering hundreds of men. Even after the protagonist is himself shocked at the prospect of shooting museum security guards, and is instead offered tranquilizer darts, these guards are sedated right off walkways to fall several stories down. Or off the edge of rooftops where the fall is almost certainly fatal. The justification for shooting is made necessary by the nature of shooters.

So here's an interesting idea from the "Extra Credits" guys at .

How about a game where you're a widowed mother trying to get your children to safety across war-torn Europe? The objective is clear, the motivation even more so. The focus would not be on charging into violence, but avoiding it where possible, or using it as an ugly means to a necessary end. A challenging premise for game design, and for game writers. It offers the potential to challenge the players with things like:

-Dialogue of a mother trying to raise children to be good people in an awful environment.
-Deciding what taboos may need to be broken to get the children to safety. Perhaps she will need to kill a man to protect them...and then explain to them why it was right (or wrong?) for her to do that. Perhaps she will need to sleep with a guard so the kids can slip past...but burdened with the memory of what happened.
-Being asked to risk your safety and that of your children on behalf of someone else, or even someone else's children. (and again, having to justify your choices to your children later).***
-Comforting a child.

Extra Credits offered this idea up as part of a discussion on what it takes to create a "good female character". They posited that a good /female/ character is not simply a gender-neutral character that would be good regardless of gender (which would simply be a "good character"). Rather, a good female character is a character whose femininity is innately tied to who she is. This would be an opportunity for a strong female character to flourish as a result of her femininity, rather than a lack of the same. And sex appeal would not have to factor in anywhere either.

***An interesting dilemma came up for me in Fable 2 *minor spoiler ahead*:
Once of the quests involves being tricked by a villain, and finding yourself and an innocent woman, placed in front of a demon demanding life force from one of you. This meant that one of you would be instantly aged into a shriveled husk. In the end, I gave the demon the girl. After all, it was just an AI character, whereas I was a real human being who would feel some regret at having my avatar tarnished for the rest of the game.

But I had a twinge of regret, I had been playing virtuous hero throughout the game until this point, rescuing others, and refusing reward whenever it was offered. But now I was not being asked to be the hero, I was asked to be the martyr. Being defaced was a purely visual effect, but a significant one because this was the first time the player is asked to actually give up something irreplaceable. This was the one time where I was asked to make a real sacrifice, however small it was. I was surprised to find myself a bit ashamed at my selfishness, and the event sparked some brief introspection. Great stuff for a videogame.

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