The creators of Spec Ops: The Line and This War of Mine, as well as Malcolm Ryan from Macquarie University and Jose Zagal of the Videogames Ethics Reader teamed up to discuss the ethics of war in video games

VIDEO: War and Games Panel featuring Cory Davis and Michal Drozdowski

The event was hosted at SAE Institute in Sydney earlier this week, and was the result of a joint effort by Macquarie University and The Ethics Centre.

Freelance journalist Jeremy Ray hosted the panel as they delved into some of the hairiest issues surrounding the presentation of war in videogames. Why, the panel posed, are videogames so sorely lacking in more nuanced critical works about war next to other media? From Heart of Darkness to Three Kings, games’ pronounced action-centric bent when it comes to war games made it pale in comparison.

The discussion started with the financial risk factors around games which were concerned with the morality of the battles and conflicts they represented, illuminated by Cory Davis declaring that he hoped the Spec Ops franchise would lie dormant, that The Line stood as an independent work, something doubtless anathema to publishers’ tendencies to nurture annualised franchises.

Jose Zagal made the argument that the current plateuing of graphical prowess in games will bring about more creative and varied experiences, much in the same way older games without the power to create realistic scenes had to.

One of the key points of debate which arose was that ethical decisions in games were too often reduced to being tangible decisions with gameplay benefits. Malcolm Ryan extolled those moments in games where he was given the full gamut of an ethical decision – the power to recognise a situation as having the potential to be an ethical decision in the first place, the power to engage with that situation in a meaningful way, and the consequences of his decision being thrust upon him without resorting to a morality point scale.

Michal Drozdowski outlines his creative provess with This War of Mine by talking about the lived experience of Polish people and his desire to recreate their stories, while also discussing the nature of emergent morality in game spaces.

The entire talk encompassed a range of very well thought-out and considered opinions and perspectives on one of the most difficult questions for developers in our time. How does a developer get a player to care enough about pixels and polygons to have them consider in-game situations with an appropriate level of moral weight to be able to engage and learn from the stories games tell in the same way they can from other media?

The discussion continues to evolve, but the talk was a great example of where the current teething issues are, and can be watched in full here.

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