Benjamin Hanussek has a degree in archaeology (focus: archaeogaming) and is currently doing his MA in Game Studies & Engineering at the Alpen-Adria University, Klagenfurt. He leads a project on “Moral Complexity in Videogames” and functions as tutor of the Klagenfurt Critical Game Lab. Besides that, he co-develops indie titles under the banner of “CtrlZ”.
Dis/enchanted by Moral Complexity: The Magic of Moral Engagement in Videogames
FROG 2021 – Talk
Tom Tucek (Klagenfurt Critical Game Lab, Alpen-Adria University)
Moral dilemmas have become an integral part of many videogame narratives nowadays. Games such as Frostpunk engage players with carefully crafted experiences that encourage players to apply their moral principles. Such an approach grants an additional, philosophical dimension to the architecture of game design, thus allowing players a more intimate, intellectual engagement with the medium. However, the phenomenon of morality remains an abstract and unactionable concept in game studies, which might provide interesting perspectives, but lacks a closer comprehension of how videogames operationalise morality to enchant or disenchant players. We argue, that at the core of this dis/enchantment is the notion of moral complexity, defined here as the degree to which a game provides alternatives and/or commentary to violence and deceit. Moral complexity engages players in different ways according to their individual moral competence – the ability to translate one’s moral principles into action. If moral complexity of a game correlates properly to moral competence, players become enchanted, which lets them experience engagement comparable to Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of flow. If they do not correlate, players become disenchanted and potentially disengage from the experience. In order to exhibit the dis/enchanting function of moral complexity in videogames, we intend to present the game Frostpunk as a state-of-the-art example. Moreover, Georg Lind’s notion of moral competence is used as a device to understand a player’s ability to engage with moral encounters. Furthermore, our concept of moral complexity is presented as a device to operationalise the phenomenon of morality in videogames. On the basis of our theoretical framework, we explain how we implemented moral complexity in a prototype game, designed for a study that tests for correlations between moral complexity, moral competence, and enjoyment of a game. In the end, we will elaborate on the difficulties we encountered in our design process and open up the room for critical discussion.