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Thread: The Ultima Series and Virtue ethics

  1. #1
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    The Ultima Series and Virtue ethics

    I didn't see a thread where it was appropriate to ask this question (I'd be happy to delete it if there is already an appropriate thread). In another thread, Anarchic Fox mentioned that their virtue ethics was influenced by Ultima, and thought it would make for a good discussion.
    So I'll put the question to anyone interested "how does virtue ethics relate to Ultima?"

  2. #2
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    From Ultima IV onwards, the Ultima series of RPGs had multiple systems of virtues and ethics that were expressed in their worlds, especially the game world Britannia's list of eight virtues: Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Sacrifice, Honor, Spirituality, and Humility. In Ultima IV, the player character aspired to become the Avatar, the living embodiment of these virtues; in Ultima V the Avatar returns to Britannia to find that the virtues have been corrupted into twisted versions of themselves.

    There's more to be said about Ultima and the virtues, but that's a very brief, rough summary of virtues and ethics in Ultima.

  3. #3
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    Sounds Aristotelian. Like the classic example of courage being between cowardice and recklessness. I wonder whether they thought of using the seven classical virtues originally, and decided to change it?

  4. #4
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    I think you mean Ultima was influenced by virtue ethics, not the other way around? As far as I understand it, the Ultima series brought in its system of virtues as a reaction to games at the time not having a particular moral code for players to follow (this included Ultimas I-III), and the hullabaloo during the 80s about games corrupting the youth playing them. The system's not necessarily Aristotelian in the manner through which it was created, but there are connections at a broader level.

    Inasmuch as the system itself was instituted in U4, it was on the principles of alignment with the virtues; the game helps you create your Avatar (capitalised because you're literally called The Avatar, an embodiment of the virtues) by asking you to answer a series of ethical dilemmas at the beginning, and your responses determined which one you were most aligned to, and thus your starting class - if you chose the way of honour, for instance, you'd start out as a paladin. V was a bit of an interrogation of this system by turning it upside down, and was generally well-received. 6 looked at how your actions as the Avatar themselves could be a source of conflict, and examined said conflict with some more shades of grey than you'd have in a standard RPG at the time.

    Interestingly enough, Richard Garriott (the creator of the series) is a self-described 'ethical hedonist'. He's spoken about it in various places, but here's a brief thing that explains his POV about it; on his way to the conclusion, he does more or less say that morals born from age-old tradition rather than rational truths (i.e., the Ultima virtues) aren't a good enough system.

  5. #5
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    Ultima IV's virtue system is weirdly geometric. There's three principles, Truth, Love, and Courage, and each of the eight virtues is a set of those three: Honesty, Compassion, and Valor are each one respectively, Justice is Truth+Love, Sacrifice is Love+Courage, and Honor is Truth+Courage, Spirituality is all 3, and Humility is none of the above, described as the foundation of the other virtues. And then Truth, Love, and Courage also correspond to Int, Dex, and Str respectively, lol, so you adjust your build based on which shrine you level up at.

    When Ultima IV came out, it was rather unusual for a videogame to have anything to say anything about ethics at all, nevermind to do so mechanically and track certain aspects of people's behavior. Supposedly it was a reaction to the fact that in Ultima III, the by-far most efficient way to win the game was mass theft (you needed enormous sums of gold to increase ability scores in U3, and the easiest way to get that gold were some loaded merchants with inadequate security), and I guess Garriott was disappointed at the gusto with which players went at it, lol.

    EDIT:
    Quote Originally Posted by Sulphur View Post
    ...if you chose the way of honour, for instance, you'd start out as a paladin.
    This was an awful system, BTW, because the classes were in NO WAY balanced and the game mechanics push you to play solo for a good chunk of the early game (encounters scale to party size but rewards don't!). Heaven forbid you pick Humility, and spawn as a Shepherd with no combat abilities worth mentioning and no magic whatsoever.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sulphur View Post
    I think you mean Ultima was influenced by virtue ethics, not the other way around? As far as I understand it, the Ultima series brought in its system of virtues as a reaction to games at the time not having a particular moral code for players to follow (this included Ultimas I-III), and the hullabaloo during the 80s about games corrupting the youth playing them. The system's not necessarily Aristotelian in the manner through which it was created, but there are connections at a broader level.
    I'm sorry, I used 'their' because I wasn't sure what pronoun to use for Anarchic Fox. He/she/they said their own ethical system was a kind of virtue ethics, influenced by Ultima.

    Interestingly enough, Richard Garriott (the creator of the series) is a self-described 'ethical hedonist'. He's spoken about it in various places, but here's a brief thing that explains his POV about it; on his way to the conclusion, he does more or less say that morals born from age-old tradition rather than rational truths (i.e., the Ultima virtues) aren't a good enough system.
    That seems like it would be opposed to virtue ethics. I wonder what Anarchic Fox meant?

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fire Arrow View Post
    I'm sorry, I used 'their' because I wasn't sure what pronoun to use for Anarchic Fox. He/she/they said their own ethical system was a kind of virtue ethics, influenced by Ultima.
    Ah, my bad.

    That seems like it would be opposed to virtue ethics. I wonder what Anarchic Fox meant?
    I don't think Garriott's personal preferences render the idea itself invalid. The games offer different perspectives, and as we all well know, moral codes aren't perfectly able to circumscribe our worlds and our actions within them - unless you use an absolute system like a Kantian one, and even then it's about making a generalisable construct rather than dealing with every possible ethical scenario on its own terms. But I'd rather not speak for AF, I'm sure they'll be responding by and by.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pyrian View Post
    EDIT:This was an awful system, BTW, because the classes were in NO WAY balanced and the game mechanics push you to play solo for a good chunk of the early game (encounters scale to party size but rewards don't!). Heaven forbid you pick Humility, and spawn as a Shepherd with no combat abilities worth mentioning and no magic whatsoever.
    It was definitely interesting. Imagine going for justice and becoming a druid without knowing that was how the game was rolling out the starting point of your adventure. I think there's ways to make it work better if the game could accommodate say, non-violence for a Shepherd build, but it wasn't really built that way. I do want to hear whether Shepherd essentially made the game Hard Mode for the bemused folks who ended up with it.

  8. #8
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    My first game I ended up with a Tinker (I picked Sacrifice in the quiz because it just seemed more virtuous), and that's a lot better than a Shepherd and yet still quite awful compared to a Paladin. I did try being a Shepherd once, but not only do you start as the weakest character, you also start on a desolate island with nothing but a literal ghost town. IIRC, you have to wait for a pirate ship to spawn, somehow kill the crew, and take their ship, just to start the game. (Maybe there was a moongate? I don't think so, but I could be wrong, it's been a long time.)

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sulphur View Post
    I don't think Garriott's personal preferences render the idea itself invalid. The games offer different perspectives, and as we all well know, moral codes aren't perfectly able to circumscribe our worlds and our actions within them - unless you use an absolute system like a Kantian one, and even then it's about making a generalisable construct rather than dealing with every possible ethical scenario on its own terms. But I'd rather not speak for AF, I'm sure they'll be responding by and by.
    I not necessarily pointing to a problem within Garriot's perspective, more I'm interested in the interpretation. In my understanding virtue ethics is something quite distinct from consequentialism. But to be fair I'm not a fan of consequentialism. (I oscillated between Aristotle and Kant for a long time before becoming a Hegelian.)

  10. #10
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    I wouldn't say Ultima was any contribution to philosophical discussion of virtue ethics, but I think it's fair to say it was the forefather of games using ethics as a mechanic or that ties them up with objectives, which we've seen in Fallout, Dishonored, Prey, etc.

    I have an opinion about the value of immersive sims, though, which runs against, if not is entirely antithetical, to this part of the imm-sim tradition from Origin to Arkane & their offshoots. I think some part of that tradition could still be consistent, but let me explain. (Apologies if I'm extending this beyond just Ultima, but Ultima and Origin were the, well, origin of this tradition, and I think this is where the discussion is naturally pointing towards anyway.)

    In my understanding of an imm-sim, the whole idea is you don't want there to be a "God" behind the game wanting you to read their mind to solve whatever puzzle will unlock salvation in the game's soteriology, where the game world itself responds to the virtue of the player. The idea is the game world just has systems that just do their thing objectively, there is no inherit right or wrong in the game world itself, but players chooses themselves what kind of person they'll be in that world, and the game lets them do it. Gameplay is about playing systems to solve environmental problems (granted that may include playing human psychology, like overtaking guards), not guessing verbs or riddles or puzzles or virtue-signaling rituals that bake a value system into the world itself.

    That said, I think in that kind of world, you can and it's even a benefit to the game to have characters in the world that care about ethics and respond appropriately. In that case, being fraudulent (making people believe you're honest when you aren't in hidden places) is still a viable strategy. But that's how I think virtue ethics can still get in the back door. But I think that about the real world too. Virtue ethics has to come from within when it's in a world that's empty of ethics outside.

    ---

    So I'll tell you what I really don't like. I hate the movie Pleasantville, where the movie world itself turned to color when a character did a virtuous thing in the world's opinion. For one thing, I thought its version of virtue was really superficial, and I was upset with the God of that world that They'd pander to that level of superficiality, when, you know, growing up studying virtue ethics as a lot of us philosophy types do, it's supposed to aspire to a higher level, nothing impossible or superhuman, but it doesn't reward lazy thinking.

    In that same vein, I didn't like that the game world itself in Dishonored changed based on the players' ethics throughout the game. Thief did it with the no kill objective, not the world itself, but you still failed the mission. (Again, if it'd been just a change in major characters that had access to the relevant info, that might have been okay.) I definitely wouldn't like the player's class, much less race!, being chosen by their ethical type, since again part of being in a totally free world is that anybody born into any situation can aspire to any ethics. It's about human choice, not Providence.

    All of this I think of as important in my thinking about both game worlds and the real world. I'm happy to see characters in game worlds caring a lot about virtue ethics. I'm unhappy seeing the game world itself care. That's part of the more general imm-sim mainstay that the game world shouldn't care about the player at all, but go on as if they weren't there, but the player can play systems in that world.

    ---

    Edit: Okay, I have a more nuanced position, especially in my work on the Stealth Score for Darkmod. I will grant it can be good for the game, not to respond to the player's ethics directly, as in the world literally changes based on the ethics or the player passes or fails a level only because of it (cf. Thief's no kill objective again), but I think it can be good for the game to track and record aspects of the player's ethics for the player themselves to have whatever value they may or may not have in it confirmed. What I'm talking about are things like an optional no kill objective or the Stealth Score in Dishonored and Darkmod, or the amount of loot or "number of saves", those things being listed or box-checked after finishing a level.

    Actually what's interesting about those kinds of examples is their understanding of "virtue ethics" in gameworlds. No killing is an ethical mandate that's easy to understand. But having statistics tracked to confirm you ghosted a mission or ironman'd it (no reloads) or found all of the loot, those are also virtues at least in the meta-gaming sphere in the tradition of these games, and the game is confirming whether or not you really accomplished them. I guess those are more like some of the classic virtues like courage and bravery, or the virtues associated with producing great works of art. You're giving yourself a special task with a heavier burden to accomplish, and finding value in accomplishing that higher task just by the pure beauty of it. Like ghosting a Thief or Darkmod level is special because it's cleaner and there's a certain beauty to it in which you can take a special pride, even if it's still part of a crime. But even in saying that you find value in the beauty for its own sake, having the game confirm you really did it is like taking a diamond to an appraiser just to confirm it's a real diamond. The value is still in the beauty of the thing or accomplishment itself, separate from the world caring about it.

    Anyway, that's a caveat to what I was saying above. The game can track certain elements relevant to virtue, and that can be good for the game; it's the worlds responding to them that I don't like.
    Last edited by demagogue; 16th Jan 2024 at 17:15.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by demagogue View Post
    I wouldn't say Ultima was any contribution to philosophical discussion of virtue ethics, but I think it's fair to say it was the forefather of games using ethics as a mechanic or that ties them up with objectives, which we've seen in Fallout, Dishonored, Prey, etc.
    To me, there always seems to be something slightly lacking in the treatment of ethics in the Fallout series. Maybe it's because games have to revolve around actions, where as in real life intentions have more significance. I can't recall the number of times I reloaded a save because the available actions in a game didn't reflect my intentions.

    I have an opinion about the value of immersive sims, though, which runs against, if not is entirely antithetical, to this part of the imm-sim tradition from Origin to Arkane & their offshoots. I think some part of that tradition could still be consistent, but let me explain.

    In my understanding of an imm-sim, the whole idea is you don't want there to be a "God" behind the game wanting you to read their mind to solve whatever puzzle will unlock salvation in the game's soteriology, where the game world itself responds to the virtue of the player. The idea is the game world just has systems that just do their thing objectively, there is no inherit right or wrong in the game world itself, but players chooses themselves what kind of person they'll be in that world, and the game lets them do it. Gameplay is about playing systems to solve environmental problems (granted that may include playing human psychology, like overtaking guards), not guessing verbs or riddles or puzzles.

    That said, I think in that kind of world, you can and it's even a benefit to the game to have characters in the world that care about ethics and respond appropriately. In that case, being fraudulent (making people believe you're honest when you aren't in hidden places) is still a viable strategy. But that's how I think virtue ethics can still get in the back door. But I think that about the real world too. Virtue ethics has to come from within when it's in a world that's empty of ethics outside.
    In this respect immersive simulators capture something about ethical experience that is missing in role-playing games.

    So I'll tell you what I really don't like. I hate the movie Pleasantville, where the movie world itself turned to color when a character did a virtuous thing to the world. For one thing, I thought their version of virtue was really superficial, and I was upset with the God of that world that They'd pander to that level of superficiality, when, you know, growing up studying virtue ethics as a lot of us philosophy types do, it's supposed to aspire to a higher level, nothing impossible or superhuman, but it doesn't reward lazy thinking.
    This is much the same reason I refuse to watch "The Good Place". I don't think you can really treat ethics abstractly.

  12. #12
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    I thought the world changes in Dishonored were supposed to be a relatively direct result of your actions (e.g. fewer guards to fight back the vermin), and not an extraneous affect a la changing to color film.

  13. #13
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    Your ethics pretty dramatically changed the game world.



    vs.



    This is exactly what I'm talking about. It's about as close as any game has ever gotten to what I'm talking about. The Pleasantville example was an extreme example where it wasn't just the world's meteorology and guard work shifts that changed, but the color scheme of world objects physically changed.

    I guess I can elaborate. Of course the game is often going to wedge some "natural" explanation into their fiction or mythology, but there's a point where the provided "natural" explanation really doesn't stand up to scrutiny about how natural it is or should be. It should be a natural naturalness and not a forced one. There might be borderline cases where there's an open question whether the proposed "natural" explanation is really natural or very forced, but I don't think this example in Dishonored is on the border, but very much on the side of by-the-will-of-the-game's-God.

    It is in my memory anyway, and I remember being annoyed by it even as I played it, so I don't think it's a post hoc revision of my thinking, but I can see how others took the narrative's natural explanation for granted as such.

    Edit: I understand that in a world that has magic and supernatural causes and beings, you'd have to account for that, but I think an account of natural magic and free deities can do that. E.g., there's a difference between deities in the world pulling strings and the One (the dev) behind the world pulling strings.
    Last edited by demagogue; 16th Jan 2024 at 18:01.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thirith View Post
    From Ultima IV onwards, the Ultima series of RPGs had multiple systems of virtues and ethics that were expressed in their worlds, especially the game world Britannia's list of eight virtues: Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Sacrifice, Honor, Spirituality, and Humility. In Ultima IV, the player character aspired to become the Avatar, the living embodiment of these virtues; in Ultima V the Avatar returns to Britannia to find that the virtues have been corrupted into twisted versions of themselves.
    I'll add: Ultima VI showed other ways of deriving virtues in the series' combinatoric manner. The gargoyle Principles (Control, Diligence and Passion) combine into Direction (C), Persistence (D), Feeling (P), Precision (CD), Balance (CP), Achievement (DP), Singularity (CDP), and Order (none). Meanwhile Mandrake's Principles of Wine, Women and Song combine into Drunkenness (Wi), Sensuality (Wo), Harmony (So), Lust (WiWo), Dance (WoSo), Laziness (WiSo), Indulgence (WiWoSo), and Happiness (none).

    Ultima VII replaces the Principles with three maxims, each easily exploited. A jab at deontology, perhaps? And Ultima VIII had three Principles long ago defiled and replaced with the four classical Elements. Finally Ultima IX was... um, it was Ultima IX.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fire Arrow View Post
    Sounds Aristotelian. Like the classic example of courage being between cowardice and recklessness.
    No, it's a much more Christian than Aristotelian view of virtues. These virtues aren't balanced between vices, but rather opposed to individual sins, which each appear as dungeons in the games: Destard, Despise, Deceit, Wrong, Shame, Covetous, Hythloth and the Abyss.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fire Arrow View Post
    I'm sorry, I used 'their' because I wasn't sure what pronoun to use for Anarchic Fox. He/she/they said their own ethical system was a kind of virtue ethics, influenced by Ultima. That seems like it would be opposed to virtue ethics. I wonder what Anarchic Fox meant?
    She/her. My own virtue ethics is also a combinatorial one, though I start with 3^3 instead of 2^3, discard three, and divide the remainder into six Goods for consequentialism, six Powers for deontology, and twelve Virtues.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pyrian View Post
    I did try being a Shepherd once, but not only do you start as the weakest character, you also start on a desolate island with nothing but a literal ghost town. IIRC, you have to wait for a pirate ship to spawn, somehow kill the crew, and take their ship, just to start the game. (Maybe there was a moongate? I don't think so, but I could be wrong, it's been a long time.)
    As a Shepherd, you swiftly die and are resurrected on the mainland. The argument in favor of being a Shepherd is that then you have the most powerful companions. The game requires you to enter the Abyss with one of each class, the omitted companion being the one you start one. Being a Shepherd is thus the only way to spare poor Katrina a trip through hell.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fire Arrow View Post
    To me, there always seems to be something slightly lacking in the treatment of ethics in the Fallout series. Maybe it's because games have to revolve around actions, where as in real life intentions have more significance. I can't recall the number of times I reloaded a save because the available actions in a game didn't reflect my intentions.
    Roadwarden is superb in this regard.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fire Arrow View Post
    In my understanding virtue ethics is something quite distinct from consequentialism. But to be fair I'm not a fan of consequentialism.
    It's a mistake to view them as competing systems. Rather, they are different aspects of ethics. Consequentialism is the part that's situational, deontology is the part that's universal, and virtue is the part that's personal.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anarchic Fox View Post
    No, it's a much more Christian than Aristotelian view of virtues. These virtues aren't balanced between vices, but rather opposed to individual sins, which each appear as dungeons in the games: Destard, Despise, Deceit, Wrong, Shame, Covetous, Hythloth and the Abyss.
    Fair enough.

    My own virtue ethics is also a combinatorial one, though I start with 3^3 instead of 2^3, discard three, and divide the remainder into six Goods for consequentialism, six Powers for deontology, and twelve Virtues.
    Is it anything like WD Ross? I came across him when I was looking for ethicists that combined Kant with Aristotle.

    Roadwarden is superb in this regard.
    Sounds interesting. Not to go too off topic, but I did like Disco Elysium. Great to see walking disasters that I can relate to. Even if I felt some of it was a bit silly.

    It's a mistake to view them as competing systems. Rather, they are different aspects of ethics. Consequentialism is the part that's situational, deontology is the part that's universal, and virtue is the part that's personal.
    Maybe it's because I have a hard time separating virtue ethics from Aristotle, but my mindset is that virtue ethics is teleological whereas consequentialism is quantitative. I expect there are other interpretations. The key difference in my mind is whether there is a goal or not. Virtue (or excellence) is binary in my mind. Either something is excellent or it isn't; where as consequentialism is less black and white, there's more room for in between states.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by demagogue View Post
    This is exactly what I'm talking about.
    It's now nighttime and there's more guards and fortifications pulled out of the city to defend key targets. That is absolutely nothing like what you're talking about.

    Quote Originally Posted by demagogue View Post
    I guess I can elaborate. Of course the game is often going to wedge some "natural" explanation into their fiction or mythology, but there's a point where the provided "natural" explanation really doesn't stand up to scrutiny about how natural it is or should be. It should be a natural naturalness and not a forced one. There might be borderline cases where there's an open question whether the proposed "natural" explanation is really natural or very forced, but I don't think this example in Dishonored is on the border, but very much on the side of by-the-will-of-the-game's-God.
    Well, I agree that it's not borderline, but I disagree on the direction. It's just what it describes - more guards and fortifications are deployed to the targets, and the city is more wild/degenerate as a direct result of that (and the fewer total guards). And it's awful because this is exactly what you were saying you wanted - a living world that reacts to your choices and shows the consequences thereof. But when they do that? You don't buy in, and in all that can't even seem to say why. You can't point to a single thing that isn't easily explicable in the fiction described. I wonder if you ever would: you can't have nice things, because when given nice things, you reject them for reasons that don't withstand the slightest scrutiny.

    Quote Originally Posted by Anarchic Fox View Post
    As a Shepherd, you swiftly die and are resurrected on the mainland.
    What is this, a Dark Souls-like? Lol.

    Quote Originally Posted by Anarchic Fox View Post
    The argument in favor of being a Shepherd is that then you have the most powerful companions. The game requires you to enter the Abyss with one of each class, the omitted companion being the one you start one. Being a Shepherd is thus the only way to spare poor Katrina a trip through hell.
    Problem is, because of the "enemies scale to party size but treasure does not", you need to spend a quite substantial portion of the game adventuring alone. Besides, sure Katrina's deadweight, but that's much better than having your main character as deadweight.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pyrian View Post
    Problem is, because of the "enemies scale to party size but treasure does not", you need to spend a quite substantial portion of the game adventuring alone. Besides, sure Katrina's deadweight, but that's much better than having your main character as deadweight.
    Yeah, that oversight governs too much of how you approach the game. On the plus side, I believe it only applies to overworld combats.

    Fire Arrow, you should give the very start of Ultima IV a play, namely the Virtue Tarot reading that determines your class. It's an interesting setup, because you're provided with a series of ethical dilemmas without clear answers, and asked to interrogate your own values.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fire Arrow View Post
    Is it anything like WD Ross? I came across him when I was looking for ethicists that combined Kant with Aristotle.
    I don't know them.

    Maybe it's because I have a hard time separating virtue ethics from Aristotle, but my mindset is that virtue ethics is teleological whereas consequentialism is quantitative. I expect there are other interpretations.
    You should shed that association. Aristotle's theory of virtue is valuable, but there are virtue systems all over the place, none owing any debt to Aristotle. They occur particularly often within religion, such as the Christian set: faith, hope and charity, followed by prudence (cleverness), temperance, justice (fairness) and fortitude.

    The key difference in my mind is whether there is a goal or not. Virtue (or excellence) is binary in my mind. Either something is excellent or it isn't; where as consequentialism is less black and white, there's more room for in between states.
    Well, the binary thing is easy to counter. Last year I told two lies. That made me very honest, but I could have been more honest.

    Uniquely in ethics, virtue provides space for individuality: there are many virtues, and you choose which ones you value most. Virtue ethics is also particularly important for disempowered people, who are less likely to face the dilemmas that the other systems address.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anarchic Fox View Post
    Fire Arrow, you should give the very start of Ultima IV a play, namely the Virtue Tarot reading that determines your class. It's an interesting setup, because you're provided with a series of ethical dilemmas without clear answers, and asked to interrogate your own values.
    I'll try.

    You should shed that association. Aristotle's theory of virtue is valuable, but there are virtue systems all over the place, none owing any debt to Aristotle. They occur particularly often within religion, such as the Christian set: faith, hope and charity, followed by prudence (cleverness), temperance, justice (fairness) and fortitude.
    Well, not to be too argumentative, but I don't really think Christianity is distinct from Aristotle. The bible is full of references to Greek philosophy.

    Uniquely in ethics, virtue provides space for individuality: there are many virtues, and you choose which ones you value most. Virtue ethics is also particularly important for disempowered people, who are less likely to face the dilemmas that the other systems address.
    Never thought of it like, but that's true. Part of the appeal Hegel has for me is the collective recognition of problems. (I think the whole modern idea of "recognition" owes its origins to the concept of "right" in German Idealism)

    Edit: I know this isn't much of a response. I'll write more details later.
    Last edited by Fire Arrow; 17th Jan 2024 at 02:37.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pyrian View Post
    And it's awful because this is exactly what you were saying you wanted - a living world that reacts to your choices and shows the consequences thereof. But when they do that? You don't buy in, and in all that can't even seem to say why. You can't point to a single thing that isn't easily explicable in the fiction described.
    First of all, I'm not making a point about Dishonored. The easiest thing to do is throw out the example as a bad data point if you don't see the point's application because I'm not talking about it.

    I'm talking about a world where there's a God/dev lurking behind the scenes you can sense pulling the strings and inserting a moral stance into the world (i.e., putting it in by design, and winking at the player with it) versus a free world that does not have any moral perspective baked into it, only blind systems and what they do, where any moral stance is created inside the player/actor's commitment, certainly not popped up as a title card or required objective or the like that cares about the morality of whether I do x or y, as opposed to its systems creating consequences without any commentary and blind to the meaning, etc.

    Pick an example where you understand that happening and make an argument about a moral stance being baked into a world vs. not if you want to talk about the point I want to talk about in the design of games and their worlds. I repeated the point about 15 times.
    Last edited by demagogue; 17th Jan 2024 at 04:25.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by demagogue View Post
    In that same vein, I didn't like that the game world itself in Dishonored changed based on the players' ethics throughout the game. Thief did it with the no kill objective, not the world itself, but you still failed the mission. (Again, if it'd been just a change in major characters that had access to the relevant info, that might have been okay.) I definitely wouldn't like the player's class, much less race!, being chosen by their ethical type, since again part of being in a totally free world is that anybody born into any situation can aspire to any ethics. It's about human choice, not Providence.
    Well, that's pretty much what you have to do in U4 anyway. Your starting circumstances don't dictate your choices (well, the game's overarching framework does), so even if you're a tinker, you level yourself up in each of the virtues. I think it's interesting that expressing your virtue alignment literally changes your starting lifestyle, and that's not necessarily about a lack of choice; it is in fact about where your choices lead you to, whether you like the result or not.

    As for Dishonored, I'm not seeing its system specifically being a problem here. I get that you're gesturing towards the Outsider being an explanatory force behind the changes and thus justifies the game changing with your actions, but he's a red herring. I don't think the problem you're outlining makes sense at least in the context of Dishonored. It's purely consequentialist - if you do a high chaos playthrough and kill willy-nilly, the things that change are usually reflections of your actions. The biggest changes are actually Emily's disposition, the loyalists' disposition towards you, as well as Samuel's. The increase in rats and weepers is a bit strained when it comes to logic, but you can see it as a reflection of massacring the forces that would have mitigated those things in the area.

    What I think most people react to is Samuel's moralising over your actions when the game presents a binary dichotomy of merciful (but dark nonetheless)/non-merciful. He's a constant nag if you're doing high chaos, and his approval doesn't mean much either - in essence, he's the representation of the game's limited moral compass, and he can get stuffed. It's not particularly compelling or even representative of the greyness of Dishonored's world.

    I think video games in general just won't be great at morality systems for [x] person because of the complexities of the variables involved - I agree that it is much better to instead let a player do what they want, and let the game react to it without colour-coded decision points that funnel you into various paths that lead to an over-arching value judgement via labels like Paragon or Renegade.

    Even then, there's Broken Roads coming out, which is the antithesis of what I just said in that it gives you a limited and literal moral compass (Utilitarian/Humanist/Machiavellian/Nihilist), and weighs your actions accordingly, and even though I wasn't particularly won over by the demo, I'm still curious about how it's going to turn out in the end.

  21. #21
    Moderator
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo
    If I could put it simply, in the terms I'm trying to care about, in my mind, the Arkane devs at the very beginning of Dishonored wanted to have a high chaos and a low chaos ending level, and they designed that level with that significance in mind, and then came up with some wazzit to explain why it might happen naturally. But it was all by design.

    The claim I was countering is that the devs didn't care about the meaning of your actions. They just created or jerry rigged systems in that would consistently ensure if you didn't kill a lot of guards in different parts of Dunwall, then it'd be better to go into this tower at day and there'd be less or less hostile guards there, and vice versa. They didn't design it to be that way by their fiat, but that's how the system they were rigging consistently turned out, and they were as surprised as anyone to see this interesting significance pop out of the game. I didn't think that was the case. I thought they designed the game to have a high and low chaos ending from the very start no matter what.

    ---

    It's the "by dev design" not "by procedural consequence" (or something like it) that I thought was the relevant thing in thinking about imm-sim design. The devs care about what the player does and put it into the game design. But I recognize that Dishonored isn't a very clean example for what I want to talk about, since there is this story the devs want to tell, and they do handwave sometimes to suggest that "chaos" isn't a moral category but purely cause and effect. So that's why I was saying it's maybe a bad data point, or not a great one, for the point I want to make, and if someone doesn't see any moralizing-input by the devs in its design, that's understandable, throw out the data point, and there are a lot of other good data points.

    Incidentally, I'm not even saying, in comparing a systems-driven game and a message- or moralizing-driven game, that one is better or worse than the other, or even that I always like one over another. I was trying to make a broader point that I see a special value in a game that doesn't carry a moral message put in their by the devs, and the player creates their own values when you're in a certain mood to engage with a game world like that. Sometimes some people are in the mood to play an openly moralizing game, or an interactive novel that doesn't really have any systems or interaction at all.

    My original point I think was, if one is going to make a game in the imm-sim tradition, this is something I value about how they're designed that fits with what the genre can be after. But I recognize there are other lines in the tradition that point in other ways. Increasingly people like screen bling or Steam Achievements to very openly pat them on the back for the goodness or boldness of their decisions, and while I recognize people in that trend, that's a trend that doesn't speak to me, and in the Darkmod forums we think about how to give the player info without making it feel like the devs care about how they play the game.

    ----

    Edit: I'm trying also to boil down my sense in terms of virtue ethics in games. I think there are types of experience a game can play to, the heartwarming or proud-feeling oxytocin rush of being seen and recognized by the game devs for doing the virtuous or bold thing versus the exhilarated and anxious dopamine rush of feeling completely free in this abandoned world, acting in the flow of it, and feeling empowered and free to tell their own story through this world, ignoring anything the devs want to say.

    Those are two different kinds of experiences, both of them a lot of people find value or joy in, in different ways, and many games play to both. But I think there's some that play more to one or the other, and I have the sense that they're on two sides of a coin (in a dialectic), so that the more you play to one side of the coin, the more it undermines the other side.

    Some people may be purists, and the Steam Achievement is what matters, the acknowledgement by the devs that they were good and worthy servants and members of our band in good standing. For purists in the other direction, they value a pure sim like Minecraft or Antistasi in Arma, etc., where it's all sandbox and they write their own story.

    I think a lot more people aren't purists and like having both experiences, in narrative games at least, and Imm-sims as a tradition are somewhere in between. They try to balance the two for a nice flow through the game, but you still feel like you're going through a structured story. But even then I think some people like one or the other side of the coin over the other, and grate when a game leans too much on the other side.

    I was making a case for the sandbox side, or "problems not puzzles" and "player-driven not dev-driven", or anyway the special value on that side of the coin (I'm really making a case for a brand of Existentialism, "existence precedes essence"), but I recognize how too much sandbox can wreck the storytelling and plot structure of a game, which isn't a good experience either if the narrative coherence falls apart. So it takes careful design thinking to hit the balance. It's a challenge & sometimes bumpy road. Anyway, that's the kind of thing I'm thinking about, here trying to focus on the virtues a player can manifest in a gameworld and the extent to which the game recognizes and acknowledges them in its own design.
    Last edited by demagogue; 17th Jan 2024 at 11:48.

  22. #22
    Member
    Registered: Feb 2001
    Location: Somewhere
    I thought Kingdom Come Deliverance did a good job of applying ethics into gameplay situations.

  23. #23
    Member
    Registered: Dec 2023
    Location: Ireland (mostly)
    Ok, so I actually played a bit of Ultima IV, so I can actually contribute something now.
    I see how virtue ethics and hedonism fits together for Garriott. The questions in the tarot seem very geared towards a consequentialist approach to virtue ethics that I hadn't imagined.
    I was pleasantly surprised by how nuanced the questions were. (After all my first interaction with games that contained ethical questions was Black & White; which isn't that deep.) In fact, it seems like games have gotten worse (I have in mind the Bioshock games; while they have a great aesthetic, I think the questions they ask are usually pretty shallow).
    I understand what Anarchic Fox means by a 'combinatorial' virtue ethics now (I had difficulty imagining it before).

    I think WD Ross concept of 'prima facie duties' might make for a better ethical system in an RPG than hedonism, because stories about pleasure seekers don't really allow for much deep conflict.

  24. #24
    Chakat sex pillow
    Registered: Sep 2006
    Location: not here
    Quote Originally Posted by demagogue View Post
    I was making a case for the sandbox side, or "problems not puzzles" and "player-driven not dev-driven", or anyway the special value on that side of the coin (I'm really making a case for a brand of Existentialism, "existence precedes essence"), but I recognize how too much sandbox can wreck the storytelling and plot structure of a game, which isn't a good experience either if the narrative coherence falls apart. So it takes careful design thinking to hit the balance. It's a challenge & sometimes bumpy road. Anyway, that's the kind of thing I'm thinking about, here trying to focus on the virtues a player can manifest in a gameworld and the extent to which the game recognizes and acknowledges them in its own design.
    I'm afraid I'm skipping past a lot of your points, because there's two things that stick out to me. One: I can't think of many games where the world changes as a response to your 'moral' actions within it. In fact, the only one that I can recall off the top of my head that does this manages it in a fairly esoteric fashion - Demon's Souls. I'm curious as to what these other games are that do it.

    Two: sandbox morality is, as you've noted, difficult to do because there's usually a narrative in play that interfaces with player action. The thing a developer can do with that is to treat general gameplay separately from the main narrative thread you happen to be following - so we have Oblivion, where you may have bounties on your head for being a thief and a murderer, but the main quest goes on regardless of that, instigating tonal whiplash. Or, you can drop the idea of a main narrative thread and just have elements of the world respond to your actions real-time, like in say Kenshi. Neither of these result in both a coherent world and narrative; and balancing that is not only very difficult, I'd say it's nearly impossible unless you account for all the variables available and tailor your script accordingly. As far as I can tell, the only game that has maybe managed it is BG3, but that has to interlock with D&D's alignment system which itself is mostly window-dressing for some interactions in my experience.

    As for virtue ethics in games, I think what you're talking about is what players project onto their experience of a game more than the game enabling the idea of championing a certain virtue within them. Certainly the only game series that does this explicitly is Ultima - but any game that lets you feel like you've championed, for example, temperance is probably managing that not via design ethos, but a sort of accidental confluence of player intent and game system, interpreted or encouraged not by the game but by the player themselves. It's a nice external mental overlay that enhances your personal experience of a game for sure, but I don't see it as a function of intentional design in almost any game to date. Ghosting and iron-man'ing came about as ways to raise a skill ceiling first and foremost, and the dopamine and oxytocin comes from the knowledge that you've peeled back a game's systems well enough that you can now prove that you know them almost as well as the back of your hand.
    Last edited by Sulphur; 17th Jan 2024 at 12:51.

  25. #25
    Moderator
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo
    "World changes" is going to be misleading (and I'll grant not the core case taken literally), as I was thinking also about game design and the metaphysics behind what you see as part of the "world". But some examples I was thinking of was: Steam Achievements, the "no kill" objectives in Thief, moral objectives in a lot of games but e.g. Prey ("do the right thing", and the design choices that revolve around them; it's better when they're at least optional), the karma stat in Fallout, a designed branch in the mission tree if you've killed many people or not in Dishonored ... things were put into the game design by explicit design.

    Having NPCs tell you off for not being moral or seeing physical changes reacting "naturally" to your choices isn't exactly this, but if it starts getting beyond the way normal humans talk to each other or the world should naturally react, it starts to look like it's not the NPC talking or the world reacting anymore but the devs speaking through the NPC or the world's physics. It's a spectrum from benign to egregious cases. So I'd say cases like that are far from the worst offenders, but they still grate in that direction depending on how ham fisted they get.

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