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Subject: Games and Morality: A Question in Two Parts rss

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Spencer Romney
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I was reading a law review article for my Contracts class entitled "The Divergence of Contract and Promise." In the article the author asserts that what she sees as the differing qualities of contract law and moral promises result in several detriments to society. One of those detriments is a sort of "bleed over" immorality from contractual promises to every day promises.

Throughout her article she - as any good author would - provides opposing arguments, one of which involves poker:

Quote:

In a poker game, for instance, it is permissible to try to mislead the other players about the content of one's cards for permissible gain. Not only is misleading behavior in this context permissible and consistent with the general prohibition on deception, but we do not much worry that our behavior in poker games will corrode the relevant aspects of our moral character - our resolve not to lie and to take truth-telling and candor seriously.



Her response is that poker allows "special behaviors" that are separate enough from real societal interaction as to not be confusing. Furthermore, the limited set of "lies" available in poker is a necessary part of the game; one must lie to win.

She then goes on to provide a counter factual example involving Diplomacy:

Quote:

Professor Tom Grey reported to me that a group of couples he knew used to get together in the 1970s for evenings of Diplomacy, an especially long and intense war game. By contrast with poker, it involves the forging of alliances followed by their ultimate rupture. "Calculated lying and backstabbing" are "crucial parts of the game play."* After a period of time, the group had to stop meeting because the breaches of trust involved in the game were threatening their interpersonal relationships of trust outside the game.

*Cited to Wikipedia



Although these examples were obviously meant to be an analogy, they got me thinking about games and morality and the interaction of the two. After puzzling it over, I was left with two questions that I thought would be interesting to pose to Geek:

1. Have you ever felt that playing a particular game affected your relationship with the other players outside of the game playing setting? (Disregard instances where the individuals were jerks, or hyper-competitive, or cheaters, etc. I’m more interested in situations where the actual behavior required by the game had a potentially detrimental effect.)

2. Have you ever played a game where the behavior required by the game was behavior that you would label “immoral,” regardless of its taking place in the game playing setting? (Again, disregard cheating or other obnoxious behavior. Also, I put “immoral” in quotes because the author of the article never defined “moral.” In answering the question, apply your own system of morals, whatever that might be.)
 
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Scott
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Always an interesting subject for me.

1. When I was a kid there were a few games of Risk that lead to a fairly nasty squabble amongst my friends. It was essentially a "Kingmaker" situation. Had something similar with one game of Settlers of Catan in high school. I wouldn't say that these incidents really caused any major rifts though, just a few hurt feelings that quickly subsided as we moved on. We do talk about it and laugh now.

2. I've played poker and obviously you bluff(lie). I don't think that would bother me that much in a game setting-you would have to give me some specific examples though. There is some subject matter that sort of bothers me, for example Mr. Jack kind of bothered me but I don't think thats the question you're asking. I feel for the most part bluffing, backstabbing in games is ok as long as you're not cheating and everyone is on the same page.

---Perhaps you could give some examples for you #2 question?
 
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If everyone understands and plays within the context of the rules, a healthy gaming experience occurs. The only time I have issues in the past, is when one or more players did not understand that context or boundaries of the rules. In these cases, it would have been beneficial to outline certain aspects of the game beforehand in order to manage expectations.

Also, it is important that people understand what types of games they enjoy. Some players really do not enjoy games that involve confrontation or conflict. If that is the case, it is best to bring out a different type of game when those players are present.

Know your participants - manage expectations - enjoy your gaming experience.
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Andrew H
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There has only been one person whose relationship with me was affected by behaviour in gaming. It was not behaviour that was required by or encouraged by the game - just a combination of rudeness, insults, impatience, deceitfulness bordering on cheating, hyper competitiveness and arrogance. Many of these character traits came out in other ways besides games, they were just more obvious in that context.

Incidentally I know of at least two othr people who notied these traits enough to avoid gaming with this person.
 
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Spencer Romney
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2. I've played poker and obviously you bluff(lie). I don't think that would bother me that much in a game setting-you would have to give me some specific examples though. There is some subject matter that sort of bothers me, for example Mr. Jack kind of bothered me but I don't think thats the question you're asking. I feel for the most part bluffing, backstabbing in games is ok as long as you're not cheating and everyone is on the same page.

---Perhaps you could give some examples for you #2 question?


I know that some people have expressed being uncomfortable with the level of back stabbing and double crossing found in games like Intrigue and Mall of Horror. What wasn't clear to me was whether they were uncomfortable because they were worried about in-game actions affecting out-of-game relationships, or if even within the boundaries of the game there were some actions they found immoral.
 
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Interesting. I know one of my brothers physically injured himself in a game of dip (while trying to eavesdrop on other players). I do think that has contributed a (very) little to my not enjoying the game as much.

One game of "The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game" lived up to it's name, causing one normally mild mannered friend to fling his piece across the room, breaking it. I don't think that game has hit the table since (but gaming has been sparse).

I know another fellow who, like a previous poster's example, let games bring out his worst aspects - demanding certain colors or sides, and worse, flipping the board when frustrated. Folks stopped playing games with him. Typically this was the player, not the game - but some games were more likely to bring this out than others.

I have some 19th C. Board Games from the V&A (that I should probably post on here - oh wait, looks like they are already) that have topics/themes/elements that are generally not acceptable to the modern audience. However, it's not a problem to play these, as such is generally recognized by modern players. They are simple roll and move track games, with "educational" info you read. Example - Every Man to his Station
 
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Dan
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The part of the article that I found interesting is the separation of normal morality and "game morality."

Using Diplomacy as a good example, I play regularly with my brothers and a few friends, and it took us several games before we were able to fully distinguish the in-game deceitfulness and betrayals from our real life relationships. Nowadays we definitely enjoy the game in context without guilt or fear of damaging relationships.

But it seems that not everyone can make this distinction. I have at least 2 friends who generally avoid conflict in games in general because of the feelings they generate. They play specifically non-confrontational games instead, because they can't separate the moral implications in game from out of game.

So, basically I find it interesting that there can be a distinction for some people, and not for others.
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Scott
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Recneps wrote:
Quote:
2. I've played poker and obviously you bluff(lie). I don't think that would bother me that much in a game setting-you would have to give me some specific examples though. There is some subject matter that sort of bothers me, for example Mr. Jack kind of bothered me but I don't think thats the question you're asking. I feel for the most part bluffing, backstabbing in games is ok as long as you're not cheating and everyone is on the same page.

---Perhaps you could give some examples for you #2 question?


I know that some people have expressed being uncomfortable with the level of back stabbing and double crossing found in games like Intrigue and Mall of Horror. What wasn't clear to me was whether they were uncomfortable because they were worried about in-game actions affecting out-of-game relationships, or if even within the boundaries of the game there were some actions they found immoral.


That's an interesting point. For me, if the point of the game is to lie and/or backstab I wouldn't feel immoral about it(I don't think anyway, I don't currently have an games of that type other than poker as mentioned above). Everyone just has to be on the same page. I would, however, avoid playing these types of games with those sensitive types that might be personally offended by in-game actions(even if part of the rules).
 
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Recneps wrote:
1. Have you ever felt that playing a particular game affected your relationship with the other players outside of the game playing setting?

Eh… no. I can imagine situations where things like that could have happened, but I have never experienced it.

Recneps wrote:
2. Have you ever played a game where the behavior required by the game was behavior that you would label “immoral,” regardless of its taking place in the game playing setting?

Immoral yes, but not regarding of its taking place in a game playing setting. Lying, "allowed cheating" and deliberatey sabotaging are things I consider "immoral", but not if the game is all about it.

Doesn't count if the behaviour isn't required by the game, of course. Cheating in games that aren't about cheating, sabotaging when there is absolutely no sense at all to do so, etc, are still upsetting (for me).
 
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Nathaniel Day
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For the first item this has only happened when the person was a jerk or cheating or something extreme. So it really hasn't happened in the context you are asking.
As to the second item I don't see how it is an any way immoral to play a game in the way it is designed. A game would have to be really far out there for me to consider it immoral. Something like a title of "How many different ways can you BBQ your neighbors wife" would probably do it.
 
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Jeff G
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My group and I recently had a long, nasty game of Risk a couple of months ago that ended, at about 2 am, in my best friend of 20 years generally being an arse, me flipping him off, and him leaving in quite the huff. However, we quickly (within a day or so) reconciled and moved on. So, to respond to the greater question, I can definitely see how some of the more competitive/cutthroat games can test a friendship but, in the end, I think it ends up being more on the people/relationship and less on the actual gameplay as to whether or not a game can affect real life relationships.

Tabletop RPGs and, to an even greater extent, Live Action RPGs, however, can get nasty from what I've seen. I've witnessed firsthand some real-life friendships and romantic relationships absolutely devastated by some in-character actions. However, that's a different beast entirely and still, in my opinion, more on the people and less on the game.

As to the second question, I'd be very hard-pressed to find a game I find offensive or immoral but I also listen to Howard Stern regularly, so my tolerance for offensiveness is pretty high to begin with.
 
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Ernesto Cabrera
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First of all, let me tell you I haven't even remotely as have a fight because of a game, but I do tend to avoid games that I sense will become a nuisance or will make some trouble with my friends, as such:

1. Citadels works here. I know that this games doesn't have a lot of player interaction, at least not as much as your average AT. But one of my friends becomes a jerk everytime we play it. He is good, and he knows it. He has a great ability of reading people, so, not listening to any strategic voice in his head, he always tries to screw everyone that gets a little good. Of course this strategy is also encouraged, but he becomes a real jerk when he starts with his "I kill the king" strategy. After that, when he wins (most of the times he wins) he tells everyone in a mocking way, how good he is and that he is unbeatable. This grinds my gears all the way, so I always avoid to play Citadels with him.

2. I haven't played any game that requires you to lie or cheat. Poker is the nearest possibility, and the morality in my group isn't really "tight", and we know that is only a game and the only real fellings that it brings are into the game and not outside our reality (deception and a little anger about losing your money, both of them purged by the felling that you know you played bad...)
 
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One major difference between Diplomacy and Poker is depth and duration of the deception. In Poker, bluffing isn't an explicit deception. You're attempting to mislead without explicit lying. In addition, an individual bluff lasts only for the duration of a given had - no more than a few minutes.

In Diplomacy the deception is much more explicit and lasts for much longer. You could be lying to one or more of the players for the majority of a seven-hour game. What's more, you're lying straight to their faces. There's nothing subtle about it.

It's no surprise that a group of couples playing Diplomacy experienced some bleed-over onto their personal lives. My wife is an integral part of our gaming group, but I would never play a game of Diplomacy with her.

I'll have to think about question 1. I think it has happened with several games -- obviously I see the potential is there for Diplomacy.

As for question 2, are you including immoral themes (like slavery, war, murder) or are you talking specifically about immoral actions between players (like lying in Diplomacy)? I suspect the latter, since you mentioned "behavior".
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Spencer Romney
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Quote:
As for question 2, are you including immoral themes (like slavery, war, murder) or are you talking specifically about immoral actions between players (like lying in Diplomacy)? I suspect the latter, since you mentioned "behavior".


I was indeed referring to the latter. I suspected in asking the second question that I wouldn't get many affirmative answers - we're all game players here and as such can probably separate game morality from real morality. However, I was curious if anyone had ever sat down to play a game and because of the level of viscousness required had said "no thank you, this game's immoral."

What sparked this second question was the assertion by the author that some actions (e.g. breaking a promise) are per se immoral. As such, she sees "efficient breach" as being a moral flaw of contract law; just because the breach of a contract may be efficient from an economic perspective doesn't make it per se moral, and since the breaking of a promise is per se immoral, it must follow that even in the contract setting the breach of a contract is immoral, regardless of the economic justification. Note that I am paraphrasing and simplifying. Also note that her article was not without its logical flaws (e.g. relying on a narrow, but undefined, system of morality).

Essentially my thought process went like this: she is claiming that even in the contracts context some actions are per se immoral. Does it then follow that even in the game playing context some actions are per se immoral? Or is it impossible to compare games (an activity that is mostly undertaken for "fun") with contracts (a very real, fundamental form of business interaction)?
 
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In response to question 1: yes, all the time when my brothers and I were younger and less mature. We would often end games of Risk swearing at each other and then refusing to speak for a day or so. One of my brothers would even take offense in a game like Settlers, when I would intentionally build in a spot he wanted. Also, often, when I play with friends and I'm winning by a lot (doesn't happen as often as it used to) they'll team up against me and support whoever is in second place. Whenever this costs me a games I'm pretty ticked at them.

In response to question 2: If something is a part of the rules, then I think you can't really count it as immoral. However, when agreements or promises are made outside of the rules, like a truce for X turns between Y countries in Risk, and somebody breaks the agreement early, I think it's pretty shady. I wouldn't do it, because it seems like a lie to me. There are some games though, like Diplomacy, where you're gonna have to break the alliance sometime, so that's no quite as bad. (As a side note, I realize that in Risk you would eventually have to break a truce sometime as well, that's why I specified breaking a timed truce early in my example)
 
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1. Yes, I have had other people take games far too seriously. The funny thing it is usually more casual players who take betrayals of trust harder than people who regularly play games. This results from the complete lack of gaming philosophy amongst neophytes, though. People who have no problem handing a $20 to somebody in Power Grid so they can "catch up," rules lawyer to gain some small advantage, or will throw a game because they're bored and respond with "it's just a game" when confronted with their behavior, but then get offended when you hurt them.

2. Behavior in gaming can't be "immoral" because morality has to do with things of consequence. There are no morales in a game, I feel, because there is no consequence to the game other than playing the game. It's just a problem solving endeavor, or a way to waste time, but either way nothing will come from it so a betrayal of trust is just a strategy that has to be weighed the same way you aren't sure whether to invade Asia or not from Europe in Risk (hint: never).
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If this fits the bill, I did stop playing Settlers of Catan for a good long while after making two discoveries. First, one player (while being a jerk) decided to suicide against a player who had made a move he didn't like, by trading away all future income to the third player in the game. At first this seemed like just jerky king-making, until it was realized that the Settler's threat-of-nuclear-retaliation was in fact a usefull strategy.

The other came about, in a corollary to this tactic, when my own threat failed to prevent an opponants move in a game of Settlers. Instead of scorched earth, my equally sour strategy was to buy nothing but cards and soldier him every turn I could, even when he was no longer in the lead. However, doing so gave me the Largest Army and extra victory points, and ultimately won me the game I had adopted a you're-going-down-with-me strategy in.

I shelved Settlers after that since it seemed like jerk/metagame strategies seemed to win this game more than actually trying to win the game did.
 
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1. No, but some people take games like Illuminati or Diplomacy a bit too personal.
2. Well, I for one don't find killing or injuring another moral, yet I play plenty of wargames and RPGs that put me in the position of doing just that. But, it's a game. heh Not reality. If anything you might realize some of the ramifications of such immoral activity by playing "make believe".
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Oh, and I think that letting your spouse or SO win is also immoral behavior in game, but for some reason has become a necessary evil for at least one of my gamer friends outside of the game "Of course I will trade you 2 stones and a grain for that brick, sweetie"
 
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Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) is the answer to your questions. This game will END friendships. There is so much lying/backstabbing/false promises in this game, that I have seen it be carried over into other games.

You will be playing Candy Land and someone will play the always dreaded, "go back to Peppermint Forest card", against another player. There response?

"Why did you play that against me? What did I do to you?"

"You remember four months ago when you back stabbed me in TI? Pay back is a B*****."

In other news, Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) is a GREAT game. Play it with your favorite gaming group if you haven't already.

note: There is no go back to Peppermint Forest card. At least not in the version you can buy from your FLGS.
 
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John W
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Recneps wrote:
Although these examples were obviously meant to be an analogy, they got me thinking about games and morality and the interaction of the two.

2. Have you ever played a game where the behavior required by the game was behavior that you would label “immoral,” regardless of its taking place in the game playing setting?
Great question/topic.

I say Yes to #2, with multiple examples:
a) Online Werewolf is prone to people cheating, manipulating, backstabbing, and making up outrageously deceptive strategies as a matter of course (in the pursuit of winning).

b) Fantasy sports are rife with immoral, it's-not-cheating-if-it-wasn't-explicitly-spelled-out behavior.
Collusion between managers that lead to ann unfair advantage, absurdly inequitable trades, managers' fees being paid off, etc.

c) In RPG's, many DM's give unfair treatment to some PC's.
Whether it's a friend or SO, or someone that rubs them the wrong way, they benefit/penalize players inequally. While the purpose of an RPG is certainly not to win, it leads to immoral rationalizations.
And, of course, RPGs are well known for having players make immoral characters as an excuse to vicariously perform societally-inappropriate actions (robbing, cheating, killing, rape, torture, etc).

I actually agree with the author's main point (as you have described it), which seems to be that "playing a game that involves significant deception runs the danger of blurring a person's real-life hesitation to lie/deceive."
 
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ytter wrote:

But it seems that not everyone can make this distinction. I have at least 2 friends who generally avoid conflict in games in general because of the feelings they generate. They play specifically non-confrontational games instead, because they can't separate the moral implications in game from out of game.

So, basically I find it interesting that there can be a distinction for some people, and not for others.


I don't think that the issue is necessarily one of some folks not being able to understand the distinction between game actions and real-world actions.

I'm one who's not interested in Diplomacy and it's ilk specifically because I don't think I'd react well to having my back stabbed, and wouldn't want to put any friendly relationships at risk for a game. I understand that backstabbing and breaking alliances are a part of Diplomacy, and of games of that type, and I understand that such behavior is acceptable in these games - that it's not the same as a real-world relationship. So I can clearly see the difference.

Even so, why would I put myself in a situation where I don't think I'll react well? There are so many other games out there for me to enjoy that I can be sure won't cause me this problem that I don't bemoan the fact that I've never played Diplomacy.

So it may be that your friends know the difference, and understand their own limitations. By keeping themselves out of situations where they know they'll act badly, they preserve their friendships.

That's wisdom in action.
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Dan
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juheimbu wrote:
I'm one who's not interested in Diplomacy and it's ilk specifically because I don't think I'd react well to having my back stabbed, and wouldn't want to put any friendly relationships at risk for a game...

So it may be that your friends know the difference, and understand their own limitations. By keeping themselves out of situations where they know they'll act badly, they preserve their friendships.

That's wisdom in action.

Good point, I think what I meant was that not all people can separate it emotionally.

If you know it's only a game, why would you react poorly?

If you know you won't, then I agree, it's probably wisdom not to put yourself into that situation. And I've certainly had my "poor reaction" moments.
 
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Recneps wrote:


1. Have you ever felt that playing a particular game affected your relationship with the other players outside of the game playing setting? (Disregard instances where the individuals were jerks, or hyper-competitive, or cheaters, etc. I’m more interested in situations where the actual behavior required by the game had a potentially detrimental effect.)

2. Have you ever played a game where the behavior required by the game was behavior that you would label “immoral,” regardless of its taking place in the game playing setting? (Again, disregard cheating or other obnoxious behavior. Also, I put “immoral” in quotes because the author of the article never defined “moral.” In answering the question, apply your own system of morals, whatever that might be.)


To answer #1: No, if the behavior was in the confines of the rules of the game. If there is behavior that is excessive than what the game warrants, then it could impact the relationship. This rarely happens to me. But I've seen situations where someone has sought to bend the rules to his favor and then complain when rules are applied specifically. This sort of hypocrisy does not generate enthusiasm for me to play with this person again.

To answer #2: I have played games where the conduct allowed in the game would be viewed as immoral in real life. But I don't view engaging in such a practice immoral.

I view playing a game as entering an alternate universe of sorts. Depending upon the complexity of the game, it can be a small, simplistic universe at that. But within that universe are a set of rules. The rules of the game are the morality in play. The rules govern conduct for that little world that you are entering into. It's a small social contract of interaction. So, if the game calls for backstabbing,lying, and other forms of merriment frowned upon in the real world, let the games begin.


 
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