Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Grand Theft Morality

Ever started playing a game like Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row and you enjoy causing chaos because at the end of the day there is no lasting punishment for your actions? Blow a shopkeeper away, run over cops, steal, maim, jaywalk with impunity. You are invested in having fun with the world, and you could care less about the costs to those around you.

It extends beyond GTA clones, games like Skyrim, the SIMS, or any game really where you can break the law, take short cuts, or out and out cheat to win and the game rewards you with an achievement for doing JUST that.

What it causes in me is an Amoral Urge, a desire to not care about morality or ethics at all. There is no punishment, only reward for breaking the setting. Unfortunately this extends to tabletop play as well. We use to call players who descended into this setting smashing madness "Mad Slasher" taken from the extreme mentality that there were there to blow off stress and NPCs (and sometimes PCs) were open targets. I myself have descended into this madness.

One of my old GURPS characters, "Mr. Head Popper" was me abusing the older Psionics system to have a Strength 40+ Telekinesis power to utterly destroy NPCs. There was no problem I couldn't solve with out massive violence. I didn't want to give him a fleshed out back story, I didn't want to think about WHY he's power tripping the way he was. He was a mask of cool amoral power I could squash the setting with. I've had other GURPS characters like my illusionist who would torture people in bubbles of nightmarish mouths and claws in order to get information he wanted. Or my Solar Eclipse who could hijack entire societies by just saying they couldn't do something effectively making nations rearrange themselves overnight. Or my early TMNT characters who would steal anything not nailed down and go in uzi's hot. Heck my players were much the same. Selling drugs, stealing NUKES!, and hijacking robotic autobusses for their personal ride!

D&D promotes this style of play. The game is about fighting and looting. Questing is just a fluff around an engine that trains you to steal, backstab, and sneak your way to power and success. But a lot of this is on the shoulders of the GM as well.

It wasn't until the VERY late 90's I woke up. I played a little game called Legend of the Five Rings. The game promoted you to act honorably, to serve your family. You gained rewards by holding to your word and honoring your debts. Even dying you could gain a place of honor among those that remained. For the first time I was in a game that had positive reinforcement for productive moral and ethical choices. It was a game changer for me and my mentality. I suddenly saw Werewolf from WOD in a new light, I got why people loved Pendragon, and I wondered if there were other games that used this positive feedback method.

To this day I suggest to new GMs, if a player is playing the game like GTA when you want more social considerate behavior...make the rewards tied to the activity you want them to do. Social combat = more money vs just gunning and looting. Trying to punish players in a "Listen Up You Primitive Screwheads" Cyberpunk 2020 imperative style almost always backfires. Almost.

Then again, there are days you just want to hijack a car and smash zombies with it.