Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Grand Theft Auto in Plato's Cave

Herbert Zettl's and Charles Larson's chapters in Communication and Cyberspace focus on virtual reality and how it can effect the human understanding and even human behavior. Zettl states, "...virtual reality provides a perfect existential world, in which we can exercise free will and make any number of decisions, however extreme, without ... the underlying anxiety of accountability." [Pg. 108]. While things like Second Life or simming have not moved beyond very basic levels, Zettl's vision of "...operating in an amoral environment...whose virtual character liberates us from feeling any existential angst when making choice" [108] can be seen in video games like Grand Theft Auto, Bully or World of Warcraft. In these games, players are able to choose missions to take on which can run the gamut from moral ambiguous to downright evil and dirty. Many a researcher has tried to argue that these immersive games with questionable moral ground have an effect on children and violence, though most research into the subject matter has not revealed a strong argument either way. In fact one could if the game invites anyone to act out in the way in which they choose.

Larson points out that "In objective reality, the agent must choose to act and follow or not to follow the path implicit in the scene. In virtual reality, the interactent must decide to look left, look right..." [119, sic]. In a virtual world you decide on a path and take it, it frees you from a moral sense of guilt/angst over, say, taking out a mob hit man or blowing up a car in a video game. The player is not choosing the past for them self, they are just deciding on what makes the game more interesting. To Larson, VR is influenced by the setting: A mob game will make you think like a mafia don and act thusly, a game about solving puzzles will make you think analytically, etc.

Larson and Zettl illustrate how virtual reality is a great tool for training, and even gameplay, but that there are still moral issues that needed to settled. If cyberspace remains an amoral place of escapism, how will that, in turn, change us?


Lance Strate said...

Excellent points--what is virtual morality?

rwalsh42 said...

As video game systems continue to progress, the difference between reality and video games have nearly diminished. For example the first Call of Duty for Xbox360 took place during World War 1 with basic weapons. As they continued to release more volumes, the most recent version, Call of Duty 4, features modern warfare. It includes a variety of new weapons and technology with the M203 grenade launcher, the AN/PEQ-2 Target Pointer for use in conjunction with night vision goggles, the MP5SD submachine gun, and the FGM-148 Javelin portable anti-tank guided missile. Are we sending the wrong signals to the youth? When I played this game at my friend’ house, I found myself talking shit with a nine year-old kid because he was absolutely destroying me. Besides the fact that I am upset that I cannot beat kids younger than me in video games; do we really need video games that encourage such immoral action. We live in a world of violence and war, should we restrict the level of brutality in video games?