[drop_cap type=”1/2/3″]Y[/drop_cap]ou’ve just waded through hordes of monsters, laying waste to them with raw skill and power, your eyes ablaze and a thirst for vengeance in your heart. Your axe is scarred, your shield battered and your armour dented; your chest is heaving with the exertion and just when you thought that things couldn’t get any worse, the ground beneath your feet rumbles, loose rocks tumble down the cliff face, squishing the unprepared. A massive hand appears at the mouth of the crater, still wreathed in smoke and dripping magma from the depths of the demon’s home world.
The hand is attached to the most horrific being that you have ever seen, it is Lyrroth himself that stands before you! But you do not fear, you do not tremble, this is the fight that you’ve been preparing for half your life. Now is not the time to back off, now is the only chance you’ll ever get at vengeance. You recall the words of the Necromencion and call upon the Old Gods, focussing the most devastating power in the known universe on this one spot. A beam of pure energy emerges from the heavens, piercing Lyrroth’s mortal form. An Earth-shattering roar, Lyrroth’s last, desperate challenge to the universe, flattens the countryside for hundreds of miles around, his death throes flinging lava a hundred feet into the sky. Lyrroth falls, his hand at your feet.
You exult in your victory, you are the champion of your people, and the tales of your victory will spread far and wide. But was it worth it? You look around at the carnage that you have caused, at the millions of denizens that you have slain and doubt assails you. Did they deserve it?
You laid waste to kingdoms, destroyed worlds, slain millions in your lust for vengeance. Hadn’t you become the very evil that you sought to destroy? Your shoulders slump as you contemplate the true horror of your actions. This wasn’t the victory that you envisioned. You are not a hero. You are an ender of worlds, a monster that wiped out an entire alien race from this universe. Your shoulders slump forward. Are you the face of evil?
Google defines evil as the “profoundly immoral and wicked.” But what really is morality and who really is wicked? It’s a challenging enough question in itself and one that many a great philosopher has spent an entire lifetime trying to answer. Some claim to have found the answer, it being a simple matter of right and wrong, others beg to differ.
Game developers have also dabbled in this philosophical conundrum and each has tried to define evil in its own way. But in the end, who really defines evil, the developers, or you?
This act of defining evil is at the heart of what’s right and what’s wrong. If evil was a tangible phenomenon, we wouldn’t need to define it and differentiating good from evil would be as natural as differentiating between the hot and the cold. We would be gravitating to a world that was either purely evil or purely good, there wouldn’t be a middle ground.
Immanuel Kant claimed that an action is moral only if one has no desire to perform it, but performs it out of a sense of duty and derives no benefit from it of any sort, neither material nor spiritual; a benefit destroys the moral value of an action. Also, quoting Ayn Rand here, “Errors of knowledge are not breaches of morality.”
By this definition, Hitler would not be considered evil if he truly believed Jews to be evil and wiped them out with complete prejudice, provided he wasn’t told otherwise. In such a situation, you’re not dealing with an evil man (as defined above), since he is driven by morality, but by a child who knows no better. As such, the Germans who knew better but still went along with the purges for the sake of their own enjoyment or material benefit might be considered more evil.
But here’s the kicker, consider the case of Herman Goering, a staunch member of the Nazi party and Hitler’s close aide and advisor for much of the war. Here was a man who was no fool, a man who understood Hitler and his ambitions and who also took advantage of Hitler’s “childishness” to shore up on his wealth, power and prestige. Goering took what he wanted with full knowledge and understanding of what he was doing and the kind of person he was supporting, but he was only evil by our (or at least, the popular) definition of morals and morality, not his.
To put it another way, a child that burns down an anthill is not evil because it knows no better. A child that burns down an anthill because an ant bit it is also not evil because it doesn’t recognize the value of the ant’s life. As a parent, you might be considered evil for encouraging the child’s behaviour (if you did encourage it), but what if you knew no better and only saw your child as a determined and purposeful creature that was responsible enough to take matters into its own hands?
So what really is evil?
What we seem to be saying is just this, if evil is defined as being immoral and wicked, and wicked is defined as being evil or morally wrong, then to be immoral is to be evil. The caveat here is that if you follow a moral code of your own, even if it causes harm to others and is generally considered evil, you’re still driven by morality and are thus, not evil. If someone else’s moral code is interfering with your ability to adhere to your own moral code, then that person might be evil in your eyes.
As gamers, we’ve long been conditioned to shoot anything that moves (in the bulk of games) with no real moral justification one way or the other. In Doom, you’re killing hellspawn. Why? Because, well, reasons. Are the hellspawn evil? No. They’re staunch believers in the devil’s wishes and they feel that it’s their moral obligation to satisfy the devil’s morality. Is the devil evil? Not really, he’s working to fulfil his own moral obligations, but he is evil because he’s interfering with your moral code of existence. When you’re fighting Diablo, pretending you’re fighting to save mankind is evil, but knowing that you’re fighting to gather better loot, to ensure your own survival, that’s not evil.
By the same token, games that prevent you from fulfilling your moral duty are evil. What if you really liked Bowser and thought that Princess Peach was a nagging old hag? Are you evil for playing the game anyway when you did not feel morally inclined to do so? Are Nintendo evil for not giving you that choice? Such moral conundrums are sure to make your head spin.
If you really think about it, how good or evil are you, truly?