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Bullets fly. Blood is sucked. Oh what fun!

Does doing bad things in a video game make you a bad person? Today, the internet is abuzz at the close of the year’s biggest gaming convention. But isn’t all that killing bad for the soul? This week, gamers across the globe tuned into E3, the industry’s top annual conclave. Now, the internet is fizzing with anticipation of the hits – and mockery for the flops. One title that has taken people by surprise is Redfall. Developed by Arkane Austin, it allows players to control four young fighters in a Massachusetts town overrun with vampires. A trailer shows the game’s main character unleash deadly violence against undead foes. Bullets fly. Blood is sucked. One hero is choked by the neck, another thrown across the ground with bone-crunching sound effects. At one point the video fades to black while a chorus of gunfire resounds. Redfall looks fun. But it also offers pause for thought. Its gameplay is orientated around acts of violence. In this, it is far from unique. Video games often hinge on killing things in various different ways. Even Link, the elf-like protagonist of The Legend of Zelda, would be regarded as a dangerous thug in real life. It is not alarmist to wonder whether brutality in video games might have ethical ramifications. Shooting to kill in reality is almost universally regarded as morally wrong. Doing the same in a video game is par for the course. Yet should we instead regard it as an immoral crime? For video game commentator E Smith, the answer is a firm no: “I don’t think that the player has any moral responsibility or energy or potential in a game whatsoever.” Games take place in an artificial world, with situations created by others. Smith points out that, therefore, decisions that take place during gameplay have no real consequences. Even death can be reversed by respawning or reloading. We know all this the moment we load a game and adjust our thoughts accordingly. We do not play games as ourselves, but through the medium of a character programmed by developers. If Red Dead Redemption hero John Marston kills the harmless Sasquatch, it is he that has committed the immoral act. As players, we have simply advanced the game’s story. “It’s precisely the same to me,” says Smith, “as turning a page in a book.” But others argue games and moral decision making cannot be neatly separated. Ever since the 2003 Star Wars game Knights of the Old Republic had players choose between light and dark sides, titles have included increasingly complex moral dilemmas. These situations, says psychologist Sarah Hodge, might lead players to “consider the wider social implications and consequences” of their choices. Some games seek to educate. The recently released Ratchet And Clank: Rift Apart has been praised for promoting an understanding of mental health issues. If games can teach people positive values, it follows that they can also instil negative ones. One 2012 study, for instance, claimed that games can potentially desensitise players to real-life violence, while the US Army even uses games to train soldiers in combat. Does doing bad things in a video game make you a bad person? Ready player one Potentially, claim some. Video games once seemed a simple diversion. Now, they are hugely advanced, with complex plots, empathetic characters and graphics that imitate reality. In an age when the separation between physical and virtual reality has loosened, the way we think and act in games has a greater potential than ever to impact our thoughts and behaviours in real life. Of course not, say others. Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, one of the greatest novels ever written, begins with protagonist Raskolnikov committing a brutal murder. Yet few would argue that reading Dostoevsky makes you a bad person. Playing a video game – which is at its heart another way of reading a story – is no different. To assume otherwise is deeply patronising. KeywordsMassachusetts - A state in the northeast USA.

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