In The Ethics of Computer Games (2009), Miguel Sicart makes an interesting argument.
But that argument is different from mine.
Let’s set the stage…
Players engage in unethical actions in computer games because those actions have meaning within the game for the player-subject. Killing the prostitute after having sex with her [in Grand Theft Auto] is the most rational approach: the player gets her energy level topped up, and she recovers the money. From the perspective of the game, it is an action that can be beneficial for the game experience. Furthermore, it is not compulsory—only players who voluntarily explore that possibility will be exposed to it. Similarly, the acts of violence in Killer 7 are only meaningful to the player of the game, and they are so because they represent the challenges that have to be solved in order to progress in the game. (p.196)
Sicart builds his argument around what he calls “ludic phronesis.”
I define ludic phronesis as the moral wisdom that is developed as players experience games, which is used in evaluating the actions and dilemmas players are confronted with when playing and when being members of the community. (p. 112)
“Ludic phronesis” appears similar to what I have earlier called on this blog (Suits’s notion of) “lusory attitude.” According to Suits (and me), this attitude separates the game from the real world, based on the game player’s voluntary acceptance of what would be, without that acceptance, arbitrary conditions of performance and play.
Sicart, however, does not wish to separate the game world from the real world. He wishes, as is the current fashion in game studies and analysis, to preserve the real-world “learning” that takes place during game play. Ultimately, he believes that games are tools for teachers.
Based on this desire and this belief, Sicart chooses to conflate games and simulations. In fact, his argument hinges on it.
the presence and importance of computer power and simulation capacities are relevant for understanding the ethics of digital games… (p. 16)
I prefer to make clear and important distinctions between games and simulations — based on the different ways these two different aesthetic forms use representations. In brief, my argument (forthcoming in Play Redux) is that simulations are bound by reality and convention, and games — fortunately for us all — are not.
From my point of view, the game exists in a liminal state that does not merely, as Sicart suggests, allow us to experience the unethical in order to ponder its real-world relevance. Rather, the game exists in a liminal state in which objective and explicit game rules have the same moral authority as more subjective and implicit real-world values. In other words, the values of the game do not merely refer to real-world values, they question, doubt, and, within the boundaries of the game rules, replace those values.
In Play Redux, I try to demonstrate how this is a more profound (and more accurate) position than Sicart’s.