“The Noble Hero Complex” Discussion Highlights: How You Play

Many thanks to everyone who read and commented on my Freshly Pressed post “You Are What You Play… Or Are You? – Experimenting With Morality In Video Games.”  You all shared a lot of honest and interesting perspectives on morality in games and the “Noble Hero Complex,” and I greatly enjoyed hearing from so many thoughtful people! Here are a few of the different ways you play games:

Playing as you would in real life:

The vast majority of you admitted that your characters usually end up reflecting your values in real life, whether or not this is intentional. Thank you for confirming that I’m not alone in having a “Noble Hero Complex” of sorts! As Oloriel expresses,

I believe that with the immersing lore, stories and visuals that depict something that in most cases never dies withing us (a desire to ride on the wings of the dragons) is why I think some of us will behave like this and be a Noble Hero. Even tho it is pixels on a screen it is also a word to other fellow live humans who sit behind their own screen, which is why I have always said that you can tell a lot about the person from their game characters. One can go and try to be on a completely rampaging spree or pretend the nobility, but if you play on an active and regular basis your true character, the one you emit and live by in RL, will most certanly show itself.

Greygrub also talks about playing games as though he is there in real life, but raises the point that, were it real life, he might have more pressing concerns than playing the hero:

In true reality, if Skyrim was where I lived, and it was governed by the same laws as reality (except for magic and dragons, etc.) I would probably have enough trouble making sure I had enough food to eat, and a place to sleep. And can you imagine the hygiene?

Playing the opposite of how you would in real life:

Some of you shared that you use games as a place to experiment with darker decisions that you would never make in real life where there are real consequences. As Anthony W writes,

I tend to make evil characters partially due to the fact that in an escapist fantasy world there are no real-world consequences for doing so. I’m not bold enough in real life to stab my friends in the back (even if they REALLY deserve it haha) or fight dragons for that matter (if they existed). But in a game all is possible.

Playing in accordance with the storyline:

As a few of you talked about, The Voice of Mirror of Mankind demonstrates how, when he plays a game, he tries to immerse himself as much as possible in the narrative, and make decisions as though he was really there:

I approach the games I play, especially RPGs, with the mindset of ‘if I was me, in this game world and in this situation, what would I do?’

Even in games where moral choices aren’t a significant aspect of the game play, he tries to play true to the story:

What I am looking to do is kill as many enemies as possible on the way to the next level and, when possible, kill them to a man. Why? Because, following the game’s narrative, it’s important to the safety of the world that my mission be accomplished and these enemies are out to make sure that the world is destroyed.

Playing according to your character’s personality or worldview:

Some of you discussed how you think of a personality, background or worldview so as to justify or rationalize your actions. As Christopher of Inking of Asylum writes,

I like to experiment with other options. I try very hard when experimenting to rationalize one way or another why I’m doing what I’m doing. It makes more sense to me to have a personality for the character to act the way that they do. Very rarely am I capable of wanton destruction in a world not designed specifically for chaos.

Armenia4ever of Reformational Worldview, along similar lines, discusses how he experiments with the worldviews of his characters:

An approach I’ve been toying with in games like Skyrim and New Vegas is creating characters with different worldviews. What if my character was a through and through post-modernist? A nihilist? Some kind of brutal hedonist? What can I justify and what standard will I appeal to when I decide if an action is right and wrong concerning each one of my characters? As Rushdoony points out, who is my “God”? Me? The authorities? What set of assumptions does the belief system of my character built on?

Playing in light of what in-game characters will think:

A few of you talked about making decisions based on your reputation in the game, or in awareness of the affect your actions have on in-game characters. As lucklacker shares,

When I play a PC game where you see the man you’re about to assassinate’s children, or when you are given the speech options of “I shall put my weapons down… for now” or “I don’t want any violence, let’s come to a peaceful resolution” I’ll pick the latter. In fact I’d be a paragon of virtue to the point of being spineless.

Animockery discusses the element of interest that an in-game reputation can bring to decision making:

 I am a major sucker for games that allow this continuing environment where my actions in one place will eventually spread to another. I look forward to true free form when things like your saving a whole village spreads as stories of a hero or if yo choose to destroy everyone you will hear whispers of a great evil and a village where everyone went missing.

Playing. Period.

Finally, I would be doing a disservice if I failed to mention the perspective many of you shared (usually in brief) that in-game or real-life morality has zero impact on how you play.  I would venture to guess that there are a lot more people who also feel this way and didn’t bother to leave a comment. As liberalcritique says,

Morality shmorality.

Regardless of how you choose to play, personally I think that thinking through your gameplay – or playing games that make you think – is always more interesting than mindless engagement. Although there are always times when I want to play games in order to unwind and not think about much at all – in which case I would probably not reach for an RPG, but perhaps Mario Kart or a good ol’ shmup.

Which of the perspectives outlined here do you most closely align with? And which games do you reach for when you just want to unwind and turn your brain off for awhile?

This post was written for Yeah Write’s 31dbbb challenge, “Pay special attention to a reader…” (by promoting a comment to a post.) I’m breaking the rules a little again because I’ve highlighted multiple readers and comments here, but everyone had so many interesting thoughts to share, I couldn’t pick just one. Cheers!


8 thoughts on ““The Noble Hero Complex” Discussion Highlights: How You Play

  1. I like how, in Anthony W’s comment, he says that in real life he wouldn’t stab his friends in the back (even if they deserved it) or fight a dragon (if they existed), because he isn’t bold enough to do so. I have to agree, and perhaps that’s part of the reason why I enjoy playing the hero so much in games. Hero or villain, in real life, acting on those desires will get you killed. Whereas in a game, we can fulfill that desire to right all wrongs through the strength of our arms and magic, but we can always just load the last save file if we die 🙂 If only life were to simple!

  2. This (and the previous post) were fascinating exposes on the minds of modern gamers. Great stuff. As far as my own behavior in games, most of the time I’m a type that doesn’t fully seem defined in your list; “the meta-gamer.” I tend to do whatever will gain me the largest reward from an in-game advantage sense. It’s got elements of “Playing. Period.” in it, but tends to be a little less random, I think.

    I’d probably do things differently if more games with mortal/ethical choices had a better spectrum besides “Snidely Whiplash” and “Dudley DoRite.” Sadly, either your choices matter very little, despite having a wide spectrum of them (Elder Scrolls) or you are railroaded into going full bore one way or the other if you want to actually get anywhere (Knights of the Old Republic, Infamous, Mass Effect). Add in that the “moral choices” in such games usually amount to “Walk little old ladies across the street” vs “Blow up a bus full of puppies,” and it loses my interest. Give me a more complex moral spectrum, make it feel like sometimes you can be “evil” without twirling your mustache and being a mass murdering psychopath (or be good without a halo and a beam of light following you everywhere) and I might adopt more of a moral code (probably one that is borderline sociopathic and solipsistic, but at least consistent and an attempt to “play as my character”), but I sadly don’t see that day coming any time soon.

    1. Thanks! I thought about including this utilitarian approach to games in the list as well, but not many of the comments expressed it so simply. It’s true that the moral choices offered in games are still not very meaningful, it will be interesting to see if games develop these aspects more in the future, because I think it definitely adds to the immersive experience. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. I think I tend to play my character in a way that reflects my personality. I don’t like being dishonest or hurting others so I “play as I would in real life.” I really think this topic of “games don’t affect me in any way” needs to be discussed more. I have huge issue with it. I think we engage on some level with every narrative we interact with, whether it’s in the form of games, books, television etc. Gamers seem to have a knee jerk reaction to statements implying they’re affected by the games they play. I believe this is because media often blames video games for events like school shootings. The ever so reliable news stations are quick to point out that perpetrators of violent crimes played violent video games. I think it’s ridiculous to think that someone who plays violent games are driven to acts of violence as a result, but that doesn’t mean that gamers are completely unaffected by the games they play. Being driven to action by and being emotional affected by something are two very different things. Every form of media has an agenda and I think it’s important as a gamer to think about what that is and decide how you want to incorporate that into your life.

    You’re awesome Janelle!

    1. Thanks Maja! I agree, I think the fact that people are so quick to blame video games for the ills of society has a lot to do with how gamers respond to any hesitancy about games. We defend games from outside attacks, but within the gaming community I think we could be more open to discussions like this… Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

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