From High Heroism to Abject Abyss: Ethical Aspects of Highly Aestheticised and Critical Videogames

  • René Reinhold Schallegger University of Klagenfurt


Videogames have become the leading medium in our globalised cultural industries following the postmodern ludic turn and shift towards simulation as the central mode of meaning-making. Subject to public controversies and media panics, like all new media before them, questions of morality and ethics inevitably become pertinent in any attempt to define videogames, their effects on and place in our societies. This paper provides a survey of the dimensions of production-, player-, designer-, and game ethics applied to the medium of videogames, offering a multitude of jumping-off points for further debates. The roles of both players and designers in the realisation of various system dynamics and play experiences are critically considered, and a practical framework for the analysis of morality systems in (video-)games established. Finally, fours pertinent games, Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011), Dishonored (2012), Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014), and Firewatch (2016), are introduced as examples for a deconstructive approach to individual heroism, a systemic ethical perspective, a discussion of personal and collective responsibility, as well as the acknowledgment of the limits of human agency respectively. Resulting from these deliberations, an argument is finally made for a necessary increase in affective game design strategies and practices to realise the unparalleled potential of (video-)games as virtual learning spaces for ethical reflection and moral action.

Special Issue: Die Frage nach dem Wahren, Guten und Schönen in virtuellen Räumen