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Brutal Legend's Blurry Morality

sjohnson
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Posted October 26, 2009 - By Stephen Johnson



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Do you care about the morality and ethics of video games? That's among the many questions posed by Crispy Gamer's David Thomas in a recent editorial about Brutal Legend.

The ethics of Brutal Legend are ambiguous: The game's "hero" is sent on a mission from a demon and has to save rock and roll by murdering people and creatures that are considered evil in the game world. Players are supposed to think of Heavy Metal as Good, even though Heavy Metal has always taken great pains to define itself as Evil. And we're supposed to think it's funny, too. We're supposed to consider the over-the-top histrionics and self-seriousness of Metal as humorous (which they are) and laugh along with the game's mayhem as we literally melt people's faces.

Personally, I love when video games abandon the traditional "good guy/bad guy" thing and veer into moral complexity, but it undoubtedly destroys an oft-repeated defense of gaming. "Sure, there's a lot of violence," the old saw goes,"but it's a good guy killing bad guys! Those are clearly monsters/aliens/zombies/Nazis!" Novels, theater and movies don't have to create simple-minded moral universes in order to not upset people's delicate sensibilities, and yet video games still do. Meanwhile, Real Life remains stubbornly morally ambiguous, as it has since the Dawn of Man.

Do you care at all why your dude is killing the other dudes in games? Do you think ethics in games matters? Have you ever played a game that made you uncomfortable with its own extreme violence/evil? So far, I haven't, although it's only a matter of time before a video game comes out that draws attention to the excesses of the art form effectively enough to make us queasy... like Funny Games or A Clockwork Orange have done in film.

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Brutal Legend's Blurry Morality
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