Recently, StopGame released the video “The Secret of Dishonored Moral Choice” by maestro Dmitry Kungurov, which prompted me to write this material.
To tell the truth, I wanted to do this for a long time, but it was too lazy and there was no real time. Now I have time, a little motivation and thoughts, which in some sense will refute, and in some they will develop Dmitry’s ideas. I will immediately give credit to the editor-in-chief for the originality of the question posed, the very idea of confronting the choice between ethical and aesthetic is very interesting.
A small digression. I am not a philosopher and I don’t learn from it, but ironically, this is almost my main interest for the last three or four years.
Many articles and books on these topics have been read and an immense amount of time spent on their own reasoning about life. So the following text is not a fact of all the facts, but free reasoning, but not entirely unfounded.
- Why Dishonored’s Moral System Doesn’t Work.
I’ll start in order. The key in what the player’s will manifests itself during the passage – whether he will kill people standing in the way of the goal, or get rid of them non-lethally. Each such mini-choice goes to the piggy bank of an abstract scale of chaos, which affects the state of the surrounding world. High chaos – around rats, plague patients, corpses. Low is the opposite.
The problem I see is that the game informs the player about this system and its consequences.
The player understands that the option of high chaos is bad, and it is bad in any worldview system (well, in the majority). And since it is already clear what is good and what is bad – what is the choice? Moreover, it is known for what decision what outcome will go.
Murder is an increase in chaos, and an increase in chaos is a bad ending. By giving the player a choice, the game does not. Paradox. Although the problem lies on the very surface, in the very possibility of various methods of eliminating enemies. Any player will feel that if he was given the opportunity to kill or put to sleep, then this has its consequences, and he will guess what the developers prefer.
In most ideological and worldview systems, murder is prohibited, and even if not, there are strict criteria by which it is determined whether the murder of this particular person is permissible. For example, the same Nazism: murder is permissible, but only to certain groups of people (Slavs, Jews, etc.)
Most people of our time live with a worldview that condemns murder, which means that as soon as the player sees the option of non-lethal elimination, he, if he tries to match his inner moral compass, will choose her. The essence of moral choices is in testing either the inner will of a person, to what extent he is ready to follow his ethical views, or the views themselves, their inner harmony.
The trolley problem has long been a benchmark moral dilemma, but let’s turn to it.
The decision to kill / put to sleep in Dishonored is ethically obvious. Hedgehog is clear that it will be much more correct to put to sleep. But how they flirt with the trolley problem, changing its conditions, one could play with the moral system in the game.
I’ll make a reservation right away, there is a really POWERFUL scene in the game if you chose the non-lethal path. We are talking about the Supreme Overseer, if you brand him as a heretic, then later in the game you can meet him again … In a ditch, one infected with the plague, at the very bottom of life. You cannot advise such a fate to the enemy. When I accidentally met this moment, I thought, “I shouldn’t have done this.”
And this is actually another problem of this system, I accidentally drew attention to this, because every next NPC in the game that is not marked with a task icon is just another NPC not marked with a task icon.
The game simply does not give much weight to the choice of whether the guard lives or not. The chaos parameter does not help, because it is too abstract, and besides, you never know why the rats run around in the alley: because they should have been there or because I killed too many.
Returning to the minecart problem, the game could play with elections and their consequences, like The Witcher 3, for example, only to move the decision beyond the dialogue and build it into the gameplay. What if your old friend was your enemy, and what if you HAD to kill in order to save others. You can think of a lot of “what if”.
The first example that unexpectedly came to my mind: let’s say the player put to sleep a crowd of guards who were patrolling the city. Later, when it turns out that they were not at the post, they are fired as punishment and edification to others. And these same guards are found at the next level, like ordinary citizens, only now other people are puffing at them, who cannot stand the authorities.
Yes, the example described above requires an emphasis on characters, but no more than the game gives us in its present form.
In particular, I would like to note in the trolley problem such a concept as a categorical imperative. Invented by Immanuel Kant, it sounds … yes, different, but I like the following wording:
Do so that the maxim of your will could be a universal law.
In general, the imperative can be reduced to the idea of a principle, such a thing that cannot be violated at all costs. So, if you define the categorical imperative in relation to murder as “you cannot kill,” then in the trolley problem it is forbidden to switch the train to another track. Yes, yes, Kant was bloodthirsty. The bottom line is that if you switch a train, then a person dies through your fault, then you have violated the categorical imperative, and if you do not switch, then all the rules, because formally they died not through your fault. But you could also play with this. To confront deontology with its “opponent”, consequentialism, the latter can be described as “the end justifies the means.”
As a result, the concept of moral choice in Dishonored suffers at the system level. The game designates in advance the possible consequences of your passing style, sometimes without regard to logic (example with the Supreme Overseer, I do not understand at point-blank why such a choice reduces chaos, IMHO, this is a less moral choice).
The game does not experience the traditional worldview in which murder is blameworthy, it is completely synchronized with them, so to speak. The game, as Dmitry Kungruov suggested, does not offer a moral choice at all. Needless to say, this can be said only if the developers did not initially plan to make a moral choice in the game … BUT they added it, this is uno, they added ambiguous consequences of this or that style of passage, this is duo (we are talking about the same caretaker and the betrayal of Billy Lerk) … Both of these factors, in my opinion, indicate that the developers wanted morality, but did not work out.
A separate problem is the nature of the modern ethical discourse among the inhabitants, it has become too … Scientist or something. What is the trouble, in my opinion – people rely too much on science in morality, but it is useless here. Do not think that I am a man of obscurantism, but evolution, medicine, biochemistry will not give us knowledge about what ethics should be. It’s cool that we know which hormone is released when making a decision, only this should not directly affect our choice, we must do it in spite of these hormones. This is by the way about the evolutionary nature of morality.
- Ethics and aesthetics.
I want to devote this part of the material to thoughts about Dmitry Kungurov’s video, namely about the idea of choosing between ethics and aesthetics.
In general, this concept of choice strains me (although it is interesting), because this choice is deliberately artificial, very direct. Where, in an ethical dilemma, you choose from two options, each of which can be good and evil at the same time, which creates ambiguity and moral choice, then in the ethical-aesthetic choice you choose from the right, but ugly and wrong, but fucking one.
Yes, there is only one nuance, the aesthetics is very vague, the same things can be shown as extremely repulsive and bewitching. Watch two films “InglouriousBasterds” and “Come and See”, seemingly one theme, war, but how funny is Tarantino’s thriller and how much you don’t want to revise Klimov’s magnum opus. Dishonored proves that the “correct” style of passage can be aestheticized with its second part, it is played much more fun with a non-lethal style than the first part (although it still falls short of lethal). The artificiality, which I mentioned above, lies in the fact that everything can be made aesthetic, but not ethical.
Here I want to dwell on the topic of aesthetics and deepen this moment of the video, however, be careful, further we will talk about such a crap of such an incomprehensible phenomenon as postmodernism.
But first, a little history.
Middle Ages. Just accept that for a medieval person, God is not a concept, not a category, not an abstraction, but a FACT. He is period. And what follows from this?
A fundamental ethical and aesthetic system follows from this. Sins, virtues, heaven, hell, grace – these are all real things with which the world and man are connected. Aesthetics and ethics come from here. Dmitry said that there was no aesthetics in the Middle Ages, well, this is not entirely true, rather they were co-directed. God is truth, and what could be more aesthetic than truth? Hence the religious orientation of medieval art. Hence the difficulty with the perception of such pictures as, for example, “The Dead Christ in the Tomb.”
Modern. The Renaissance and the New Time went on, humanity doubted the concept of God, at least in the form that was declared by the church. Now in the foreground is a man, his being and his possibilities. Aesthetics redirects its attention to the person, his achievements, to the world around him. In a new way, there is an interest in Antiquity, its culture, philosophy, science.
Together with a seemingly pleasant rise, this is the beginning of the transition into the abyss. Nietzsche stated “the death of God,” and Dostoevsky described the corpse of a society without God. The main problem that has gone from now on is this – if there is no God as the source of truth, then what is the truth? Then things got worse.
Postmodern. If in modernity it was still believed that a person has his own will and is independent of the world in making decisions and his being, then Marx and Freud delivered him from this. The behavior of a person in the opinion of the first is determined by socio-economic relations, in the opinion of the second unconscious impulses.
Advances in medicine have finished off a person as a subject. Since then, it has finally become unclear who a person is and what is his place in this world. In the second half of Art Nouveau, aesthetics and ethics finally diverge, ethics falls into a stupor, and aesthetics takes the form of absolute liberty. Why not? There is no God, so there is no taboo, so you can write and draw about anything.
In my opinion, this is noticeable in such a phenomenon as the aestheticization of violence. A prominent representative of this trend is Tarantino, his films are an extravaganza of cheerful violence. The Middle Ages and a person of the traditional worldview simply does not accept this. Aesthetics is revealed in all its glory, dozens of different movements in architecture, painting, music, etc.
There is a lot more to say about postmodernism, but I wanted to describe a little the evolution of aesthetics through this prism.
What does postmodernism have to do with it? Yes, despite the fact that it was this amorphous beast that divided ethics and aesthetics, among other cultural phenomena that it carries with it. Thanks to him, a choice between ethics and aesthetics is generally possible.
It’s just that after the death of God, ethics bent down a bit, there were disputes about the concepts of morality, they proposed different concepts: deontology, consequentialism, etc. portray everything, and since ethics no longer limits, why not take advantage of it. Everything has come down to such oddities that many do not understand, contemporary art, performances – all this is also aesthetics.
Next, I would like to touch upon the moment in which Dmitry talks about the physiological nature of ethics and aesthetics. Moreover, Dmitry himself outlines his logic, but he seems to stumble in the middle.
Any aesthetic has a set of non-moral rules. What if beautiful already means right.
Honestly, I got a little lost in this phrase. In any case, the point is that aesthetics really has its own laws, but they are not metaphysically related to ethics. A certain piece of art is beautiful because the laws of aesthetics are correctly applied to it, but not because it is ethically correct. And “Cupid and Psyche” CanovA
and The Abduction of Proserpine by Bernini
beautiful, only the stories behind the sculptures are different in their ethics. Modern aesthetics can be applied to completely different phenomena of the world, such is the era.
Actually, this annoys me, the game forces me to choose from options that are not polar in their essence. Ethics and aesthetics can go hand in hand, moreover, they did it. Such delimitation not only creates frustration for the player, but also gives rise to an illusory enmity of those concepts and tendencies that should not be hostile.
In this blog, I have omitted some other aspects that I originally wanted to discuss (about the Nazi officer, about physicalism and biology), as I found them inappropriate for the main idea of the material.
Kungurov’s video, I repeat, is cool. It talks about interesting, philosophical things, introduces many people to this, expanding the circle of their knowledge. On this I will probably end.