Conveying ethics and morality in videogames can be tricky. Ludic and narrative elements often intertwine in such a way that pinpointing the origin of ethics and morality is difficult. Additionally, the player’s motivations and involvement need to be taken into consideration to analyse the origin of these frameworks. This essay explores differences and interplay of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in games.

Salen and Zimmerman define play as “free movement within a more rigid structure.” (2004, 304) Thus, games provide us with agency and the freedom to act however we want within their confinements. As such, playing allows us to observe the consequences of the player’s actions in relation to other entities within a given game world. Sadly, what often happens is that the impact of choices is reduced to ludic restraints. Heron and Belford point out that “moral decisions in video games are more about locking and unlocking content paths than they are about presenting the player with complex, nuanced scenarios to contemplate….” (2014, 2) Little incentive is given to extend notions of ethics towards contexts that extend beyond the game space. Whereas choices in and of themselves may be well framed on a narrative level, foregrounding ludic benefits alone drastically reduce the merits of discussing such choices on a level of ethics or morality.

Minit drives this to an extreme. Whereas Minit presents a story of protest against capitalism and criticises the mass production of goods, the game mechanics are a hindrance for any kind of emotional involvement with the avatar or other entities in the game. Upon picking up a cursed sword, the player is given exactly 60 seconds to act and figure out how to reach the factory to lift the curse. When the timer runs out, the avatar dies and respawns in their house. The amount of pressure this puts on the player, prevents any meaningful interaction with the inhabitants other than the occasional reward for solving a quest. In a sense, extrinsic motivation that stem from engaging with the game are barely tangible because the intrinsic motivation to beat the clock bears so much force.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice on the other hand, achieves to amalgamate external and internal motivations by making the player feel repercussions that stem from interaction. The immortal avatar influences other inhabitants by spreading a disease. The more the avatar dies and respawns, the more the inhabitants get sick. Interaction with the NPCs constructs their backstory, providing space for establishing emotional connections. Whereas there are no permanent repercussions, the player is still provided with external and internal motivations to counteract the effect they have on the world. Praying at Buddha statues cures the disease and re-enables the player to talk to the NPCs and complete quests. In contrast to Minit, the burden of disease influences the ludic and narrative level, which turns the NPCs into more than merely a means to an end. Both, the narrative and ludic functions of the game intertwine.

As the examples have shown, Minit falls short in providing motivation by foregrounding the ludic. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice on the other hand, facilitates reflection by framing the disease as a direct consequence of the player’s action; ludically and narratively.

References

From Software. 2019. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Activision.

Heron, Michael James, and Pauline Helen Belford. 2014. “Do you feel like a hero yet? Externalized morality in video games.” Journal of Games Criticism 1, no 2. Accessed  March 25, 2019. http://gamescriticism.org/articles/heronbelford-1-2

Jan Willem Nijman et. al. 2018. Minit. Devolver Digital.

Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. 2004. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge: The MIT Press