Paragon vs Renegade: Should We Question Our In-Game Choices?

Do the choices we make in game affect how we act in the real world?

As technology develops, different video games sprout up that let us make our own choices about advancing the story. BioWare, for example, is famous for making games that feel like your choices are impacting the world around you, with big titles such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Other games take a more direct approach to this, such as the Fable series, where the player's appearance will change depending on the good or bad actions they've taken throughout the game. If they were a savior of the people, a paragon come to rescue them from the tyranny of evil, then the game would reward the player with an otherworldly glow and a halo. Evil-doers and renegades, however, found themselves outfitted with a nice pair of horns and black mist that followed in their wake. Mass Effect has a similar, but more indirect way of punishment and reward for the player's actions, outfitting them with scars that heal at different rates depending on how good of a person they are throughout the game.

Paragon vs Renegade

There has been heavy debate among the people of the world about the effects of video games on a social level. Gaming has been the scapegoat for catastrophes and violent acts that have happened all over the world.

Some parents fear certain games will turn their children gay, others fear that the violent ones will turn their children into mass murderers.

Luckily, people have started to question these claims, and new studies have arisen, trying to calm many people's fears. While these studies do say a lot about what makes players aggravated, this isn't the big question we are asking.  Do your gaming decisions affect who you are as a person, outside of the game world? If so, how do they affect you?

In other words, should we question the moral fiber in our beings for slaughtering an entire village? Does playing a good guy in a game also translate to being a better person in real life?

It's hard to answer this question to its fullest extent while studying inside of countries that have certain laws against what we can emulate in games. Instead, let us look to our friends in the land of the rising sun for insight.

Japanese Gaming

Japan makes a lot of games every year, and these games generally look very alien to people across Europe and North America. One might go as far as to say absolutely absurd. If you're familiar with Japanese games, you'll have noticed a theme: Women are often portrayed quite sexually (same with men, sometimes).

In many Western games, women are also portrayed sexually, but in a different way. For the Japanese, it's often almost humorous, with breasts bouncing every other step and the usually soft, almost squeaky voice.

The main difference between the sexualized women in Western and Japanese games, however, is their age. Western developers are under strict guidelines that don't allow them to even come close to sexualizing a character that can be mistaken for under 18. Japanese developers have greater freedom, and sometimes make their characters appear much younger in age.

Ignorance will make anyone believe this is because Japanese game developers are pedophilic, and that they are 'promoting' this behavior in their citizens because of it. However, this statement couldn't be more wrong.

The Japanese are very intolerant when it comes to sexual publicity and sex crimes. So much so that even the act of masturbation is a completely taboo topic in Japan, while the people in North America are found cracking jokes about that all the time. (And so do our video game characters.)

The chances of even finding a young Japanese person that is sexually active is slimmer than it is in almost all other corners of the globe. So why is all this sexual content in their video games?

Maybe we should examine some violent acts that appear in video games and how it affects real-life outbursts on a minor scale, before answering that.

Volatile Tendencies

Nobody is completely well-off. Everyone has a part of them that can, indeed, just snap. But not everyone realizes that they may have volatile tendencies. It's often overlooked by people until it's either too late, or they've found a safe way to vent out the urges and emotions that surge through them.

Certain games allow you to massacre everyone in your path. Other games allow you roam around and assassinate high-and-mighty members of society. And others let you crush goombas under the extreme weight of a playable protagonist. No matter which poison you choose, you are willingly engaging in a volatile act. However, there's only one problem: You're not the one doing it. The character on the screen is. In a different world.

Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson, an associate professor at Texas A&M International University, has released a study he did regarding aggressive behaviors linked to playing video games after frustrating tasks.

“In this study, 103 young adults were given a frustration task and then randomized to play no game, a non-violent game, a violent game with good versus evil theme, or a violent game in which they played ‘the bad guy.’ The results suggest that violent games reduce depression and hostile feelings in players through mood management,” Dr Ferguson explained.

Mood management is much more important than you might initially think. Without a proper outlet to use for managing improper moods, they have a tendency to bottle up to the point of bursting. This can lead to outbursts over minor incidences, and--in some cases--can lead to physical violence.

This is something that I have noticed occurring all around me. I have known people who have had irrational reactions to certain situations, whether it's violent or anxiety driven, or whatever other irrational behavior you can think of. These people have been able to learn to control these reactions through the use of gaming and gain the help that they never knew they needed. Murdering a camp of bandits can do wonders for settling your nerves. Facing virtual dangers that you fear in real life can desensitize you to the thing that you fear, whether it's spiders or even something as simple as social situations (when playing online games). 

To put this into perspective, let us say we have a teenage boy named Timmy, who has had a history of violence so his parents refused to buy him video games. He has hit people in the head with rocks from a distance, rolled giant snowballs into his siblings by the barbed wire fences, and gotten into plenty of fights at school. It seemed as if nothing could contain him.

One day, he moved away from his parents' place and bought his own copy of Skyrim. Through playing it, he found that this game gave him the ability to kill pretty much whomever he wished, good or bad, for meaningful purpose, or just for fun. After a few weeks, his friends start to ask him if anything is wrong.

"We've never seen you like this, man, what's going on?"

These questions really baffled Timmy; he doesn't see any reason they might be asking.

It turns out that his friends were scared of a bigger episode to come. His friends had been there for him, to hold him back if he ever got excessively angry. For Timmy, this was normally once every couple of weeks.

But he was fine. Timmy rarely got mad anymore, and when he did, it seemed as if his willingness to jump to violence had substantially dropped.

The newly acquired Skyrim was to blame for Timmy's sudden drop in violent behavior.

Skyrim

Verdict

So why do Japanese game developers add such taboo subjects for their culture into their games? The answer is rather simple: To sate the uncontrollable desires of their people.

Whether they like it or not, pedophiles and sex offenders do exist. The only way to keep them from becoming worse and actually wanting something more real is to give them something that will simulate their desires. Many people in Japan are lacking the intimacies of a relationship, due to the insane amount of pressure to put their companies' first. Due to this, the people needed a way to express their sexuality in their off-time without resorting to frightening actions such as rape or molestation.

Violent video games work in a similar manner. Those that feel the volatile urge to act out a scene of violence can often feel satisfied by playing a violent video game.

So long as you make clear boundaries in your mind that Video Games are just that: Video Games, than there should be no reason to question your basic moral fiber for playing the renegade.

When it all comes down to it, you are playing the role of a character made up for the gaming world. This character isn't you, and should in no way reflect who you are in the real world.

Assassin

If the person in question is indeed mistaking the gaming world with reality, there is another issue going on there that needs to be addressed.

So play however you would like to. If you like to play the way your real-life moral fiber would take you, than feel free to do just that. Whether Paragon or Renegade, you don't pose any more of a threat on society than the rest of us.

Featured Correspondent

Autumn is a freelance writer that grew up on GameFAQs walkthroughs trying to suss out how to get through her favorite PC and Nintendo games. These days she's a capable game pioneer, mapping out guides and tips so players of all skill levels can join in on the fun.

Published Dec. 4th 2014

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