Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=2148505
 


 



The Renaissance of Natural Law: Tolkien, Fantasy, and Video Games


Edward Castronova


Indiana University Bloomington - Department of Telecommunications

September 18, 2012


Abstract:     
I review the moral systems that designers create inside their video games. There’s much similarity across games, despite wide differences in narratives, backgrounds, target demographics, and mechanics. Using the terms of Dungeons & Dragons morality, most games have three moral factions: Lawful Good, Chaotic Good, and Chaotic Evil. Players usually get to choose between Lawful or Chaotic Good, while the AI plays Chaotic Evil. Now, why does this pattern appear so frequently? I’ll argue it has something to do with Natural Law. Natural Law derives moral judgment from the notion that any reasonably well‐formed human mind can discern what the purpose or end of an item is: What it’s for. It’s a common‐sense morality, which may or may not work well in advanced bioethics but suits the moral world of video games perfectly, where bad guys are really easy to identify but the players fight back and forth about whether to be a rule‐following hero of light or a renegade, rebellious, dark angel. That law/chaos tension is also an aspect of Natural Law. As for how Natural law got into games, the path seems to run through JRR Tolkien – devout Roman Catholic and therefore no stranger to the teachings of Aquinas. From Aquinas to Tolkien to D&D to modern video games, the LG/CG/CE triangle persists as a simple moral world, but one that, judging from player numbers, people very earnestly want to live in. Is this in itself a good thing? Since we’re talking Natural Law, let’s conclude by asking – what is the purpose of fantasy? Does this usage suit fantasy’s purpose?

Number of Pages in PDF File: 14

Keywords: Games, Morality, Natural Law

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Date posted: September 19, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Castronova, Edward, The Renaissance of Natural Law: Tolkien, Fantasy, and Video Games (September 18, 2012). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2148505 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2148505

Contact Information

Edward Castronova (Contact Author)
Indiana University Bloomington - Department of Telecommunications ( email )
1229 East 7th Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States
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