Friday, August 29, 2008

How Morality is Portrayed in RPGs: part ii

World of Darkness: Morality

The morality system of the World of Darkness could be broken down in several interesting ways. One way: the psychological link between loss of morality (compassion) and how this causes manifestations of derangements is interesting but not relevant to this post. I recognize this as more of a psychological issue, and only mention it because the multi-faceted nature of this morality system is worth noting. WoD morality exists on a scale of 1 to 10. Characters at level 10 represent the moral exemplars made manifest while those at 1 are capable and likely to commit mass murder. The average person (and starting character unless otherwise stated) starts at 7. There is a hierarchy of moral acts, and each level between one and ten lists what someone at the level might do without rolling to see if they take a step down. Morality is regained by spending experience points and acting out a desire to redeem oneself.

This hierarchy of morality is similar to Ross' deontology. One criticism made against Kantian deontology is that it does not account for how we ought to proceed when two or more moral duties come into conflict. I'm sure there are answers Kantians have to this, but I'm unaware of them. I do know that under Ross' system we have what he calls prime facie duties that exist in a hierarchy: lying is wrong, but it is not as bad as murder. By placing duties in a hierarchy they do not come into conflict. This system does rely upon intuitionism however, and when two or more people have different intuitions about what is morally worse than something else then they have no principled way of resolving these disputes (if they are merely appealing to their intuitions). Intuitively, the WoD morality hierarchy probably works well enough for most players, but in specific cases with the Werewolf hierarchy I remember running into problems (this will be discussed in another post) when another player and I's intuitions did not match the intuitions of the Werewolf writers. This is less of a problem in a game though because we can simply create house rules to deal with such problems. I've never met a philosopher who resolved philosophical disputes by declaring house rules. I'd love to see someone do this in the middle of an argument.

So we might say that the flaw of the WoD morality system is that it is founded on intuitionism, but we might also say that the WoD developers did utilize one of the morality systems (prime facie duties) that best captures folk morality. Whether this was done on purpose or not, I have no idea, but I'm impressed either way. In the next post I'll continue discussing the core World of Darkness book with their use of virtues and vices.

Special note: Many deontological theories are strongly based on reason instead of compassion (Hume saw the basis of morality as compassion, Kant saw it as reason). The WoD book associates morality with compassion however, and this might make it more of a sentimental theory. This might be explored later (if I brush up on my Kant and Hume).


szilard said...

To what extent do you thing morality in WoD is descriptive rather than prescriptive?

Jack Phillips said...

Good question, but I'm gonna have to say I don't really know.

I'd say it describes, how I picture, folk morality being in many cases. But it also could be seen as prescriptive - it seems to advocate a kind of deontology - and without house rules you don't really have any kind of consequentialism in WoD.

Your thoughts?

szilard said...

I'm thinking about it.

Most RPGs seem to treat morality as descriptive - alignment, for instance, is usually treated as a label to categorize a things behavior with respect to morality.

Some RPGs have moral mechanics that dictate or influence behavior of the subject in certain ways. Exalted is a good example of this... as are exalted (no relation) PCs in 3.5 D&D.

Some RPGs have moral mechanics that influence or dictate the behavior of others with respect to the subject in certain ways (for instance, shunning evil people). A good example of this is the computer game Fallout.

I'm still working this out, though.