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Moral Society Concepts in Video Games

April 10, 2013

It’s been a bit of time, but I have a new post regarding morality and using concepts in a somewhat strange medium – video games. The games I reference here are Civilization V and Simcity, games that allows the player to be in charge of the development of a nation-state or city of their choice. Civilization V lets you compete with other civilizations, under the control of the AI, who are in competition with you to create the greatest and achieve victory. I believe strongly that a great society can be made by sound moral decisions and concepts, even if you are surrounded by others who do not participate in morally sound practices. I aim to show you that in video games, you can consciously build these societies and see the effects for yourself, a powerful tool, in my opinion, of giving you the gifts of visualization, planning, and pragmatism in these efforts.

Visualization is one of the most appealing things to me about video games, which bring a story or imagination to life as opposed to simply being in your own mind. Your mind depends on your frame of reference and reservoir of knowledge, which in our society is under attack every day. The power of being able to see your ideas in practice and making them work makes video games great. The gift here is seeing both successes and failures. An example of visualization in Civ 5 is one where I decided that I would employ the concept of trading with others, but staying out of international entanglements. This is called “isolationism” in the media and one of the things that was lambasted by critics of Ron Paul as a sign that he would be an incompetent president. In the game, I basically would take extra resources I had, approach any civilization with them in exchange for wealth or other resources they had extra of that I did not. When these civilizations approached me about joining in with them to declare war on another I refused every time, and the only war I was involved in over the entirety of the game (over 6000 years!) was one where a regional military power decided to aggressively attack me, represented by a Greek / Macedonian empire. This limited war, and incredible prosperity my nation had of the largest population, the best scientific and cultural presence, more wealth than I ever needed for infrastructure, and a military that was designed only for defense that held off a force that, based on power metrics of the units they had, was double in strength. This allowed me to see for myself that this concept not only works but created incredibly wonderful results within my borders!

Planning is something that Simcity absolutely requires and is a gift that keeps on giving in life. In this case, I wanted to see whether or not I could run a modern city with no taxes of any kind sustainably. This would be considered outrageously naive today in America, even though I have read that taxation was pretty much nonexistent in parts of our history where we did not have central banks, such as after Andrew Jackson “killed the banks.” What I noticed was that with residential, commercial, and industrial zones these businesses would be content, but issues like sickness, crime, and the lack of money from traffic, spending too much, getting fired from their jobs, would be rampant on a moment’s notice if I did not watch everything going on closely. Early on, I could not afford to develop the city’s services without taxation because we were too small a city and did not have any supplemental income, like gambling houses, oil refineries, mining, etc. I planned to improve education and the technological level of my industry so that I could build processor factories and export them, as well as build a recycling center to reclaim alloys and plastic I could use to construct them. After about a year of raising funds through taxes alone, the combination of these two improved my income in the city to more than a million of the currency per day, when my expenses were less than 10,000. At that point I got rid of taxes entirely, which made my margin about 28,000 in the red. I effectively had a bankrupt government that did absolutely nothing to raise funds. The results, however, were that my approval rating, which was about 77 to 80 percent, has never changed from 96 percent or higher since. I have no homeless people, my businesses are thriving, and am able to afford services of such sophistication that nobody needs to drive a car to work, all healthcare issues are taken care of quickly, fires are put out almost the moment they happen, and crime is completely under control. I planned for this and created a sustainable, incredibly wealthy and tax free city that is quickly removing other issues, like pollution and improving education further to build a giant solar farm in the area that provides power for every city in the region. This is what we can do if we focus on making REAL changes to our society!

Pragmatism is the gift of learning what works and what doesn’t, one that everyone has to learn, especially those who are more idealistic. Examples are everywhere in decision based strategy games like this: In Civilization 5 I decided that my military efforts would be so minimal that nearly every man, woman and child would live in peace as farmers, fishermen, miners, etc., keep what they own, and their nation’s leaders would focus everything they have on improving their lives. Unfortunately, my neighbors saw this as an opportunity and despite not provoking anyone, I was involved with four different wars in defense, which spent money, killed my people, and undid my vision of peace. Furthermore, aggressive local tribes would constantly raid my farms, mines, and plantations. The fact is, when a predator sees a chance to strike they will and people with incredible amounts of power will take that chance every time they can. So I had to learn that defense had to be prioritized with at least three units of defense per city and that lesson kept enemies out of my lands, reduced aggression on my rivals’ parts because they knew that my forces would slaughter them, and let me improve my citizens’ lives in peace, protected by those heroes. This was a bit of a compromise to my vision, but the price of that secured a Golden Age that guided me to a complete victory through scientific, through humanity’s first settlement of a new planet, and what would have been cultural supremacy as well. In Simcity, I had to learn that you have to earn your way to removing taxes by providing value to others first, and then returning the wealth to the people. While it would be a collective scream of “not my problem” if you went to the board of directors of a multinational corporation to help improve people’s lives with their profits, the city I built where the electronics industry effectively funded the city made it a paradise by making sure their profits were spent on improving the lives of their neighbor. This could be argued as “socialist” but here’s why it is not – the government is not involved at all. Taxation would never have raised enough revenue to fund the incredible healthcare, fire prevention, police, transportation, and education that city has or the pure bliss of the people who keep every penny they earn, spent it on what they want, and keep their jobs as long as they want to work. This is the power of giving back more than what is culturally deemed “acceptable” to the profit mongers.

Video games have helped me see the power of bringing unconventional, controversial, and “idealistic” concepts into practiced, pragmatic reality with a desire to challenge this and to build them into something tangible. While there are certainly elements that are unrealistic in these, which would be a long list, admittedly, at least trying to do this begins the path down the road of building a better world for everyone. We don’t NEED taxes or aggressive war and even if there are predators out there, we can protect ourselves from them. We can run profitable businesses and, as a culture, give back those profits to help our neighbors in need and to protect our rights to keep what we earn! It is possible, and what is possible can become real with effort.

If you are interested in the games here are links for them:

http://civilization5.com/

http://simcity.com

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