Despite the fact that this is a blog about the role of morality in video games, I am an expert in neither. I am a husband, a father of three, an English teacher, an SAT/ACT tutor, a former forensics coach, and an occasional gamer — emphasis on “occasional.” Every few years, a game catches my attention, and I begin to devote some serious time to it, but even the most casual of today’s gamers could easily out-play me. Still, video games have maintained an active role throughout my life.
As a kid, I played Adventure on my Atari 2600 and experienced the thrill of finding one of the first Easter eggs in gaming history. When I got my first home computer (a TRS-80), I wrote a brief but entertaining text-based game called Castle Dunderslush (I stole the name from a comic entitled Dragon Mirth in a 1985 issue of Dragon magazine). During middle and high school, when I wasn’t playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, I frequented video game arcades, and maintained the high score on the Shinobi cabinet at our local Phar-Mor. In college, I divided my video game time among my old Atari, the freeware/shareware titles I picked up on campus (especially Wolfenstein 3D), and the NES at my fiancee’s house (Andrea is one of the few people who can beat me at Street Fighter II). After we got married, I owned a Sega Genesis (not surprisingly, I played Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition and Shinobi most frequently), a Mac (on which I played Doom II quite a bit), then later an N64.
It was on the N64 that I began to realize the moral dimension of video games. Before that console, I understood and appreciated the storytelling aspect of the genre. Even the earliest of text-based games told stories, and the expanded computational power of later systems allowed for richer and more complex fiction — take The Legend of Zelda series, for example. It was not until I played GoldenEye 007 that I noticed the potential for moral engagement; I explain that encounter in a post on my previous blog.
My background in the formal study of morality is a bit less complex. Although I was born and raised in the Presbyterian Church, I drifted away from the faith during my early adulthood. Then, in 2000, I converted to Roman Catholicism. The reasons for this major life change have no real bearing on this study, but because I converted as an adult, I was required to attend RCIA classes which included a formal study of Catholic morality. Furthermore, when I began teaching English at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, part of my coursework for diocesan accreditation included a more detailed class on Catholic moral teaching. Although I took a Philosophy 101 course in college, my education in morality outside of the church comes primarily from my work as a forensics coach (particularly in Lincoln-Douglas debate events), my experience in teaching literature, and my own reading. My moral education, much like my video game experience, is more collage than coherence.
As I suggested in the first paragraph, I offer my background by way of disclaimer. This blog represents my attempt to articulate the connection between two fascinating areas of human endeavor — one ancient, one modern. I raise questions and offer observations; I do not pretend to fully exhaust the study of morality in video games. Readers more educated in either field will, I’m sure, notice gaping lacunae in my knowledge. Please feel free to remedy any error of omission or commission that you might find.