Evil avatars on MMORPGs and Our Moral Compass

Edward Castronova discusses whether the “Horde” in the enormously successful massive multiplayer online role playing game is genuinely “evil” and if choosing an evil avatar shows a moral failing.

To choose orc, it was said, does not carry with it any particular moral or ethical baggage. It was a matter of playstyles, tastes, personal interests.

Goodness, I could not disagree more. My view is that in a social game, these choices are laden with all kinds of implications for personal integrity. Avatar choice is fraught with broader meaning.

Two concrete examples of where the choice matters:

1. I am a father. A guild of colleagues chose to play Horde. I rolled an Undead. My son (age 3) was afraid of my character. He was afraid of the Undercity. And that’s just from the imagery – he would know nothing of what the Undead actually do in terms of kinapping, imprisonment, and torture. He’s afraid, and he should be afraid, and as his father, my only defense in this frightening choice would have to be that I am just trying out evil, just getting to know it, just using evil instrumentally for some greater purpose. He abviously can’t grasp that now, but even if he could, these are the only possible justifications for me to inhabit such a wicked being. And my point is that the inhabitation would indeed require justification. If my undead warlock were an extension of myself, something I was pursuing for mere enjoyment, then it ought to be a troubling question for me, sholdn’t it? Why am I finding pleasure in expressing myself in a form that frightens 3-year-olds? My assertion is that this is a genuine and significant moral issue that everyone who chooses an avatar needs to think about. Morally compulsory.