This is a post about Dark Side, Renegade, and demanding refunds

I don’t like to fight.

I don’t become angered easily. I don’t get aggressive quickly. I don’t relish arguments, or even winning them. I feel guilty about “beating” people, even in verbal spats, if I win handily.

I’ve never pushed a mercenary through a thin pane of glass to a multi-story death drop. I’ve never executed a runaway mage who was begging for their life. I’ve never run the hot, glowing edge of a crimson lightsaber through the neck and spine of an adversary on their knees.

At least not in real life. In video games, I’ve done all of those things. And I had emotional reactions to all of them. The concerns are that these acts of violence in games are cavalier and committed without rational thought, but in these examples I thoroughly considered my actions, and found it entirely rational to send people to their death.

I did those things because I was playing a character, and sometimes the characters I play are really mean. It wouldn’t make sense for me to do those things in real life, but it does make sense for my characters do them occasionally, depending on the characters.

My personal beliefs and morality system don’t always come with me when I play a character in a game. They can transfer, either partially or totally, but as I’ve written about before, there’s a lot to be gained in the experience of role playing by adopting the paradigms of the fictional avatar you’re stepping into, even (especially) if you’ve created that character’s fiction.

Additionally, practicing that kind of self deception can become a useful tool if “getting into character” is something you have to do often, or have trouble with depending on certain “characters” required of you in real life.

In my own life, I feel a measure of unease with nonphysical confrontation. I believe in self defense, physical and otherwise, and oppose physical aggression (like most people), but there’s a part of me that sees arguments and verbal confrontations as unscheduled nuisances that I don’t fear, but dread nonetheless because of the energy they take up.

I’m only increasing in my confidence to aptly argue a point in impromptu verbal bouts, but my taste for them isn’t developing any. Even when I win – the other person in a red-faced stupor, all out of rhetorical ammo and upset – I usually feel bad. Normally competitive, in the realm of something as pure as ideas, the altruist in me comes out and I want everyone to feel at least partially validated (everyone gets a ribbon in my arguments, like second grade).

But modern society isn’t geared for my pacifist tilt. In arguments there are supposed to be winners and losers. My assertion that there should be no winners and losers, only enlightened individuals, is typically met with accusations of naivete.

We’re put in situations where you have to win arguments and despite the stubborn insistence of the polite, sometimes being nice just isn’t going to win the argument.

For those of us who seem hardwired for civility and even handed discourse, it takes practice to put on the more aggressive persona sometimes needed to get what’s fair, enforce the terms of earlier voluntary agreements, or argue against injustice.

Unfortunately, we don’t get a lot of practice. The times when a more aggressive tone is actually justified are few, leaving some of us sadly out of practice when the time comes. Our normal polite instincts take over and the more insistent win.

I’ve learned to practice different forms of aggressive rhetoric or posturing through role playing games where you can be rewarded in game for being something of a jerk, if not out right sinister. There’s no better supply of these games, than the ones from Bioware.

Bioware RPGs have all had some form of morality system. They’ve increased in their complexity so that they’re rarely as simple as “good” and “evil” but grayer areas that highlight more benevolent or selfless acts and aggressive, or more selfish acts. The Paragon and Renegade actions in the Mass Effect series are a good example, but even the familiar Light Side and Dark Side actions from Knights of the Old Republic have been enriched to contain far more subtly and nuance in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

My Imperial character in SWTOR is named Tulleus. I’ve written about him before. He can be one mean motor-scooter, but he’s (mostly) civilized. I don’t consider him inherently evil. He only represents an entity (the Sith Empire) that has a large, powerful presence and is unflinching in its belief that the power of the Emperor is justified. Naturally, he carries an assured air about him.

When I detach myself from him, to observe objectively, he really is a nasty fellow with a superiority complex. But it’s undeniable that there is a strange compelling power that he commands because he is so sure of himself.

At one point in the Imperial Agent storyline, you’re superior essentially tells you that after completing an undercover mission, you’ll be taking on a mission where your identity as an Imperial Agent is known and that you shouldn’t try to hide whose authority your under. You’re basically told to act like an Imperial and watch people run for cover.

The dialogue options you’re given are incredible. You can let people know exactly how you expect to be treated, what you want, and what you intend to do if you don’t get it. It’s almost charming how simple Tulleus can make the world seem when he knows what he wants of it. And he almost always knows what he wants, and how to get it.

Of course, in the real world, we don’t have the might of the Sith Empire behind us. We can’t always get what we want. But confidence can still be compelling, the idea of identity can still bolster our confidence, and sway others. Walking into the room like you own the place or taking a tone of voice that otherwise might be considered arrogant sends a signal (true or false) that you’re the type of person who gets what they want one way or another.

If you take your role playing games seriously, and really play your role or play it like an actor plays a character (after all, you are playing a character), then that kind of practice in gaming can sometimes pay off in your daily life.

When I have to take that meeting, or make that phone call, I like to be good at it. All of us, even those who dread it, want to hold our own in any verbal or intellectual sparring match. Especially the ones with practical implications.

We place more pride in our stances on social or political issues than we should, but it’s in the practical battles (business transactions, house hold or family administration decisions, smaller personal agreements) that we face real consequences if we lose or don’t show up to fight at all.

I started thinking of this because I’ve moved into a new house recently, and juggled headaches that come along with that. For those of you who’ve done it, you know the drill. More than a few angry phone calls have to be made just to get things corrected.

In one instance, I had some damaged furniture delivered. What happened during my calls with the companies responsible isn’t what’s interesting. What was interesting was what went on right before I called – I got into character.

I thought of all the characters I’ve played who share something in common with Tulleus – I thought of all the characters I’ve stepped into that expect to get their way. It’s not my demeanor normally, but it’s a useful paradigm when you need it to be. When it doesn’t come naturally, it’s an invaluable thing to have as a tool.

Games aren’t the catalyst for our at-will transformation, but they’re practice for it. People have been able to gear themselves up for an argument a long time before games of any kind came into the spectrum of experiences. As we’ve advanced, so have our forms of play and our play is still a way to develop and practice necessary skills.

Video games have stepped into the ancient role of stress release and learning that play has always fulfilled. Especially when it comes to going through the motions of aggression, play is crucial.

We see it in animals. Lion cubs crouch, sneak, and pounce on each other to play. They’re learning to hunt without knowing it. Unfortunately physical violence will always persist in some way, but the value of persuasion rises constantly and as humans we’re starting to learn that the person who handles himself in a heated discussion is going to go farther than the pugilist ever will.

I’m making a small observation about games helping us practice for arguments, but it nods to a larger overall theme – that games are helping us practice all kinds of things. Every time one of us notices the small details of how games are affecting us, we get closer to making games better and our society more accepting of their role in modern play.

I’ve never sat down to play a video game intending to practice anything, least of all how to argue with someone on the phone about rush delivering me a new table with a discount added on for the inconvenience. I’ve always approached games with a mind for exploring play, characters, and story.

But some of the most remarkable experiences in games are the ones that teach us something, even if we don’t realize we’ve learned any lesson until much later. As much criticism as violence in games receives (and in some cases it is deserved), playing the bad guy in games can help us learn a few tricks that, applied correctly, can be valuable in a good person’s life. Across all the Dark Side and Renegade decisions I’ve made in SWTOR, Mass Effect games, KoTOR, and other similar decisions in other titles, I never expected to learn that lesson. I didn’t even realize I’d learned it.

Until I had to make one of those calls.

3 responses to “This is a post about Dark Side, Renegade, and demanding refunds”

  1. Duncan says:

    This is really interesting both because I feel very similarly in terms of how I approach arguments in real life and in how I play RPG characters.

    I also think this post is interesting in light of your Dishonored one a bit ago because there you argue that there should have been more options of how to interact with the world and be Corvo (and essentially try to get people in Dunwall to throw off the chains of monarchy) – but here you are arguing that you are really able to get into the roles of your characters and act like they would act. Which is how I played Corvo when I just played Dishonored.

  2. Jordan Rivas says:

    @Duncan — Thanks for commenting. Unfortunately I entire missed some when I was without internet at the start of the month.

    You bring up a great point about my feeling on Dishonored. I also penned a piece about Skyrim where I touch some similar themes and also find a way to immerse myself in the character despite their differences with my real life principles.

    I think the key is how much of the character you able to — or perhaps have to — fill in. In Skyrim and SWTOR you are making your character from scratch; and in Skyrim there isn’t even the inflection of an actor to color the dialogue. To me those are purer role playing experiences. Dishonored has role playing elements, and elements of protagonist writing. There’s nothing wrong with that and there’s nothing inherently superior in a “pure role playing” game over one with minor role playing elements; they’re just two different experiences.

    In the case of Tulleus, I kind of psyched myself up for the experience because of my familiarity with the Star Wars universe; I knew I wanted to try my hand at an Imperial and I knew that while they don’t represent pure evil there are authoritarian elements that are a given. From the perspective of wanting to taste that narrative and character, I thought it would be neat. I expected it, whereas I didn’t expect the actions of Corvo through the middle and end of Dishonored. It was, however, a good thing ultimately that Corvo did things I didn’t expect as that made him a good protagonist (but not necessarily a good vehicle for role play).

  3. […] blog called Sortiv – written by writer, librarian, and blogger Jordan Rivas.  His blog post – This is a post about Dark Side, Renegade, and demanding refunds – is about role playing in games.  Stating in rather, I would say, beautiful terms Rivas says […]

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