By James Rocha
Since this is my first post on the blog, allow me to start by introducing myself. I am a mostly maxed out Town Hall 9 (just L10 walls and heroes left), Level 119, co-leader of Socialist Union. I go by "Roachman." Oh, and in my spare time, I teach and write philosophy, but back to Clash.
Clash of Clans is the forerunner to a new type of game whose sole purpose is to take over your life. Quite literally. The game punishes you for logging off. No one can attack you while you are in the game, so if you keep playing, you are perfectly safe. There is a six hour limit, and, of course, when you hit that six hour limit, you can't help but feel ashamed that you just played six hours in a row. Still, at the same time, that's six hours of not being attacked! Thankfully, I have a job where I can keep the game open while doing other things (you just have to touch the game once every few minutes, which is not at all distracting to philoso-- sorry, had to go touch the game… where was I?).
All of this is by way of introduction, leading to a point about ethics. My point though will not consider the ethical relations between the game makers (Super Cell) and the players. Those relations are fraught with numerous difficulties (the characters are surely racist and sexist with only one interesting choice having been made [PEKKA], and the method of collecting money from players is contentious at least [you don't have to pay to play, but the game incentivizes your payment through multiple clever strategies within the gameplay]). Perhaps I will return to those issues in a later post, but this post concerns the ethical relations between players, which is perhaps less fraught with seriousness, but more philosophically interesting.
When I first began playing Clash, I had a horrific realization. The gameplay has three parts: a single player game against computer-generated goblins (which is a limited and silly game), a multiplayer game where you raid the villages of other players, and clan wars where your clan engages in war with a clan of similar strength. While one can avoid the goblin game and choose not to engage in clan wars, the multiplayer game is a necessity: even if you raid no one, your base will be raided.
Now, I hate being raided. You work hard to build up your loot, and though there are restrictions on how much someone can steal from you, it still stings to lose a big chunk of it (let's say, for simplification, they could take around a third, combining the multiple places they can steal it from, each with its unique percentage of possible loot loss). But, of course, if I hate being raided, then so does everyone who I am raiding.
So, is it immoral to play Clash of Clans?
Quite possibly. Now, you could avoid raiding others, but given that you will be raided and given that raids are the best way to grow, it would be a poor game if you did so. So, I consider this problem to be a serious threat to the ethical permissibility of the game.
Quite fortunately, a solution has developed. And, this is what I really think is interesting: ethical practices have arisen without much room for massive coordination (sure, there are chat rooms, but the number of players of this game is in the millions, and the number of people reading the chat rooms is a significantly smaller subset).
To explain the ethical practice, I need to go into just a bit more of the gameplay. "Winning" in the multiplayer matches is picked out in three different ways: (i) you destroy 50% of the opponent's base; (ii) you destroy the Town Hall; or (ii) you destroy 100% of the opponent's base (for a complete win). Once someone has defeated your base in any of these three ways, you are given a shield. A shield means no one can attack you for a given amount of time (for simplification, let's say you get a 12 hour shield if (i) or (ii) occurs, but a 16 hour shield if (iii) occurs).
Back to the point. Me and the millions of other players in the game have come to an unspoken understanding. If you want a shield to limit your attacks, you give up your town hall (TH). You place the TH in an undefended spot, and that leaves open three possibilities:
- Your opponent attacks your TH, takes the win, and leaves your loot intact while giving you a shield.
- Your opponent attacks your TH, takes some of your loot, but gives you a shield.
- Your opponent takes your loot, but ignores your TH, and gives you no shield.
It is clear to me that there's something quite praiseworthy about 1, and something quite blameworthy about 3. After all, in 3, your TH placement is communicating to your opponent your desire for a shield. Your opponent can grant that shield with ease, and at no cost (it ensures your opponent the victory to take your TH). So, to perform 3 is to recognize your opponent's request (there is, after all, no other reason to leave a TH defenseless unless you are asking for a shield), but refuse to grant it, even while taking some of your opponent's loot. 3 involves engaging with another human in a way that causes that human some harm, and completely disrespects that human's desires. The performance of 3 is an immoral act -- but an immoral act that is only definable through this game. More on this later.
On the other hand, 1 is praiseworthy in a straightforward fashion: you have read your opponent's communication and have met their desires in a mutually beneficial way.
The hard question, then, is 2. In 2, you have met your opponent's desire (given a shield), but you have also taken more than your opponent had hoped (taken a percentage of loot). Yet, it strikes me that this is fair insofar as it is within the realm of reasonable hypothetical consent: given that your opponent has agreed to play the game, and given that the game requires losing some loot that you were unable to protect, then it is a fair, though not desired, action for the attacker to take.
Okay, so I know what you are thinking: "What's your point? Can you get to the point, please?" Wow. I figured you were thinking that, but, that was really abrupt. Fine, I've been going along for awhile here, and it is time to get to a point. So, here it comes...
The interesting thing is that these moral relations only exist within the game. There is no written set of rules, nor are the situations easily found within real life and then merely placed within the game. Instead, multiplayer video games allow us a peak into how moral relations develop within a given set of contexts. I am not claiming this theoretical notion is a novel one, but I do want to note how interesting it is to think of it within video games. After all, we all talk about the ways in which moral notions are developed and interact with certain circumstances, but this rarely plays out in front of our eyes. Unless we are involved in a massive video game community, where we are unable to communicate directly, but must form moral norms.
So, that was my point. That, and I really hate it when people attack me and don't take out my TH. Please stop doing that. It is immoral.