Historically Authentic Ethics in Video Games

An enormous challenge in creating a historically authentic video game is simulating the contemporary ethics and value system. When the game is set in a historically traumatic situation, the stakes are even higher. A conscientious developer must represent a person’s available choices and their consequences, forcing the player to use an unfamiliar ethics system. Yet, the developer must preserve the player-character’s agency to engage the player.


The ethics system is foregrounded in Crusader Kings II, as reviewer Peter Christiansen notes. I was particularly fascinated by the nuanced way the developers incorporated the seven sins and virtues, enriching the immersive experience and educational value. However, you play a head of household: the epitome of traditional history. What might happen if developers explored history from below? How would a peasant’s available choices fit into the game’s ethical framework?


Verdun and Drama in the Delta focus on less enfranchised characters. In Verdun, a World War I soldier dies for rushing out of the trenches alone and, conversely, a squad does better after playing together for longer. This teaches the player to work together and shun personal glory, as trench warfare did. According to Mark Sample’s review, Drama in the Delta restricts the player’s path, but the historical situation provides ample opportunities to simulate agency within a restrictive society. Hopefully these developers rise to the imaginative challenge of refining the games’ ethics systems as much as Crusader Kings II in order to deepen players’ experience of being a traditionally disenfranchised actor.

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