How Responsible are Players for in-Game Behaviour?

I love games because of how they allow me to explore different ideas in a safe way. In the real world we obviously have to live with the consequences of our actions, and so most of us take care to ensure we don’t step on anybody else’s toes. I love role play in particular as it allows me to escape myself to see what it’d feel like if I had a different mindset. I really enjoy playing imperfect characters because I find them to be the most interesting as they undergo a journey to overcome their shortcomings. My characters don’t act with the best intentions towards others either. Normally I’m a very reserved person. I mask my feelings a lot, and so it can be cathartic being somebody else that can express themselves without fear of the consequences. I like games with a lot of agency too, because of how it allows me to think through the possible choices from different perspectives. Being a creative person also influences how I like to play.

If I’m playing on my own it doesn’t matter what type of role I want to take. In a multiplayer game however, my preference for troubled characters can be a problem for others to deal with. In turn, the mindset of wanting to game the system and go for something overpowered can intrude on my own engagement with the story. I’ll never play a character that I think will be a problem for others in terms of gameplay, but I will make decisions based on who they are in respect to how they deal with NPCs. Ideally the players wouldn’t take that personally and disagreements would be kept between characters, a backwards and forwards that could actually be fun to play. It’s not so easy for some because they create characters similar to themselves, and this makes it difficult to separate the connection. I’ve been in situations where I’ve found myself on the receiving end of a guilt trip for a decision I made as a character. For example, I might have betrayed an NPC but was made to feel like I’d actually hurt a real person. I think it’s a shame because it prevents you from being able to enjoy a full role playing experience. It has certainly left me feeling wary of what I can and cannot do in game.

It’s not just in role playing games where I’ve experienced this problem. Even in games where players are in competition I’ve been left feeling awkward as if I’m culpable for the types of methods I use to achieve victory. For example, in some strategy games there are several ways to win, some more peaceful than others. I feel uncomfortable trying to go for conquest victories against friends and it affects the way I play. In Civilization I made a silly decision that lost the game for me because I split my army to attack both of my friends at the same time so that they couldn’t accuse me of picking on any one person. It would have made more sense to take one out at a time, but I didn’t want to force somebody to sit out earlier than the rest. I don’t think someone can be responsible for destroying a city though. It’s just a part of what that game is and when you agree to play you do so knowing that it’s a possibility.

There are lots of things we are responsible for as players, such as insulting others, cheating and generally impeding on another person’s ability to enjoy a game. If someone is putting you down a lot in-game then chances are that they’re not a very nice person in real life either, but if they make an aggressive decision in terms of the game itself then they’re not really accountable for that. For example, one of my characters was being disrespectful towards another’s beliefs (they’d been so unlucky that they’d lost faith in the gods), but I’d never do that in real life. There are moments when it can be difficult to know where to draw the line because in some cases it might not be fun to be on the receiving end of certain behaviour, but it’s still within the game’s rules or story to allow it. You could also argue that if a person is always attracted to the more aggressive roles then perhaps it’s an indication of their mindset in real life. Although I choose to play the roles I do because they are different to me, and that can be more interesting to play while also allowing me not to be too personally involved. I don’t think it’s fair to make a person feel bad because of a decision they made in a game as it’s not real. I do understand however, that for some people it can be difficult not to be too emotionally involved. In this case it’s important to remember that the feelings of the people you’re playing with are still more important than what’s happening in the game.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments about how responsible you feel we are for in-game behaviour. Have you ever tried to play with someone that took things a little bit too personally and how did you deal with that? On the other hand do you think games should be encouraging us to only play positive roles?


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About wallcat

I have a strong passion for computing. In particular programming for which I am able to use a variety of languages including C++, Visual C#, Blitz Basic, Actionscript 2.0, Python and Lua. I also enjoy web-design and have some knowledge of HTML/CSS, PHP/SQL and Javascript. As well as programming I have a strong background in art and enjoy drawing in my spare time. When I’m not sat at my computer I like to keep fit by going to the gym or using my exercise ball.

7 responses to “How Responsible are Players for in-Game Behaviour?”

  1. Lori L MacLaughlin says :

    That’s an interesting question. I know I’ve made certain decisions in games because I didn’t want to hurt another person’s feelings. And there have been instances where I’ve played more aggressively and won, then felt bad because of the way the other person reacted to losing.
    I think if you want to play a certain type of character, you should be able to do that without being made to feel guilty because of your choices. If you tell everyone up front at the start of the game that this is the type of character you want to try out, they should all either agree and respect that and not take it personally or speak up if they have a problem with it and say why.
    True role playing is exactly that — playing a role. Pretending to be someone else. People should be allowed to play villains if that’s what they want to do. Just because they do doesn’t mean that personality will spill over into real life.
    Anyway, my two cents’ worth.

    Not to change the subject, but there’s a blog called Princess of Dragons that’s doing their A to Z theme on Pokémon. It’s pretty interesting. It’s at

    • wallcat says :

      Thanks for the advice. That’s a good idea. I’ll try giving them a heads up later on as to what to expect from my next character to make sure that it’s ok. I’ve always had a fascination for the villains in stories. It’s the side of Star Wars that I prefer for example. I feel like those characters that had a brush with the dark side are more interesting because of what drove them to go that way. Redemption is a cool theme to explore too. Even if I’m not a villain I don’t want to have a perfect character that doesn’t have any doubts or fears.

      I have that same problem of feeling guilty when I win too often or by using more aggressive means. This feeling heavily influences the way I play games. I thought that was me being weird as I hadn’t met many others with such reservations. It’s not a nice feeling because you don’t want to lose either, but neither do you want to upset the other players.

      That link is really interesting, thanks for sharing it.

      • Lori L MacLaughlin says :

        I agree about villains being interesting. One of the villains in my story ended up being my favorite character.
        That guilty feeling is why I don’t play board games that much, particularly with my kids. I’m competitive and I like to win, and I don’t like to feel guilty about it when I do win. I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t believe in throwing games to make others feel better. Games should be played fair and square and whoever played best or got luckiest wins.
        I’m glad you liked the link. I enjoyed reading through the posts.
        Have a good week!

      • wallcat says :

        It’s an impossible situation because it could be just as offensive if they found out you held back, but then if you play to win they’ll also get upset about it. The thing is, I do feel guilty a lot if people don’t respond to me well in case I did something really wrong. It’s not reasonable to get too upset with your friends over a game though, but I can understand why when you’re really engaged during play. I struggle to detach myself sometimes.

  2. Doone says :

    It’s an interesting question because we know the answer, but we want to hear something less damning 🙂 I’d argue this way:

    We are responsible for how our actions make other’s feel. Fantasy, reality ….feelings don’t make this distinction. We know that, right? Feelings and emotions don’t make those distinctions. That’s why it’s called a “feeling”. It’s not induced by whatever we think reality is. It’s induced by our own understanding of the joy and pain we are causing to those we interact with.

    I lose games all the time to friends I know can’t beat me and I have friends who do the same. It used to ruin the fun but then I got older. It does no such thing. The only reason any one of us would do such a thing is because we value the idea that others feel good around us. Things we do which go opposite of that make us feel guilty. It’s not the players who are making you or I feel guilty. It’s our own knowledge that we don’t want to be known as people to avoid because we’re mean or rude or whatever. We want to be liked and/or appreciated. Barring any mediating experiences “out of character”, in-game behavior *is* an indication of how we might be in meat space. We may *think* we separate those things, but what we’re really doing is being who we are but believing that there’s no consequences for it because it’s not “real”. Except there are consequences. Many of us just reject that idea out of hand so we’re able to keep believing we are that “other” way, that “real” way. But it’s the same person. You are who you are, location doesn’t change that.

    I think games are a perfect space for experimenting …but I think we conflate this with the idea that they should make us feel *good*, not bad. We should experiment in game, even with the things that make us feel bad. Like you say, it’s a safer space to experiment. But we shouldn’t forget those are real people we interact with and they have every right to judge us based on their experience during that interaction, especially strangers (they have no other knowledge of you — how could we expect different?:).

    • wallcat says :

      Your comment was a really interesting read, thanks for sharing. Our thoughts and feelings are real regardless of what triggered them (I tried to get my head around this in previous posts I feel bad if I accidentally respond too strongly to something in a game, I guess because of the ‘it’s just a game, it’s not real’ attitude. You’re right, I feel guilty a lot because of the knowledge that we want to get along and be liked. I often feel like I’m the caretaker within the group because as soon as I sense things are starting to get out of hand I’ll change my decisions based on what will be preferable for the other players rather than for myself. I’m usually the first to withdraw and I’ll secretly manipulate some of the mechanics to ensure they’re having a good time. If I feel like they’re not getting enough chances to interact with the game I’ll come up with an excuse to sit back and let them take over (‘my character is suddenly overcome with fatigue from that last obstacle, they’ll hang back now while you take the front.’) It can be rewarding in co-operative games to play in this way, but a different matter if you’re competing against each other.

      It’s an interesting thought that games don’t just have to exist to make us feel good. It’s a bit too restrictive on our ability to be creative if we’ll only allow certain emotions to emerge during play. I guess I need to learn how to sit more comfortably with it myself. When playing on my own it’s fine, but with others I’m too aware of what they might be feeling. We started roleplaying recently and it’s a balancing act I’m struggling with (I have felt some tension as a result.) It’s trying to make sure the players are happy, but not holding back on story elements just because it’s challenging for them (emotionally as well as in the mechanics.)

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