Immanuel Kant was a freaking pimp. He’s one of my favorite philosophers because the guy was so stupidly smart and logical, his writing can actually make you smarter just by reading it. It's difficult to not come across as pretentious when bringing philosophy into gaming, but the purpose of this feature is to have fun with a mental exercize, not to get into some pseudo-sophisticated pontificating. The fun here will be taking the brilliance of Kant's logic, applying it to videogames, and running with it to see what might happen. I mean, just look at the guy, don't you want to know what he's thinking?
One of my idle hobbies is to apply Kant’s categorical imperative to things in everyday life, just for the fun of it. Kant, being the pimp that he was, figured out a method for determining the ethical nature of an action purely through logic. He thought that worrying about whether God said something was right or wrong, or whether it caused the least pain to the least number of people was a fuzzy, imprecise way of measuring ethics.
The categorical imperative asks you to consider an action you’re about to take, and then extend it to a universal maxim. Here’s my favorite example: Let’s say you’re considering stealing something. In order for it to be “okay” to steal something, you’d have to turn it into this maxim: “Stealing is permissible.” Notice that there are no circumstantial parameters. Basing it on circumstances like how much the thing is worth or who you're stealing from is fuzzy and subjective. To Kant, that's not good enough. Since everyone is equal, you have to think of it like this: if it’s okay for you to steal this thing, it must be okay for everyone to steal anything at anytime. So what happens if you follow that to the logical conclusion? If it’s permissible for anyone to steal whenever they feel like it, the actual concept of property becomes meaningless (how can you own something if anyone can take it away from you?). And if property is meaningless, then you can’t really steal it, can you? The concept of stealing implies the concept of ownership. The ethical proposition logically contradicts itself, and so therefore stealing is wrong.
Okay, so all of that is pretty tricky to digest all at once, and I don’t blame you if you say, “Wait a minute, that doesn’t quite make sense to me.” Part of the problem is that I’m not as pimp as Immanuel Kant, and not nearly as smart, so I’m not the best at explaining it. If you want a really strong explanation, just go here. Got it? Alrighty then, let’s have some fun with Kantian ethics and videogames!
What we’re going to do here is look at some behaviors related to games that have been controversial in discussions. I guarantee you feel strongly about at least some of these. The fun part will be to imagine what happens if we apply the categorical imperative (somewhat imperfectly) to videogame behaviors. So what would happen if a certain behavior was permissible? That everyone decided to do the same thing?
Cheaters must think it's not a big deal that they do it. They're just having a bit of fun, so what's all the fuss? If we apply the categorical imperative to their actions, it would mean that it's okay for everybody to cheat, all the time. Let's imagine that world. The most common form of cheating is to download and use hacks created by actual hackers (most cheaters don't know how to program hacks; they just purchase or download them for free). Since videogames are essentially coded sets of rules, and hacks rewrite those rules, we'd have a world where nobody is actually playing the games that developers designed. They'd be playing entirely different sets of rules, determined by the hackers. Since there are different types of hacks available, amongst the cheaters there would still be people playing different rule sets within a single game. Would that mean that some cheaters would accuse others of using "unfair" cheats? Somehow I doubt they would see the irony in this.
Above: "My cheating is totally ruining your game, even though our controllers are plugged into our buttholes"
I'd also bet that today's cheaters would say, "That would be great! Then us hackers would be game developers! We'd be writing the rules!" In a way, this would be true. Yet there would be further consequences of this. What would developers do, knowing that the rules they write into games would just get rewritten by everybody? Videogames, as collections of rules written and sold by developers, would essentially become meaningless. If everyone cheated, games would potentially stop being made altogether, because what's the point? It would be like trying to make a movie or write a book when you know the audience is just going to rewrite it as they see fit.