The Ultima: Age of Enlightenment series is a rich entry into the fantasy genre. In addition to serving as an innovative model for early computer role-playing games (CRPGs), the series practically invents a genre of what can be called “ethical gaming,” as it insists on a commitment to virtuous activity in order to complete and master the games. Compared to more linear hack-and-slash or CRPG of the period, the Ultima series not only offers an unusually involved and difficult experience, but also makes explicit and even mandatory ethical and moral dimensions that many saw earlier role-playing games as lacking. However, rather than merely encourage the player to conform to the moral expectations of the game by following procedural rules, the series brings into question the political and spiritual affiliations of virtue. This paper attends to the development of the Age of Enlightenment trilogy—Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (Origin, 1985), Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny (Origin, 1988), and Ultima VI: The False Prophet (Origin, 1990)—as a series of games that both encourage ethical behavior and later offer a critical examination of the ethical basis that the earliest entry in the trilogy advocates. At the heart of the Age of Enlightenment series is a distinction between absolutist ethics and virtue ethics. In the vein of its most eloquent advocate Immanuel Kant, absolutist theories of ethics begin with principles, duties, and rules that are fundamental and transcendent, and which the moral actor must follow. It is a normative and regulatory system, and exists prior to experience. Virtue ethics challenge the emphasis on duties and rules, instead stressing the importance on motive and character. In this paradigm, “sensitivity, experience, and judgment would seem to make general theories unnecessary and unhelpful” (Slote, in: Skorupski (ed) The Routledge companion to ethics, Routledge, London, 2010, p. 479). Or, as Welchman (The practice of virtue: classic and contemporary readings in virtue ethics, Hackett, Indianapolis, 2006) succinctly phrases it, for virtue ethicists, “the question of how to act is more important than what we should act for” (p. ix) She adds, in a phrase cannily suggestive for those who have played Ultima, “moral judgment is not essentially the application of a moral ‘technical manual’ to life” (p. xvi). In the intriguing narrative developments over the course of the Age of Enlightenment trilogy, that “moral technical manual” can be invented and exploited by those who rely on its ability to maintain an unchallenged hierarchy that depends on the principles it contains. And when those rules are applied unilaterally or cross-culturally, they are revealed to be inflexible and even inapplicable, a realization embodied in the narrative and rhetorical transitions I will show occurring between Ultima IV to Ultima VI. More than just a highminded game, I argue that Ultima makes an argument about virtue through what Bogost (Persuasive games: the expressive power of videogames, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2010) calls its procedural rhetoric. To play the Age of Enlightenment series is to grapple with the question of whether morality has relative or transcendent foundations, and the game introduces compelling arguments only to later challenge them.
The Computer Games Journal – Springer Journals
Published: May 11, 2017
It’s your single place to instantly
discover and read the research
that matters to you.
Enjoy affordable access to
over 18 million articles from more than
15,000 peer-reviewed journals.
All for just $49/month
Query the DeepDyve database, plus search all of PubMed and Google Scholar seamlessly
Save any article or search result from DeepDyve, PubMed, and Google Scholar... all in one place.
Get unlimited, online access to over 18 million full-text articles from more than 15,000 scientific journals.
Read from thousands of the leading scholarly journals from SpringerNature, Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford University Press and more.
All the latest content is available, no embargo periods.
“Hi guys, I cannot tell you how much I love this resource. Incredible. I really believe you've hit the nail on the head with this site in regards to solving the research-purchase issue.”Daniel C.
“Whoa! It’s like Spotify but for academic articles.”@Phil_Robichaud
“I must say, @deepdyve is a fabulous solution to the independent researcher's problem of #access to #information.”@deepthiw
“My last article couldn't be possible without the platform @deepdyve that makes journal papers cheaper.”@JoseServera