Winning at all costs…and the death of honour

Anger, hatred and violence have always been a part of human DNA. That’s why every society has a system of justice and mechanisms for punishing those who transgress against the laws of society.

Those laws are the ‘big sticks’ that make it possible for so many aggressive humans to live in close proximity to each other, but there are cultural laws as well. Concepts of equality, honour and fair play are the ‘soft’ laws that make us want to obey the big stick laws because failure to do so means that we risk being ostracized by our peers.

Or it did when I was a kid.

I remember playing some kind of make believe conflict with the neighbour’s kids. There were four of us in total. Joseph was about my age – eight – while his sister and brother were a couple of years younger.

Joseph was a bit bossy and he made me want to beat him, just because. So I came up with a brilliant plan whereby I would trick Joseph into thinking that I was on his side against the two younger kids. In reality, I’d set myself up as the ‘leader’ of the younger kids. I guess they were a bit sick of their older brother too.

We carried out my plan and the plan worked. We won, but I will never forget the look of contempt and betrayal I saw in Joseph’s eyes.

Triumph evaporated, and I stuttered something stupid like “but it’s just a game!” Only it wasn’t just a game, and Joseph knew it; lying and cheating are lying and cheating no matter what the reason.

I learned a life changing lesson that day, and it boiled down to one thing – the end never justifies the means.

That concept was taught at the Catholic primary school we all attended, but it was not until that awful day that I realised why the end doesn’t justify the means. It’s because of what it says about us, and what it does to us.

If you believe that certain, reprehensible actions or even illegal actions are ok because of X, you will eventually come to believe that winning justifies anything and everything. Winning means power, and power trumps honour any day because honourable people rarely win.

It’s a circular argument that has gained more and more adherents as neo-liberalism has taken hold all over the world. Money means power, and power is now the greatest ‘good’, so anything is justified so long as it makes money. Here in Australia, the Banking Royal Commission revealed just how much our financial institutions have taken that concept to heart:

‘Declaring that “choices must now be made”, Justice Hayne also referred some of the nation’s biggest company names to regulators for possible criminal or civil action for the way they treated their customers.’

And while expediency gradually became the greatest good, honour devolved into a pathetic concept fit only for ‘Care Bears’.

Remember them? The cute little cartoon bears who solved problems by doing good things?

I watched a lot of Care Bears videos when the Offspring was little, but these days, the name has become a perjorative, especially in the gaming community. Care Bears are seen as weak players who can be bullied without consequence.

Is that an ethical shift brought about by the games being played? Or do those games reflect a society that no longer values compassion and honour?

I’ve never seen myself as a Care Bear because I will always fight back if attacked, but I won’t cheat. Ever. If I can’t win by honourable means, I’d rather lose.

And this brings me to the anger that prompted this post. Yesterday, I discovered that ESO [Elder Scrolls Online], a game I have loved for a couple of years now, actively encourages something that I can only describe as ‘suicide bombing’.

No, not the real world kind of bombing, the PVP equivalent. PVP stands for ‘Player vs Player’, and as the name suggests, players get to fight each other instead of fighting computer generated monsters.

Back when I started playing MMOs, roughly 20 years ago, PVP was supposed to be the only real test of a player’s skill. In some games, it probably was. In others, especially those that allowed ‘open world pvp’, it became a way for players to gang up and terrorize lone players. This kind of behaviour even has a name: ganking.

Yesterday, I learned from a fellow Guildie [member of a guild of players] that in ESO PVP there are a couple of built-in skills – i.e. deliberately created by the developers, not just ‘exploits’ created by the players – that allow players go invisible, sneak into a group of opposing players and…detonate their armour, ‘killing’ a lot of players at once. This is, apparently, a winning strategy.

I was shaken at what this said about ESO and the players who used this strategy to win. Being kind of naive, I assumed that all of my Guildies would feel just as shocked. Some were, and piped up in agreement. Others said things like ‘you don’t have to use it’ [meaning the suicide bomber tactic]. Others must have felt a little shame because they came back with the old ‘its just a game’ response, or, ‘just because I kill people in game doesn’t mean I kill them in RL’ [Real Life].

That last comment made me see red and I said something about how normalizing such attitudes can have real life consequences. The example I gave was the pathetic excuse for a human being who planned and carried out the New Zealand massacres not long ago.

Someone piped up with “surely you don’t believe video games turn people into killers?”

The one that really threw me though, was a dismissive, “oh is that all? We have incidents like that every day”.

I’ve never believed that video games turn kids into homicidal monsters, but the normalization of violence in real life, and the need to win at any cost, which is reinforced by many of these games, is a form of conditioning. It validates the individual’s wants, right or wrong.

That lack of empathy or care for others was demonstrated in a newspaper article back in April or May in which the writer basically said that his grandfather was in his eighties and wouldn’t mind popping off to save the economy…

Politicians here, and in other Western countries, have not been quite as blatant, but the emphasis on the economy at the cost of lives has been clear. And no one from the mainstream media has connected up the dots and said “hang on, so you don’t care if the elderly die?”

What continues to shock me is not that politicians can be so callous, but that we, the public, don’t rise up in protest. We accept it as a valid argument.

When did we lose sight of fair play, and justice, and compassion for the weak?

When did we forget what being honourable actually means?

When did we stop caring?


About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

39 responses to “Winning at all costs…and the death of honour

  • robbiesinspiration

    I think that violence in video/TV games does have a bad effect on people. They become indifference to death and I think this programming of the mind does carry over into every day life. I don’t like it at all. Visuals are also more powerful that the written word. I’ve always said that when you read a book you are limited in the extent to which you can imagine a scene that is outside of your experience or field of reference. It is different when the visual is provided to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Yes! I especially agree with ‘when you read a book you are limited in the extent to which you can imagine a scene that is outside of your experience or field of reference.’
      The visuals make all the difference, as does repetition. This will sound a bit silly but…I used to be really, really scared of spiders. As many online games include spiders are dangerous things to kill, I gradually overcame my fear of spiders. I still don’t like them but it’s no longer a wave-hands-in-the-air-while-screaming type fear.
      If games can desensitize me to spiders, they can also desensitize the vulnerable to violence.
      I believe ESO introduced this element into PVP to pander to a certain type of player. Keep that player playing and the monthly subscriptions will continue to roll in.

      Modern capitalism: no conscience, no responsibility, no ethics.

      Liked by 1 person

  • marianallen

    Great post. Is the tide turning? Because two of the Netflix shows I’ve binged this summer, Russian Doll and The Good Place, emphasize the importance of caring about others. Yeah, I know, I’m living in a fool’s paradise. But .. what if I’m not?

    Liked by 1 person

  • CarolCooks2

    Ahhhh, Meeks, I learnt way back when I started work for the government that those who wear ties and sit in boardrooms are no better than common criminals at times…It has unfortunately gone on for centuries and is getting worse but is it? Years ago there was no internet and games were played in real-time but what happened during those games was it any worse? I don’t think the games have got worse I think our complacency has…I fear for the future for my children and my grandchildren but the only I have is that they are kind and they have raised their children to be kind..Kindness is not weakness and they know that…Well done for airing your views which show just how accepting the men have become xxx

    Liked by 1 person


    I wish I had more good news Meeks but it is only ourselves who we can rely on to behave with integrity, and if we’re fortunate, our nearest-dearest and hopefully more rather than less of our compatriots. Unfortunately it seems the further up the power-money chain the more self interest and a different sort of accountability comes into play.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Widdershins

    It started when $1 became worth more than a human life.

    Liked by 1 person

  • roughwighting

    i will never stop caring, and neither will you. And one of the things (out of many) that I like about blogging is finding out how many like-minded (caring, honest) people are out there who would agree with all you say here. (But honestly, I haven’t thought of the Care Bears for a long time – but it was fun to watch with the “off-spring,” huh?) 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  • D. Wallace Peach

    Scary, Andrea. I worry about the callousness that seems to be invading US sentiments as well. Trump leads the pack and has sanctioned blatant racism, child abuse, greed at all costs, and violence. The virus is allowed to run rampant because it kills old people and minorities at a higher rate than other demographics, because he wants to win at all costs. I also don’t think that video games turn people into killers, but I do think they can offer clues into RL trends. And that’s frightening.

    Liked by 2 people

    • acflory

      Yes, you’ve put your finger on it – game developers give us what they think we /want/.
      Movies are fairly regulated, so their message is more diluted, but in games it’s open slather.

      There’s something else as well – ALL of the Guildies who supported me are female. I didn’t realise it at the time, but thinking back, I realised that not a single male supported me. Not one. Yet I can’t believe that all of them play PVP much less employ that obscene strategy. I suspect the fear of being called a Care Bear runs deep. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • D. Wallace Peach

        That’s an interesting observation. It never ceases to amaze me that fairness and kindness are considered “weak.” And violence in all its forms as well as self-centeredness are considered “strong.” When actually being fair and kind requires much more strength. Women are so much braver, aren’t they?

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          Exactly. I think we have that strength because putting someone else first is the core of the nurturing process. It can’t all be about ‘me me me’ when we have responsibility for a child, or an elderly parent.
          Not saying men don’t self sacrifice too. Many of them do, but for most, the stereotypes are rigidly strictly enforced. A man can leap into a burning house to rescue a kitten, but it’s not ok to tell another man off for beating his wife or kids.
          My Dad was very much a man’s man, but he broke all the stereotypes. He was a hands on Dad long before it became a ‘thing’, and he knew who he was and what he was worth. He didn’t need to constantly impress others.

          I still remember a time when I was growing up and we were playing table tennis with friends. I was /very/ good at table tennis, but Dad was better, and we both knew it. Yet to make /me/ look good, he pulled some shots that I knew he could have aced.
          Almost everything I know about strength of character and honour and /courage/, I learned from Dad. Unfortunately, he probably set the bar too high. I expect a lot from myself, and from others. Not always a comfortable thing in a relationship.

          Liked by 1 person

  • Candy Korman

    A sad commentary on the loss of fair play, honesty, loyalty to ideals (over individual leaders) and most of all the scary prospect of a future when cheaters and liars are the winners! U.S. politics is a horror show already and the future is up for grabs. Will the winners be the players without rules?

    Liked by 1 person

  • cagedunn

    Maybe because we don’t see real justice anymore. We see different rules for a group, we see liberties that apply for a clique. If there is no justice seen to be done, it’s much easier for people to think it’s fine to make any form of payback have the value they want. Even if it’s only a game to start with. Normalising responses.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      I think that’s a big part of it. If an ordinary Joe Blow pinches something worth $100 he might end up in jail. If the CEO of a company allows that company to steal millions, he may get a slap on the wrist from shareholders, but the law just shrugs.
      I’m sure this is nothing new, but the lack of stigma attached to individuals /is/. And I can’t work out when our attitudes changed to the point where /we/ just shrug. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • cagedunn

        When we had king’s and king’s men, or maybe before.

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          lol – I’m not /that/ old! Seriously, I remember when a company caught doing something reprehensible would have become a major scandal, at least here in Oz. And the repercussions would have been enough to deter other companies from doing the same thing. Or perhaps it simply made them hide it better?
          I don’t know, but I suspect that people my age are more likely to be shocked than whatever the 20-somethings are called these days.

          Liked by 1 person

          • cagedunn

            When mining companies got to ride rough-shod over other interested parties because they had friends in the right places, perhaps?
            The pig-pen has always been outfitted with a trough for those who know who to ask for grub.
            One example is the Mining Law of 1872 and the reclamation Act — but how many of these companies actually undertake the reclamation once the ore runs out?
            None, the government has to step in because the companies find some way to wriggle out of it, and the government doesn’t fight too hard because of the GDP effect of mining.
            Crooked words and self-interest have always been more important than the general well-being of the serfs, whatever they may be called in that age.

            The companies that ‘got caught’ doing something reprehensible were the ones used as scapegoats — there were many, many others who got missed somehow, even though what they did was clearly visible.

            A question to ask: why is it so hard to live through the process of whistleblowing? The consequences fall on the small, not on the large. The employee gets the skids, the company goes on.

            Sorry, I don’t usually comment on politics or repercussions of such, because it annoys the bejesus outta me, but couldn’t resist. It’s been going on forever.
            I’ll stop now.

            Liked by 1 person

          • acflory

            Don’t stop! I admit I’ve been incredibly naive for much of my life. I believed that, of course companies would be honest, the consequences for not being honest would be too high. I believed that governments might get things wrong sometimes, but mostly they had the nation’s good at heart. I believed that yes, there were bad apples in every bunch, but most people were good, decent, honest human beings…

            I’m not kidding. I really was that naive. When I read Kim Stanley Robertson’s scifi book about evil corporations, I thought he was exaggerating for ‘effect’. That was about 20 years ago.

            I didn’t start seeing the world as it is until the GM explosion. I started doing my own research into the whole thing and discovered Monsanto and the role it was playing in the commercialisation of genetic engineering.

            Even now, there’s a part of me that can’t quite believe that things have become as …sick as they are. I’ve always been a Pollyanna but I’m finding it very hard to see any silver linings lately.

            Liked by 1 person

          • cagedunn

            What hasn’t changed is the lack of factual information coming from the people and corporations who benefit by people not knowing the whole story. there have never been silver linings. that was the myth.

            Liked by 1 person

          • acflory

            -sigh- you’re right. But it’s still hard to admit because I should have known and didn’t.

            Liked by 1 person

  • Matthew Wright

    I always think the loss of moral compass is incremental; people don’t realise they have drifted, as each new shift is ‘normalised’. It becomes obvious if we directly compare things (say) 30 years ago with today, but hardly anybody does. And when human life is monetised, as it has been, it’s not hard to then make value-calculations about its worth. The sad part is that this has become so normalised across the globe, of late, that – as you say – nobody notices or rises up in horror when somebody makes a rational cost-benefit analysis on that basis. And that is the horror part: a logical and rational calculation is being made; the problem is that the premise is a moral void.

    I think this end-game mind-set was implicit in neo-liberalism, though, even when it began. Years back – when I was a twenty-something lad and neo-liberalism was first being introduced to NZ, a similarly twenty-something ‘policy analyst’ from the Inland Revenue Department turned up at my flat, socially – he knew one of my flatmates. He openly declared that the sooner all pensioners died, the better, because they were just bludging off the state and they were just a worthless drain. What’s more, he had absolutely no concept of just how wrong his idea was at every level – no notion of the ethical void he had plunged into with his ideology. This was where ‘policy analysis’ had gone, even at the turn of the 1990s. Gaaaah!

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      -shiver- At an intellectual level I know that some people, maybe a lot of people, lack not only a moral compass but also the empathy to go with it, and yet…it still shocks me. It shocks me that people like /that/ have become the movers and shakers of our world. And it horrifies me that they do it so openly.
      There are monsters loose in the world, and they wear ties and sit in boardrooms and houses of parliament.


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