When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say to say about who we are and the world we live in.
Should mature gamers feel guilty for committing virtual crimes? This question drove me to play PayDay: The Heist, a game where the player takes part in virtual bank robberies and other various heists.
There are two common answers to this question and neither really gets to the heart of the issue. On the one hand its a game—completing PayDay’s various heists does not actually require one to commit crime. The person who is too young or too immature to parse fiction and reality should not be playing videogames about bank robbery. That should be obvious, but common Christian objections to videogames often run along these lines. Christians tend to object to such games by asking, “Why would you do something in a virtual world that you wouldn’t in the real world?” “Aren’t games like this just fantasizing about sin?” These objections fail to realize how foreign videogame “worlds” often are to our own. On the other hand, as videogames become more lifelike they begin to bear more responsibility for how they depict lifelike events.
The environs of PayDay are largely believable—banks are clean, modern, and full of civilians while gang hideouts are dirty, dingy, and full of thugs. The tools you use to conduct your heist—drills, explosives, and guns—are realistic enough. These elements beg the question—is this more a crime-simulation than it is a “game”? If so, is PayDay teaching us to enjoy criminal activity?
When I first started playing, I was surprised by how quickly the game turned violent. When one of my accomplices held up his gun and shouted, “Everybody get on the ground now,” the bank security guards immediately started firing their guns at me in the presence of countless civilian bank customers. For me, this act completely ruined the illusion of a real-life heist. Though I was in a very lifelike setting with seemingly lifelike people, any illusion of reality was quickly broken. I was very cognizant of the fact that what I was playing was a game—a set of rules and objectives and little more. And PayDay constantly reminds me of this fact—I can take an inordinate amount of bullets without dying and whatever urban city I am in has an enormous police force that constantly acts in obvious disregard for the safety of its citizens. The civilians of PayDay are largely unconcerned about their own safety—they will often not take cover until you command them to despite the deadly war zone that has taken shape around them. And while my accomplices are equipped and trained to use all the latest and fanciest gear for breaking into vaults, they are incredibly dim-witted as they are constantly running out in front of me while I am firing my gun. The game’s nods to reality are broken so often that I can’t imagine anyone viewing PayDay as a crime simulator.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At their very core, this is what all games are—sets of rules that we abide in order to accomplish a stated goal, typically for the purpose of enjoyment. If we were to replace PayDay’s security guards and law enforcement officers with mindless zombies or hostile aliens or terrorists, I would not be writing this article, no one would be interested in this discussion, and the game would remain essentially the same. This is not to say that games cannot be meaningful beyond mere entertainment—I merely want to point out that most games are not and PayDay certainly isn’t. Honestly, PayDay isn’t likely to move anyone to contemplate the human condition or reflect on what drives a man to a life of crime. It will, however, provide an entertaining gaming experience that the mature gamer can enjoy with friends. When reality was broken for me in the world of PayDay, I certainly enjoyed it. I was not deeply troubled by my virtual crimes in PayDay, if I were, I would reveal my “reality” to be far more broken than that of PayDay.