As the gaming industry has continued to evolve over the past three decades, a greater portion of video game companies are gradually incorporating unregulated, persistent monetization practices, including microtransactions and “loot boxes”, into the framework of their gaming products as a means of generating larger profits from consumers. On a surface level, one could ascribe John Stuart Mill’s moral theory of utilitarianism to rationalize a stance against their implementation. Within this context, it would most likely lie with the idea that these specific monetization strategies are unjust because they directly contribute to lesser happiness amongst the individual playing such titles. Unfortunately, the willful contribution of collectively large funds to video game companies through such methods by the player themselves encourages them to sustain monetization techniques in the foreseeable future, implying a lack of correlation between video game monetization practices and happiness levels.
Especially in a capitalist society that provides autonomy to the consumer, one cannot simply decry the practices of businesses and companies as “evil” without consistent legal or ethical justifications to substantiate the claims, and in the case of this scenario it stands to reason that a lack of prominent regulation and consumer compliance (or reluctance) allows these practices to maintain themselves. Therefore, I have chosen to introduce an applicable theoretical model for the purpose of this situation. On the whole, the use of continual monetization practices within video game entertainment is staunchly dangerous and unharmonious, due to the fact that its implementation heavily fosters dissonance and fails to quell it on a literal and metaphorical level, which I believe to be the fundamental rooting of morality that distinguishes the principles of right and wrong action, and an optimal defense for this specific judgement.
The Main Argument
As previously stated, I find the understructure of morality to be inexplicably tied with the need to alleviate and minimize dissonance amongst people. In simpler terms, it amounts to reducing the tensions that we experience towards others, and whatever actions will contribute to those circumstances is ultimately preferential.
Before proceeding with the rationale in the context of video game monetization practices, it is important to briefly distinguish this description of morality founded by dissonance, and the concept of “moral dissonance”. In the case of the latter, moral dissonance is largely confined to measuring and interpreting the internal state of mind of a specific person or character, largely in regard to decision-making and personal standard, whereas this description has a preemptive focus on dissonance amongst humans with consideration of internal and external circumstance.
Additionally, the concept of dissonance is largely associated with terms like inconsistency or tension within the vernacular, often used to compare the disunion amongst two actions or ideas. There also exists a precise meaning for the term tailored to the lack of harmony in music or sound, However, the employment of the word will commit to its general description as it holds greater relevance in the discussion of morality. In the landscape of society, there lies dissonance amongst the populace on a political basis, typically stemming from differences in belief surrounding the optimal means to govern. On a macro scale, it is more readily associated with common paradoxical statements in literature and history, such as “war is peace” or “separate but equal”, which poses two contradictory ideas against each other.
With the clarifications established, the heart of this theoretical model to determine moral judgement asserts that individuals should act in a manner that contributes towards a state of mind and society that minimizes dissonance; in other words, the means necessary to reduce tension, strengthen authenticity, and increase harmony amongst ourselves, not necessarily by achieving peace or unanimous thought, but by fostering an environment that prioritizes tolerance and personal freedom. Essentially, it attempts to balance the needs of the individual and collective whole that cultivates functioning in congruence with one another. Most importantly, the model operates on the principle that the context and rationale of one’s actions prefaces the action themselves, with the condition that it fulfills the need to lessen dissonance.
Tying back to the beginning, I chose to label prolonged video game monetization practices as dangerous and unharmonious in reference to this theoretical justification, in service of the dissonance that it fosters amongst the individual and others. While the severity of microtransactions in gaming largely varies from game to game, their application poses the tangible issue, as the implementation of microtransactions themselves is largely contradictory to the essence of gaming as a whole, prompting a greater sentiment amongst consumers of “pay-to-win” rather than “play-to-win”. This is because in most circumstances, microtransactions are utilized as a means of blocking off content from players through paywalls appearing within the game itself, and often calculated to appear at critical or vulnerable moments of gameplay, such as a game over or player disadvantage. Aside from the apparent intrusion to gameplay that microtransactions pose, the true danger lies with the idea that microtransactions have the capacity to directly manipulate the player’s exposed state of mind by attempting extract money as an alternative, exploitative effort to ease an internal dissonance artificially prompted by the individual.
However, video game monetization practices also remain unharmonious by heightening tensions between the consumer and the business. Despite the financial success that companies such as Electronic Arts have obtained from microtransactions, their reputation lies amongst the worst in the gaming industry, particularly as a result of the recent controversy surrounding “Star Wars Battlefront II” and its use of predatory monetization tactics. Due to the conflict between the intense consumer distrust of Electronic Arts and prosperity and intentions of the company, therein lies an unwavering dissonance that would only contribute to more conflict in the future rather than resolution.
With regards to the theoretical model proposed, there exists a substantial criticism that require acknowledgement: rooting the theoretical foundation of morality on the basis of minimizing dissonance is not definitive, providing an heir of subjectivity in concern with its interpretation and application. Therein lies two prime assumption that bear great importance to the model: that individuals can fully grasp the consequences of their actions in the service of reducing dissonance, and that individuals will act based on rational foundations.
Because the theoretical model identifies one’s intention in consideration of themselves within society as the driving force for morality, one could argue that determining action upon those merits provides too much autonomy to the individual, as their perception of dissonance (and its minimization) holds the potential to vary significantly. Someone might argue that a culturally homogenous society is more synonymous with minimizing dissonance than a culturally diverse one for example, or perhaps the unpredictability and variance of humanity itself is incompatible with the theoretical model. This prospect is particularly troubling for people that favor a degree of adamancy in decision-making, in which Immanuel Kant’s moral theory of deontology would provide superior accommodation.
Imagine the following scenario: the government has the capacity to monitor its citizens’ activity at any time of day to reduce the incentive to act outside the confinements of the law. From one perspective, the government could employ the theoretical model to justify its actions through the claim that surveillance reduces dissonance by ensuring the utmost protection of the people from physical or emotional harm, and claiming that it does not infringe upon personal liberties. Despite this justification, a citizen living under those conditions could manifest an equally viable rationale, in that the constant supervision strengthens dissonance because it indirectly restricts the willingness to behave in a certain manner and establishes false sentiments about any individual’s character.
With both positions in mind, it begs the question of how someone could make a definitive moral judgement on the matter using the theoretical model proposed. Do the government’s actions better serve to minimize dissonance because of the conditions they establish? Or does the people’s outlook outweigh that of the government’s because they feature a greater support base? Such divisive situations could potentially serve as justification for those against the principles of this theoretical model for morality, simply due to the lack of standard it provides.
In light of the suppositions that arise from the flexibility that the theoretical model provided, basing moral judgements around dissonance within the individual and amongst the society provides the absolute certainty that discourse and judgement would be founded upon strong rational and ethical grounds, in that the guiding principles of morality would serve an underlying commonality amongst the population regardless of conflicting beliefs on the surface level; the freedom to justify and shape our moral principles would prove more conducive to humanity at large, as it compliments and factors the circumstances of our immediate environment and the world at large. The mere existence of divergent thoughts and values amongst people contributes a wealth of new perceptions and judgements that cannot be fully encapsulated by a set of definitive standards without exception.
It must also be considered that some of the acts that are widely considered unethical or immoral can itself be rooted in subjective agreement and compliance. Considering this, the theoretical model elects to scrutinize the basis and consequences of our actions rather than the immediate connotation associated with them. As such, the act of lying is commonly viewed in a negative light, but if someone chose to lie in service of a greater good or truth, the purpose of the individual’s actions is considered with greater weight.
While one can speculate about the premier conditions required to foster harmony and diminish tension, the theoretical model of moral judgement posed prefaces the minimization of dissonance, which establishes the prerequisite of acting within a manner that is feasible. Utilizing the example of cultural homogeneity as a conductor for reducing dissonance, establishing those conditions is nearly impossible in countries that are heterogenous in some capacity without surmounting to intense conflict or methods that enable dangerous consequences that are largely difficult to justify.
And before all else, morality under these operations does not serve to function as an unwavering canon that proclaims how one ought to act or how one ought to conduct themselves within society. Rather, its open-ended nature conversely summons the motivation to develop personal judgements and critically distinguish the right from the wrong from the basis of experience and thought. To reiterate, to reduce dissonance amongst ourselves is to develop confidence in our ideals, to ensure foundation within our judgements, and to flourish within an environment that mutually reciprocates and cherishes the defining foundations of life.
Transition and Revision
After further review of this essay, it is imperative to further clarify the prominent terms that form the backbone of my overall argument (i.e. dissonance, harmony), while proclaiming a firm moral standard to encapsulate my claims. This lies in the notion that the paper contends an argument that undeniably features a loose interpretation based on the wording. In order to realize these intentions, I find it important to cement each significant concept with additional examples that better supplement their meanings within the context of my moral theory aside from the analogy proposed with microtransactions in the gaming industry. Tonally, it will be portrayed in an assertive manner that emulates greater confidence. The last portion of the essay suffers the most in comparison to the entire paper, doubly as a result of the abstractness of my arguments and the passiveness of my wording. Hopefully, many of these adjustments will enrich the original essay by providing greater clarity in my thoughts and subsequent communication with the audience. This will prevent misinterpretations of my rhetoric throughout a reading and establish terms that can be clearly assessed, challenged, and debated. In more concise words, the crux of my argument surrounding dissonance as a moral standard will be applicably exposed.
Following through on the first promise, the term “dissonance” refers to the existence of inconsistency, which can additionally be comprehended as the presence of contradiction. Furthermore, “harmony” would represent the alternative side of a dichotomy with dissonance, a state lacking inconsistency and fostering congruity. Bearing these definitions in mind, I also find it important to clarify that the framework around my moral theory is not explicably tied to our experiences of emotion, because impressions of emotion can arguably be attributed as reactions to the conditions transpired within the environment. Therefore, someone responding angrily to the barista at a Starbucks for crafting their triple-espresso peppermint mocha without whipped cream would not be the heart of the dissonance; the actual inconsistency is that the peppermint mocha lacks whipped cream even though it is advertised to include as such. In a twist, the displeased individual is hoping to correct the dissonance felt by pointing out the barista’s mistake so that it will hopefully be corrected. Tying back to my qualm with “loot boxes” in video games, it is not my negative attributions of exploitation that are the source of the dissonance. Rather, it is that “loot boxes” are unregulated within the gaming industry despite the fact they can feasibly be constituted as gambling, which only those above the age of eighteen at minimum can participate in. In an attempt to diminish the contradiction present, I would argue this specific point and advocate for consistent alignment between the gaming industry and the law. Both of these analogies feature one significant principle that maintains the foundation of this argument: it relies upon people conducting themselves in a way that contributes to the resolution of dissonance present within the circumstances established and maintained by the society at large.
To best substantiate this specific argument, I plan to address the concept of free speech as a brief application of the ideas expressed prior. Understandably, the essence of free speech does not appear an optimal means of maintaining a society with minimal dissonance. After all, some will contend that restrictions upon hateful and controversial vocabulary would serve to quell certain notions of dissonance that specifically create emotional stress amongst those impacted, precautioning chaos and tension. This specific example is legitimately founded in a degree of truth, particularly in regards to the projected consequences noted by utilizing such rhetoric. However, there is a stronger case to be made that in actuality, free speech is unquestionably essential to wholly conceive the moral thesis I have advocated for. Fundamentally, free speech is simply a means; it enables individuals to discuss ideas and thoughts in an open forum, with the capacity to cultivate understanding amongst each other in spite of disagreement. This last detail is extremely important to the notion of minimal dissonance, as the mere ability to speak candidly creates opportunities to not only acknowledge the various perspectives that individuals hold, but comprehend their underlying foundations. It also vests responsibility in the people to act rationally with well-conceived intentions to strive towards a more harmonious state.
The abolishment of free speech, therefore, does not allow for such conditions to exist without severely obscuring the means to reduce discord. Imagine this prospect: a fraction of the population genuinely believes that women are inferior and deserve to be treated with less dignity than men. A much larger portion of the population, including myself, find this assertion problematic and contradictory, because it wrongly implies that your biological sex alters your worth as a person. Now imagine that speech directly undermining women was banned. Under most standards, my moral theory would assert that people attempt to alleviate this dissonance by actively promoting and justifying the reasoning for treating men and women as equals. But if those people aren’t allowed to speak their minds, what would there be to correct? Just because someone cannot state their dissenting judgement does not prevent said person from realizing it in an alternative manner. Put simply, it would create a society in which people cannot discern the true intentions of others without potentially more disastrous consequences, heightening tensions and diminishing the need for a moral framework to exist.
Without further question, the case made near the conclusion of my paper regarding the flexibility of my moral theory requires elaboration upon the nature of the flexibility that I refer to. Specifically, I mentioned that centering the moral framework around the concept of dissonance allows for people to shape their own views based on personal experience and reference them as a basis for morality and its application. A major criticism obtained from peer feedback was that the lack of a permanent standard prevented the moral theory from establishing relevancy and prompting meaningful adjustments from individuals to align their actions with the moral theory proposed. Given the way this argument was worded, it is evident why it provides the impression that the premise is not bound by conventional standard. This partially expressed the intentions I desired, but accidentally extends itself to the entire structure that the moral theory of dissonance is founded upon.
To clarify any misunderstanding, I am asserting that a moral framework that utilizes dissonance as its core lends itself a generous amount of freedom in its interpretation. The purpose was to maintain that not all beliefs and views held by people are inherently right or wrong. For example, two people could rationalize conflicting views on abortion that are founded upon legitimate evidence. Situated in terms of dissonance, one could argue that abortion should be outlawed in order to maintain the idea that life should be protected and provided an opportunity to exist, and another could reason that abortion must remain an option to uphold the freedom of the individual to control the physical circumstances of their being. Because there is no definitive position to take based on the foundation for each argument, one cannot help but develop their own judgement on the issue that is most consistent with their view of minimizing dissonance. This remains consistent with the insistence that while dissonance has a clear definition to base itself upon, the succeeding application of its interpretation will deviate regardless.
Imbued within these conditions, however, are three standards that one must follow to align themselves with the moral theory supposed. Firstly, no actions must be carried out by the individual without proper justification. Secondly, said justification must serve to ultimately maintain accountability or enact change that resolves the existence of contradiction. Finally, attempts to minimize discord should start with reasonable employment of means that generate less unrest before solutions that carry greater turbulence. For the purpose of displaying and testing these conditions at their most extreme, I will demonstrate what would be required to resort to war as a means of minimizing dissonance, given war could easily be labeled the embodiment of chaos. Of course, a strong reason to contemplate war would be required (i.e. a corrupt regime that exploits its citizens and dehumanizes them). Someone desiring to instigate a war solely for the sake of it would run against the moral framework and would be condemned. Following that, the pure intentions on such reasoning require wholesome efforts to end the corrupt regime and supplement it with a government that fosters human rights and freedoms. If resolving this conflict cannot be accomplished, or if there are ulterior motives that compromise that reasoning, war would not be permitted. Moving towards the final process, there ought to be demonstrations of alternative methods (i.e. deliberation or sanctions) that avoid escalation of violence of chaos when possible. There are specific exceptions where solutions involving dangerous means are prioritized, such as when a nation’s sovereignty is under an immediate threat of terrorism. Otherwise, war cannot be rationally considered an option until less server options are exhausted.
While war is certainly an extreme subject to run my moral thesis across, I certainly believe it nevertheless remains applicable to virtually all decisions and judgements that an individual will make throughout their lifetime, even if it is something as small as determining how to approach a barista at Starbucks if they happen to forget the whipped cream on your holiday drink. With more concrete reasoning and greater clarification for the concepts discussed throughout my description of a moral framework around dissonance, I sincerely hope that it can be further comprehended, and even challenged, in order to appraise its rationale and test its applicability in an individual’s life, or the context of reality itself.