When you think of it in real life, breeding is a complicated thing that requires time, money, and in many cases, emotional involvement. Any effort made by human beings to fiddle with “natural” reproduction has always been a matter of hot dispute. Think surrogates, invitro fertilization, parthenogenesis, cloning….! And we’re not just talking about human beings. There are tons of discussion on animal breeding– for instance, is it right to in-breed certain species to save them from extinction? How about the breeding of dogs for pedigree? Yes, breeding is a complicated thing.
Yet, in games, we take breeding for granted. But do game developers think about moral consequences when they’re designing them? Does the decision for breeding differ when the game character is a human being versus an animal or alien? I would argue: yes.
Spawning and cross-breeding
To be fair, there are multiple levels of breeding. At the very basic level, there is the “spawning” or “cloning” you see mostly in strategic games. Click on a unit and a few second later, a unit will appear. The units are all the same, they are like mass-produced robots from a factory line. Whether it be Starcraft or Romopolis, I feel very little guilt in cranking out units because they are a part of mass production. In these strategic games, I don’t even feel that the characters are characters- which is why I describe them as units– military-style.
I also feel very little guilt about breeding in games like Viva Pinata or Spore, even if the concept of cross-breeding is very appalling in real life. That is probably because the animals look very fictional and the purpose of the game is to evolve species… I don’t know how I’d feel if the characters looked like real animals.
Wild Tribe v. Virtual Villagers
Breeding, however, becomes a little more personal when I have to drag a character on top of another to make the two breed. Here is where I felt the morality kicking in. Let me compare two games- Wild Tribe and Virtual Villagers. The two are extremely similar, except that one uses animals as characters and the other uses human beings. You start out on a small island with only a handful of characters, and you have to increase your population by force-mating the characters. The biggest difference between the two is that for the humans, the characters enter a hut, so you can’t see the actual mating. When the baby is born, an adult character has to take care of it full-time until it becomes a child. In Wild Tribe, however, the animals mate out in the open. Tiny cute creatures roll themselves into a cloud, and soon another tiny creature is born. There is no sense of parenthood- all tiny creatures are equals, until they develop into a giraffe, elephant, monkey, zebra, or lion. After they become an adult, they can no longer breed.
What’s interesting though, is that while I was playing both games, I didn’t think twice about breeding the animals, yet I did when breeding the humans, because of the responsibility of child-rearing that follows as well as the thought of forcing two humans to have sex. What’s funny, however, is that in Virtual Villagers, some characters are not compatible; there is no such thing in Wild Tribe.
Breeding in The Sims
By far, The Sims has the most advanced breeding mechanism that I’ve sen so far- in fact, as I play the game, I don’t even think of it as breeding early on in the game. It’s not until you realize you’re trying to make a clan that breeding becomes important. Why create a lineage? Well you discover very early on that in order to live in a very nice, big house, you have to either 1) marry someone rich or 2) inherit from your parents. Of course, you can also earn your fortune, but it’s never the same as having a house and cash to start off with. In my ideal Sim, the children don’t squander off their parents’ fortune so everyone in the neighborhood just gets richer and richer.
So in order to pass on wealth, I found myself putting characters into situations where they get pregnant or adopt children. Getting a Sim character pregnant requires a lot of effort– two characters have to work up a romantic relationship and even if they do have sex (which can only take place in the bed or the hot tub, so you have to put them in that setting) they may not produce a child. Also, like real life, acquiring a child takes time and effort, so as a game player, you know better than to get a poor single mother pregnant.
It’s fascinating that I think twice when breeding humans, but not with animals. I wonder if it is because the game makes me think of consequences in the case of human beings, or if it’s just me putting in my own thoughts into the gameplay? What if the game developers hadn’t made the differentiation between humans and animals and you could sort of drag a Sim on top of another to create a child that would not require care? Would I still think twice?