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Argothian Treehouse

with Andy Van Zandt

Ethic Proportions - Part II

This time we're focusing on morality and how it relates to magic.  If you
haven't yet read the first part of the Ethic Proportions articles,  it might
be wise to go do that now.  As a refresher for those who did read it,  the
philosophy of morals is concerned with what is "good/right"  and what is
"evil/wrong",  and ethics are the standards you set for your self, 
guidelines for behaviour which are often based on your moral beliefs.

In magic,  there are several places which jump out to most people as obvious
moral issues.  Topping this list is cheating,  and is often followed by
stealing.  We'll touch on cheating first.  This comes in a wide variety of
forms,  from intentionally misrepresenting what a card does to inadequately
tracking your life losses on purpose,  to drawing extra cards or,  as was
displayed this weekend,  allegedly replacing cards in a sealed deck and
forging the judges signature.  Now whether or not this is true,  it is a
good example of moral standards.

Let's assume he's guilty.  This means he made a pro-active decision to
cheat.  Now while it could be argued that it's a matter of ethics,  that he
thinks cheating is wrong morally but that he chose to cheat because his code
of ethics allowed him to,  I would argue that in most cases where you
approach a situation intending to cheat,  you don't think it's wrong (this
is all inferred and speculation btw,  i've no clue what he was thinking). 
Keep in mind that you can understand that other people think something is
wrong, and know it's against the rules,  but still not think it's a "wrong"
or "evil" action.  Some people think in any game or sport,  if there's a way
to gain an advantage it should be taken,  that this is not "wrong"
regardless of whether or not it breaks the rules of the game.  To win is the
goal,  regardless of whether or not you followed the rules in order to win.

When someone makes a reactive decision rather than a pro-active one,  that
is often more an issue of ethics...  let's say there's a howling mine in
play,  and you accidentally pick up three cards off the top of your deck- 
but your opponent doesn't notice, and you decide to keep the extra card. 
You're reacting to a circumstance,  the opportunity presented itself to you
to cheat,  and although you think cheating is wrong you weighed the
potential auto-loss of the game for confessing the mistake vs. keeping the
card and getting an advantage instead,  and chose to keep the card.  Such a
reactive instance in most cases is a matter of your ethics,  weighing
consequences against your guidelines, and making a choice.

Now say you block someone's 5/5 with your lowland tracker,  then cast an
instant to give it +2/+4.  Then they shrug,  scoop up their 5/5 and put it
in their graveyard.  You know that it shouldn't die.  This particular
instance is reactive also,  but there are some more things to consider:  To
some people, it's a game,  your opponent errored,  and they have to cope
with it.  Some would even tell themselves that the opponent is just
misrepresenting the card, and that you can assume it's still in play in your
mind without telling them that they need to represent it being in play.  To
some people,  they see the opportunity to cheat without much risk of being
caught and they take it.  The former make it an issue of morals (although
the ethics of not telling them is something to consider in addition to the
"cheating" itself),  the latter is an issue of ethics.

Now that I've talked in circles for a while, here's a few questions:
Is cheating wrong/evil?
Which times do you opt not to inform people when they've errored, and what
justifies it in your mind?
If, instead of accidentally drawing cards off the howling mine,  you
intentionally drew the third card,  what prompts you to pro-actively cheat?
I'd be willing to wager that if you really examine that,  you'll find that
while reactive cheating can be classified as ethics or morals separately, 
pro-active cheating most often stems from the moral belief that you take
what you can get,  that's part of the game,  or something similar.

Speaking briefly of stealing,  while most people will jump to say that
everyone knows stealing is morally wrong, and thus the issue is ethical,  I
would point out that some people feel they are "owed" something by society, 
or by the people who are jerks,  or they just think that it's a persons
responsibility to watch their stuff and it's their fault if it gets taken. 
To these people it's not morally wrong (in general).

Now my personal beliefs are that any game or sport should be played within
its boundaries to be fair,  or to be true to the sport.  If you're breaking
the rules to win you're basically playing another game,  not the one that
everyone else is playing.  Thus if you win,  you haven't really accomplished
anything.  It's like making a touchdown on a basketball court.  That's my
moral stance (in brief) on cheating.  I think lots of people have a similar
view,  and lots of people just think that cheating and stealing is wrong but
they don't really evaluate it further.  Most of this article I've been
playing devil's advocate to point out that not everyone operates under the
same premises.  I'd like to encourage you to evaluate why you think things
are wrong or not wrong,  to understand yourself and perhaps take into
account the mindset of the people you're playing with in addition to your

To be concluded in part III...


You can reach Andy at:

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