I never realized, until reading this, how important the “character alignment” system of AD&D was in my own thinking about ethics:

Personally, I know that some of my earliest thinking about moral philosophy came about through heated discussions about the Character Alignment Graph in the AD&D Players Handbook. Where earlier versions of D&D mapped the moral code of individuals in the game as Good, Neutral, or Evil; AD&D was a little more complex:

advanced dungeons and dragons character alignment chart

For the uninitiated, “Lawful,” is just that, someone who follows the letter of the law. “Evil,” represents complete self-interest. “Good,” shows a concern for the greater good, for the community over the self. “Chaotic,” represents a total disregard for rules and dogma. For a twelve-year old, this is pretty heady stuff.

I have for sometime decried the blinding limitations of a binary value system. As an artist, even value systems that allow for shades of gray seem limited for mapping the whole of human experience and action. I think we would be far better suited to discuss ethics if we could see it as a color wheel, rather than black and white, or even gray-scale. I suppose it would be too much to hope for a culture of such sensitivity that we could even conceive of a value system based on the Munsell color solid. But the philosophical/artistic/gamer in me thinks what such a system lacks in playability, it more than makes up for in verisimilitude.

Still, when discussing ethics with other gamers, I have taken for granted that I had a model which allowed me to discuss it in “color,” rather than in “black and white.” It is only in writing this post that I have put this all together, and realized why I have such frustration in discussing moral issues with non-gamers. It is because in this arena, like so many others, AD&D is like a Common Tongue (or Lingua Franca for non-gamer academics) for discussing simulation.

Full Story: Honky Tonk Dragon.