Black or White: Making Moral Choices in Video Games

Why are moral choices in games so black and white?

by

You and your three companions step out of the elevator doors to a peaceful scene: an airport lounge milling with unsuspecting bystanders. No one has seen you, or the machine guns. In an instant it’s all over: a shower of bullets, screams, falling bodies, and blood-stained carpet. Your companions have moved on, executing those left alive. What do you do?

The emergence of morality in video games is arguably one of the most important innovations of the medium to date. Like in the above example from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, giving players moral choice is a progressive development in games that adds more weight and substance to player decisions, leading to a more immersive and satisfying experience. Whether it’s abstaining from shooting civilians while infiltrating a terrorist cell, saving or harvesting Little Sisters, or holding the fate of the Capital Wasteland’s people in your hands, moral decision making in games is becoming an increasingly popular aspect of game development.

But is it all an illusion?

Morality is not a black-and-white concept. Reality is very seldom as simple as a choice between good and evil; the spectrum of moral behaviours is as complicated and consequential as our emotions. Instead of mirroring this complexity and including moral choices that lead to genuine in-game consequences, video games often do the opposite--they present a watered-down version of moral choice that ultimately results in players having to choose between good or evil: to harvest or not to harvest (BioShock), to be “paragon” or “renegade” (Mass Effect), to kill innocents or to save them (inFamous), to have a halo or devil horns (Fable II).

In this GameSpot AU feature we will look at the problems arising from morality systems in video games, and seek to answer why morality is needed in games, why moral choice is so often just black and white, and what developers can do to change this. In Part One of the feature we’ll speak to philosophers and game theorists and in Part Two we'll speak to developers to find out whether complex moral choices are needed--or wanted---in games and how morality systems can be improved.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 deals with tough moral issues.

Morality 101

In a nutshell, morality refers to the codes of conduct that form the backbone of a society. Generally, morality is concerned with how people should behave rather than how they do behave. Morality can change over time and take on new meaning as people and environments evolve--for example, slavery was once accepted as morally permissible, whereas now it is accepted that enslaving another human being is immoral. In philosophy, morality and ethics go hand in hand: morality pertains to certain rules and codes of conduct while ethics pertains to the application of these rules in society.

Morality as it applies to video games can be thought of in much the same way. Players are most often asked to decide on a morally correct or incorrect course of action. This pertains to in-game behaviour and, in most games, is intended to shift the outcome of the game in one way or another depending on what the player has chosen to do. However, as we will see later, it is most often the case that these in-game choices have little or no bearing whatsoever on the end outcome, resulting in an insincere portrayal of morality. But why should we care? Why do we need morality in games at all, when it’s perfectly obvious that some games function perfectly without it?

Emil Pagliarulo, lead designer for Fallout 3, knows that morality does not play a role in every game. He does, however, believe that if the scope for a moral system is there, it’s up to the developers to make it work.

“If it makes sense to include moral choices, if that’s something central to a game’s themes or gameplay, and it makes the game a more enjoyable experience overall, then morality certainly has a role,” Pagliarulo said. “In Fallout 3, the struggle of people in a post-apocalyptic wasteland lends itself perfectly to a morality component, so for us, it was a must," he said.

“It’s the job of the developers to define their experience for players, and determine exactly where each system fits in. Is the game fun in a hack-everyone’s-limbs-off sort of way, or is it fun in a wow-this-game-made-me-think-and-did-stuff-I-never-expected sort of way?”

For Pagliarulo, the appeal of a morality system is to break the monotony of experiencing the same thing over and over again. He says gamers have come to realise that there isn’t a lot of experimentation or thinking outside the box in the games industry at the moment--for every LittleBigPlanet there are five first-person shooters with the same mechanics, structure, and story. But morality systems shake things up; gamers have to think about their actions and choices and, more importantly, the reasons behind them.

“I think players simply get tired of experiencing the same things over and over and over in games. Frankly, it gets boring. When morality’s involved, the simple act of shooting a bad guy isn’t so simple anymore. You’ve got to ask yourself, 'Well, is he really the bad guy? Was he maybe just trying to defend himself? Should I really be doing this?' So just the act of questioning what you’ve done a thousand times before instantly makes it different, and more interesting, and therefore, in a lot of cases, more fun," he said.

For Fallout 3 designer Emil Pagliarulo, morality in games breaks up the monotony of playing the same thing over and over again.

BioWare writer and designer Mike Laidlaw agrees that morality adds depth to games. He says that even when morality has no long-term impact in the game world, a game with a morality system is better than one without it.

“The role of a morality system is a means by which a game can be aware of the way a player is interacting with the in-game world; in some ways it’s a way for players to measure their own progress in a certain way. It’s also a mechanic that lets us realise that these choices have some weight. It helps players understand that the things they’re doing and the choices they’re making have an impact beyond the moment," he said.

“Even if it doesn’t have a long-term effect, it still forces players to think about those moments. I’m not saying that every morality system ever made is the best thing ever. I think in general, anything that makes a game more interactive, whether it’s successful or not, is good. It plays to the strength of the developer and the medium. I can’t defend it in all cases, but when it’s done with a good intent and done as well as it can be I think it makes the player engage with the game on a deeper level.”

Most games portray a dualistic morality system: regardless of context, players end up playing as either ‘good’ or ‘evil’ characters. Some games employ a ‘morality meter’ that promises to keep track of players’ in-game actions and change their experience accordingly. Sadly, this very rarely happens--most games that promise a tailor-made experience according to player choices end up disappointingly consistent and devoid of any real consequences for a player's actions. This results in an experience that feels like it has more depth but very often just has the illusion of depth. So why is morality in games so black and white?

BioWare writer Mike Laidlaw says morality adds depth to games like Dragon Age: Origins.

Peter Rauch, a Comparative Media Studies graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA, is a veteran gamer: in his own words, he’s been gaming since he was “old enough to stand on a milk crate to reach the joystick at arcades”, and he’s been studying them ever since. His last years at MIT were spent researching morality in games, looking at how moral arguments could be used in games to encourage players to pay attention and provide new ways to think about it in the real world.

“What I’ve found is that video games are a great medium for provoking discussion of moral issues among players who already think a great deal about such things,” Rauch said. “However, most games use a hodge-podge of different moral systems and when these conflict, the result can be bizarre.” Click on the Next Page link to see the rest of the feature!

Rauch believes a lot of games make use of very simplistic moral ideas, which at times can take players out of the game,though it’s all about how well the morality works in the context of the gameplay.

“Seeing certain options open up and others close off was one of my favourite things about the single-player mode in Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, and the difficulty of maintaining a consistent ethic in The Suffering made my whole experience more intense,” Rauch said. “Fable’s morality system is a train wreck, but even that made it a more memorable experience. Laughing at the fact that eating tofu helped me prepare for cold-blooded murder was probably the one saving grace of that game.”

According to Rauch, people like a little villainy with their heroism, which is why morality in games is becoming so popular. Besides adding an extra layer to the gameplay, morality systems are supposed to allow players to better identify with their characters and to some extent, begin to better understand their choices and actions in the game. But does this actually happen when players are presented with black-and-white moral choices? The problem, according to Rauch, is the limitations of the medium itself.

“In a game, actions only have moral meaning when they're attached to a symbol that plays a role in the storyline. What actions can be performed from that is largely determined by the genre’s conventions. There are certain moral ideas that just aren't going to make sense in certain genres without substantive changes to the game rules, and you're going to have some limitations in any game in which there's one win condition and one loss condition, especially if that loss condition is usually the player's death. Martyrdom is a tough thing to reward in most genres," he said.

"There are creative challenges for game developers to overcome, but this is always risky because video game production is a capital-intensive business. Games are expensive and slow to produce, and the big name titles are expected to subsidise the losses. Investors would much prefer another Halo clone over something new that might fail.”

How well did morality and gameplay work in The Suffering?

But that’s not all. According to Rauch, while moral conflicts appear interesting in dramatic situations, the simple fact is that day-to-day moral choices are usually very simple and intuitive in normal circumstances. The trouble is, video games don’t involve normal circumstances, which is partly what makes them so fun and what makes the idea of a moral system so intriguing. So perhaps one of the reasons why in-game morality tends to be so simple is that most people, including game developers and players, think about it in simple terms when presented with the abnormal circumstances of most games.

The question of whether developers should try and mirror real-life moral choices in games is a complex one to answer. This would certainly break the illusion and give players agency, but would it be a successful game? While Rauch is not entirely convinced it would, he still believes developers should experiment with the possibility.

“I think any new gameplay concept, or any new game genre, is a good thing in itself,” Rauch said. “I like games, and I like seeing them change over time. I think developers should make games that mirror real-life moral choices, and games that mirror highly unlikely, super-heroic choices, and games that imagine entirely hypothetical, otherworldly choices. These games might be boring, but I think that games like The Sims and Diner Dash have pretty conclusively shown us that any activity can be fun with the right design.”

The way to do this, according to Rauch, is to start a conversation.

“Designers, players, and especially critics would benefit from having a few long conversations about how people act in certain situations, and whether they ought to act differently. Players need to be allowed to fail once in a while; it would be nice to have some unambiguously bad choices available. Games right now seem to be stuck in a place where the consequences of player actions are entirely predictable, and take effect either immediately or at the very end of the game. Some kind of partial randomisation, or delayed effect, might help to deepen the kind of experiences we could have with games.”

Variety is the Spice of Life

Games like BioShock and inFamous have attracted criticism from gamers who have discussed the morality element of the gameplay for a number of reasons. The most important flaw cited in these discussions is that the morality systems used in these games give the illusion of meaning to a player's actions. For example, killing or saving the Little Sisters in BioShock is promoted as a very weighty and important player decision, when in reality it has little bearing on your character: both paths give you roughly the same amount of ADAM. Similarly, the "morality moments" in inFamous present a very crude and simplistic idea of morality: participating in either the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice doesn’t advance or impact gameplay in any way, other than adding points to a meter and producing differently-coloured lighting attacks. In order for morality to function properly within a game environment, developers need to pay attention to the consequences of in-game actions, making them lead somewhere instead of nowhere and using them to shape and affect narrative and gameplay.

Harvesting or saving Little Sisters was sold as a weighty moral decision in BioShock, but in the end failed to be of any real substance.

Assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Central Oklahoma Mark Silcox and associate professor of philosophy at Louisiana State University Jon Cogburn have partnered up to write Philosophy Through Video Games (Routledge, 1999), a text that discusses the relationship between philosophy and video games, and looks at how morality systems work within the game environment. The first thing Silcox and Cogburn do in the text is strongly encourage game developers and designers to study different philosophical systems of morals instead of using inchoate intuitions like ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

“If we could do one thing here, we would first require all video game designers to read one of the excellent short introductions to the western philosophical tradition in ethics,” Silcox said. “There are so many fundamental issues on which smart, informed people disagree that it would not be difficult to design games around the kinds of conundrums and tragic choices that lead thoughtful people away from thinking in such black-and-white terms. One thing we can’t stress strongly enough is that great art can’t just always show ‘bad’ acts, which leads to ‘bad’ consequences. Real life isn’t always that way, nor is great art.”

According to the two philosophers, the function of a morality system in a video game is, like all art, to allow people to imaginatively play with compelling possibilities in a safe manner, experiencing what it is like to be a very different person in a very different situation. This works by the portrayal of certain kinds of actions in games that have typical consequences, which players must react to in various ways. However, how to translate this successfully to video games is still being worked out; according to Silcox and Cogburn, players are beginning to demand something above higher scores and more loot for good behaviour.

“Some of Peter Molyneux’s more recent games were going to be something like this, where the behaviour of the character affects the interface in interesting ways, but neither of us has been very moved by the games themselves. Mechanisms like the one in Fable where you can reverse the polarity of a character’s morality just by mooching off to a temple and making a sacrifice to some deity have a horribly trite and arbitrary feel to them," Silcox said.

“We think this might be done better in games like Empire: Total War and the Civilization series. We’re also encouraged by the fascinatingly complicated systems of etiquette that have sprung up around highly social MMORPGs like Second Life and EVE Online. The more that people’s lives as gamers start to blend together with their social interactions in games like these, the more closely what happens in them can be expected to reflect the ethics of our everyday interactions.”

Developers could learn a thing or two about complex morality from social MMORPGs like EVE Online.

Something that video game developers should steer away from in trying to achieve a more realistic and textured morality system is the temptation to include real-life moral choices. Silcox and Cogburn agree with Rauch that games based on real moral dilemmas just wouldn’t work.

“It is admittedly very difficult to imagine a genuinely fun video game that mirrored the sort of everyday moral choices that most people end up being preoccupied with, e.g. whether to tell off one’s boss, how much to spend on grandma’s birthday gift, or whether to be faithful to your spouse, as opposed to whether or not to nuke eastern Europe or to spray machine gun fire into a crowd of zombies.”

One solution would be to create unpleasant consequences stem from committing morally questionable acts in games, which would heighten the experience of playing and make game narratives seem more vivid and realistic. Silcox and Cogburn believe that the representation of morality in games is more than just a passing trend, and, as games take on a more and more central position in our culture, designers will find a way to fix the existing problems.

“Game designers would be well served by immersing themselves in the debates between adherents of different moral theories in the Western traditions," Silcox said. "Might we dare to imagine a future in which video game designers actually had a place on the very short list of people whom we routinely expect to provide us with real moral wisdom?” Click on the Next Page link to see the rest of the feature!

In Part One of Black or White: Making Moral Choices in Video Games we looked at why morality is needed in games, and why moral choices are so often limited to either "good" or "evil". In Part Two, we speak to the people who set the rules by which we play, and ask them to weigh in on the debate.

If game developers begin to think seriously about morality in games and start including deeper and more complex systems in the games they create, what impact would this have on players? The 2007 Polish-developed title The Witcher, a PC RPG based on a book series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, is cited by many gamers as a prime example of a game that successfully implements a multi-layered morality system.

The game uses a system of time-delayed consequences, meaning repercussions of moral decisions made in the game do not become immediately apparent. This forces players to think carefully about the choices they make, knowing the consequences won't come into affect until much later in the game. The in-game choices are also carefully constructed to feel realistic rather than fleeting: nothing is marked as either right or wrong, so players may sometimes make an important moral decision without even being aware they've done it. This approach to morality goes beyond the simple black-and-white model, coming much closer to real life decision-making than other games. The game was reviewed favourably for this aspect, with many critics citing the strength of its replay value due to the ability to have a new gameplay experience simply from making different moral decisions.

The Witcher made use of a multi-layered morality system.

But could this heightened element of realism in games be used to teach?

Gene Koo, a former fellow at the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard University Law School, has studied video games and pro-social learning for a long time. He believes that video games should move past the one-way communication system that simply transmits values to players.

“We want game developers to think more deeply about what it might mean to include moral considerations in a game, and to the extent to which they actually have a pro-social agenda,” Koo said. “We want them to think about how to embody such values in the very system of the game itself and not just its surface trappings.”

Koo believes we’re still in the early phases of exploring how morality can work in the confines of a game environment. This is still a matter of finding the right balance between computational power (i.e. how do you account for the full range of choices that a player might make?) and artistic representation (i.e. how do you make moral choices and consequences feel artistic in a game?).

“It’s not like the bulk of other media have such deep and reflective moral worlds either,” Koo said. “The bulk of our films, TV shows and books feature schlocky, black-and-white moral worlds too. It’s just that because video games are a newer medium, they’re subject to more scrutiny. However, I don’t accept that we are stuck making morally-shallow games because the very nature of video games compels us to.”

While studying how games can teach, Koo recognises that they don’t need to. Just like Portal helps us look at the laws of physics differently without actually teaching us anything about real-world physics, so too can in-game morality help us look at real-world values and behaviours in a new light. Koo feels there’s more weight in video games that offer moral options without the game directly addressing it.

“Choices without in-game consequences are meaningless. This was part of the debate around BioShock. What difference to the game does it make if you rescue the Little Sisters or not? Arguably, you get more goodies for rescuing them--so are you doing the ‘right’ thing for the ‘right’ reasons?”

Games like Portal help us see things from a different point of view.

For Koo, gamess like the Civilization series are more subtle in their deliberations with morality. He says there are consequences to actions in a game, but if you’re playing the game to maximise your score, there’s no particular meaning to making one in-game choice over the other, except on the strategic level.

“For example, Civilization allows you to choose a democratic or a fascist government. Personally, I don’t find it satisfying to treat the entire game as a flat, mechanical system. I’d like to imagine (as the game fiction encourages us to do) that as a player I’m choosing a way of life for millions of my citizens. That, to me, gives the game more weight than a comparable strategy game that ignores those aspects of civilisation.”

Koo has been increasingly looking at multiplayer games as one of the most promising areas for deepening the moral aspects of games. He believes moral and ethical questions are constantly brought up in MMO guilds, using the player’s individual moral intuitions to create gameplay, rather than forcing gamers to encounter the developers’ own notions of what morality is.

“To move forward we need morality to be better integrated into the very system of the game itself. It can’t just be tacked on as an afterthought. The game needs to be built around some set of moral choices. We also need more genres of games. If a game, at its heart, is a shooter, then the deepest moral questions will centre on the action of shooting. You might come up with a range of ways in which shooting or not shooting something becomes a deeply moral decision, but frankly it will feel pretty limiting. Finally, we need a social physics engine for games that allow single-player experiences to have richer, deeper moral dimensions.”

What The Developers Say

While everyone from gamers to academics can weigh in on the debate, only one group of people can change the direction of morality in games. The decision behind what shape a morality system will take in a game is in the hands of game developers, who have the final word on what choices players will make, what consequences these choices will lead to, and what the final outcome of the game will be. As we’ve heard, in some cases a complex and in-depth morality system just won’t work, sometimes because it is unnecessary and sometimes because the game genre doesn’t allow for a deep exploration of morality. However, in the cases where morality systems have tried, and failed, the developers have a lot to answer for.

When Bethesda first looked to acquire the Fallout licence, one of the things that stood out for the publishers was the way the series handled morality. While the game's Karma system tracked players’ good, evil and neutral deeds, there was also a strong sense of moral ambiguity, meaning choices and actions went beyond the simple 'good' or 'evil'. Bethesda found this complexity convincing, and sought to implement a similar morality system in Fallout 3 that, while mechanically different, had the same spirit.

A strong sense of moral ambiguity in the first Fallout titles led Bethesda to implement a similar system in Fallout 3.

Emil Pagliarulo, lead designer for Fallout 3, says this has less to do with a well-designed morality system, and more to do with the players becoming invested in the game world.

“I’ve always felt that Bethesda’s style of games --typically first-person, with high-detail environments-- lends itself very well to this, simply because the environments are so believable so it’s much easier to get immersed and feel like you’re closer to the world and its characters,” Pagliarulo said.

In Fallout 3, Pagliarulo and his team tried to ensure the morality meter was neither fleeting nor predictable. For example, while players know that stealing from someone’s house when they’re not around will be registered as a morally bad action by the game’s Karma system, there are a lot of situations that are left morally grey on purpose. Pagliarulo says the reason for this is because he didn’t want players to feel like the developers were the ones deciding what was right and what was wrong.

“We wanted players to make their own determinations. It was a real challenge for us to try and balance all this stuff out and to provide players with gameplay that was completely morally grey in some instances while having a Karma system that tracked specific good and bad actions in other instances.” Click on the Next Page link to see the rest of the feature!

Pagliarulo believes the moral choices in the Fallout games tend to be a bit grander than other games due to the nature of the science-fiction world that, while containing believable characters, has larger-than-life themes and situations. For Pagliarulo, the real question is just how far should a morality system go?

“In Fallout 3 it’s pretty damn clear that by the end of the game, your decisions have had some serious repercussions on the world. This all sort of culminates in the game’s climax, where you hold the fate of the Capital Wasteland’s people in your hands. Do you poison the water, or leave it clean? Do you sacrifice yourself, or talk someone else into doing it? All of those things--which are all tied to the game’s morality--are pretty central to Fallout 3’s themes and gameplay.

“But would a [morality] system that goes beyond what’s been offered in Fallout 3 make a game more enjoyable? I have serious reservations about saying it would. Unless your game is specifically all about morality, I think that would probably be overkill.”

Another series that delved into morality is Fable. The first game in the RPG series was released in 2004 for the Xbox and PC, developed by Lionhead Studios and designed by Peter Molyneux, now the creative director of Microsoft Game Studios in Europe. The game was a commercial success, and was praised for its innovative concept of free will and choose-your-own-adventure-style gameplay. The point of the game was to problem solve and overcome obstacles by being either good or evil, and watching the effects of these decisions take their toll on your hero’s appearance and his interactions with those around him.

While Fable displayed an innovative concept of free will, its morality system went no further than "good" versus "evil".

While there was no illusion of anything deeper than that, Fable was also criticised for presenting a very limited view of morality. Players did not suffer long from the consequences of their in-game actions, which could easily be reversed, and had little bearing on the outcome.

Molyneux says the decision to base the game around a good versus evil axis came from the idea of wanting to allow players to be who they want to be and give them the freedom to try different things.

“For a player to think “What will happen if I do this?” is something that is unique to video games,” Molyneux said. “I think having the power to influence events in a game is very exciting. As we have experimented with this it has become less about good and evil and more about who you are as a person and what your decisions tell you about yourself.

“We are still experimenting with how to represent these choices to people. For me it is a mixture of giving people straightforward choices but also allowing them to do the unexpected, so that a seemingly straightforward choice such as saving a man’s child can become less straightforward if you opt to kill the person who has asked for your help.”

But despite Molyneux's response, Fable II presented the same arbitrary morality system as its predecessor. This system had worked well with Lionhead’s first project, Black & White--a 2001 PC RTS, which won credit for its sophisticated mechanics and innovative gameplay. However, the Fable games were aiming for something completely different: while Black & White was centred on the conflict between good and evil, placing players in the position of a god and recording their interactions with the world through good or bad actions, the Fable games introduced many more gameplay and story elements, which required a more complex morality system.

“I definitely agree that our first attempts at creating moral systems in games like Fable and Black & White were pretty crude and simplistic with just a good versus evil axis,” Molyneux said. “But in Fable II we added in other axis such as cruelty versus kindness which made it slightly more complex and compelling.

“We are trying to take this still further in Fable III with poverty versus prosperity and greed versus generosity, which means that the game’s morality system, as in real life, is the sum of these parts rather than solely good versus evil. In Christian beliefs there are only Ten Commandments, and we have continued to reinterpret what we believe is good and evil.”

Black & White was centred on the conflict between good and evil, inviting players to act as gods.

A developer that is no stranger to morality is Canada-based BioWare, well known for its high quality of storytelling and gameplay. Like other developers, BioWare began with a relatively simple morality system. A game like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic lent itself easily to a black-and-white morality system, tracking player actions and speech in order to determine an affinity for the light or dark side of the Force. Without the Star Wars universe as its backup, BioWare tried to implement a morality system of the same nature in its 2007 console RPG Mass Effect, where the emphasis shied away from pure good versus pure evil and instead focused on dialogue to determine a character’s nature. Despite this, moral choices were still fairly black and white: players would either end up as “Paragon” (if they were good) or “Renegade” (if they were bad), although the two were not judged on the same scale as in previous BioWare titles that incorporated morality.

According to BioWare writer and designer Mike Laidlaw, morality is now seen as an integral part of games with strong stories, which is what BioWare is best known for. For Laidlaw, morality is all about giving developers access to gauge how players are engaging with the game, taking it a step further from the grind of earning experience points.

“When you’re developing a story, and giving it the level of impact that BioWare always strives for, morality is needed,” Laidlaw said. “In Mass Effect, we decided to focus less on hardcore morality and more on an indicator of the way characters behaved. I think that allowed players to feel like they were evolving and growing and making a character that is consistent rather than one that is neutral, good, or bad. We’ve done one better with Dragon Age: Origins, where we’ve stepped completely away from hard morality and focused on the characters and the people around them.”

BioWare chose to focus less on morality in Mass Effect and more on how characters behave.

BioWare changed its approach to morality with Dragon Age: Origins, dropping the arbitrary morality meter and paying more attention to interactions and reactions. According to Laidlaw, each character in the game has his or her own morality that the game takes into account, meaning reactions are more subtle but have deeper consequences.

“For us as developers we can watch and learn how gamers are interacting with morality in the game. I think what we’re seeing is a hunger for more; gamers want to dive into this. It’s something that we developers are slowly refining --how do we do it, how do we pull you into the moment and make you feel like you are more than a spectator?”

Laidlaw believes the answer to bettering morality in games is to pay closer attention to the idea that characters can, and do, exist in their own right.

“It’s got to be about more than just getting to a climactic moment and then pressing A. Evoking emotions and making characters you can empathise with and that feel very real and have real motivations is the key. We’re seeing more and more role-playing mechanics creeping into other genres, which I think is very exciting. As an industry, we need to get more experience in this, get more evocative, and also understand that we don’t have to be hampered by morality when it is not needed.” What are your thoughts on morality in video games? Leave us your comments below!

Discussion

498 comments
Glongold
Glongold

One of the critical problems with these types of games is that they often reveal their weakness in the concept they're trying to immerse the gamer in their particular world. They can't possibly account for the intentions of ALL players so some actions committed by the player will undoubtedly feel forced because perhaps the player had a set of ideas (plans) to achieve a third, fourth, etc alternative to solving difficult choice issue. In other words the longer you play and the more developers try to convince you their world's "kung-fu" is better and more immersive than their competitor's, then the more likely you will become disappointed when these limitations of the game world become exposed. The man behind the curtain as to speak, is revealed and all the magic can be seen as a set of design choices from creative director at a lucrative gaming studio and less about Corvo's actions to save the Dunwall Empire from plague and ruin.


I personally think developers are wasting their time with these mechanics in part because they are trying to justify keeping many developers on board, read keep them employed. The that heavily rely on the good/evil mechanic certainly feel more like a developers test project than anything game worthy as an immersion experience.


To make matters worse, you can invest so much time believing you are on the path to the good ending only to be disappointed to learn you actually received the bad ending because of a few choice decisions along the way. Not playing a 40 hour game again when I can jump on youtube and see whatever ending I missed on purpose or not.


Scouring around the net it seems most players generally seek the good ending first because its in terms of reward the highest level of achievement. What if developers seek to make the bad ending more difficult to achieve? Why not reverse this as say saving all the targets actually leads to a bad ending? The problem is developers intrinsically link certain behaviors as worthy components on the road to a good ending and perhaps that is really the problem. You need many more anticipated links in the chain to cover your players actions that may still lead to the good ending, but that will be a very large task to accomplish.

To end this rant I'd like to say Chrono Trigger did this right when it comes to achieving an ending based on certain decisions.You choose to fight Lavos (the game's silent antagonist) at any point in history. You even fight him at the start of the game following a first playthrough on New Game+ mode. There wasn't a long drawn out process of "game" I had to go through to achieve this. Now some games allow you to save a point just before the final confrontation and allow you a single choice that would still allow you to see multiple endings at near the end of the game.


Not sure if a game out there does this or not but it would be cool if I as a player could skip all the silly side quests and mandatory NPC requests and could go straight to my end target at will whenever I want. Sure would be more difficult...but that is my choice.


ozm4n
ozm4n

Dark Souls has one of the best morally ambiguous choices for its ending. Fallout's moral code was ruined by the Karma system - your actions were either good or bad; regardless of context. The "greater good" didn't matter - it was all about the act itself. Applying a moral value (good or bad) to any absolute action is silly in the first place, but Bethesda thought it was the "good" thing to do. I found Oblivion and Skyrim more morally sound than Fallout - in TES it was simple: if you get caught committing a crime (crime as per the law - the state's stance on protecting social, economic and psychological interests - which we have learnt to accept as morals) you get punished by the state accordingly, and that's that. There was no overseeing karmic structure - you had to live with whatever actions you took - be it pickpocketing or murder - and it was up to your own personal moral values; the game didn't enforce them.

Gaming's "moral" choices have almost always been black and white. Be it through speech (always pick the most polite speech option), 'to kill or not to kill' (always pick the "let him go" option instead of killing him). It's silly and needs to be addressed. Context is king when it comes to moral decisions. Legal judges don't claim to make moral decisions at all. They only seek to protect psychological, social and economic interests. If I stole £5 from you, the courts would either make me compensate you £5 (repairing the economic imbalance I caused - thereby protecting your economic interest) or see that I am imprisoned for some amount of time (to discourage me from re-offending and protect other people from my 'thieving' ways because I'll be locked up - thereby protecting society's economic interests from me - a thief).

It's not about right or wrong - it's about protecting interests. We've formed basic moral values (don't harm, don't steal, be noble), which is all well and good, but a true moral decision will always depend on the context - and should (ideally) result in one taking the utilitarian decision. Being helpful, charitable and kind is seen as being morally "good" - because such acts (like kindness) benefit people's interests (in kindness's case, such as speaking nicely and respectfully - people's social interests). All a person can do is protect their own interests (and their families').

Take Looper for example. He refused to kill the child despite the knowledge that the child would grow up to be a murderous gangster, because of his sympathy at the time. Did he do the right thing? Fallout would say "Yes! Murder is wrong!" - OK... But what about the context? This child would grow up to be a crime-leader. Killing him would save thousands of other lives. There is no absolute moral right/wrong. It's about context.

Incrognito
Incrognito

Weighing choices based on your morality CAN be not just difficult, but also interesting when you see measurable consequences that stem from such decisions. Incorporating such a scheme in a video game means that people can experiment with their own moral code within a controlled environment and directly see the effect. For example, Fallout 3 may be based in a world far from our own (both in time and social climate), but MANY of the choices you make in that game directly correlate to REAL WORLD issues (slavery, euthanasia, charity, racial prejudice, drug use). I'm not saying all games should incorporate this. Needless to say, a large portion of players want their video games simple in this regard, as making complex decisions reminds them too much of real life, which they endeavor to escape from. But for some of us, a little complexity is EXACTLY what we're looking for. I mean, imagine a game where you DON'T have a bar that tells you how good or bad you are. You AREN'T told immediately if something you did makes you a bad or good person. A game where the only way you can measure yourself against the common morality of society is by interacting with people you personally have affected. That is my idea of a real role-playing game.

Incrognito
Incrognito

@ Khatjal Ok, so I think we get the general feeling about your overwhelming pessimism and lack of faith in humanity. But just for a second, let's not speak in sweeping generalities and assertions. First off, the average person who spends a large portion of their time playing video games is near the age of 33. If you think the majority (let's say 70+%) of 33 year-old people can't think in more than black and white, I seriously question how much thought you put into this subject. Second, people (as in most people) have to deal with gray area in their decisions on a daily basis. I'm not saying these decisions are earth-shattering, they could be as simple as the response to 'how are you'? Honestly, how many times have you THOUGHTFULLY considered that question and been able to immediately answer 'absolutely perfect' or 'kill me now'. Answering such a question truthfully can require some thought, despite its inconsequential nature, and more often than not, your answer would be somewhere far between 'good' and 'bad' (otherwise known as neutral or gray area) .

Khatjal
Khatjal

The general populace doesn't have the brain power to distinguish anything other than black or white choices. The grey middle ground is too ambiguous and not "obvious" enough for the layman. Think of your typical racist thought process. To them the whole world is black and white with few shades of grey: "This is good, that is bad... don't try to tell me otherwise". It's sad, but human nature tends to gravitate to absolutes (Ex: "God controls everything", "All these things are similar", "They're always like that..."). Adding shades of grey will make video games unenjoyable for the vast majority of people, because they won't be able to relate. ...And no, i'm not insinuating that i'm not among the vast unwashed masses of lay people. I'm human as well, and like all people I think in absolutes too.

Chrysus
Chrysus

It's great not having to be clean cut hero or Kratos style anti-hero in gaming given the correct context. It does add a breath of fresh air when you are not dictated to complete a story to save the game world or characters you may not care about. Unless of course it is Bioshock, the morality of harvesting didn't add anything to the game. I really liked inFamous' morality system. It wasn't just your notoriaty shooting up when choosing to unleash chaos when fighting your foes but it was how the game world reacted to you as a consequence of your actions. If you were loved you had people gather around you if you stayed still, taking phoos, asking for autographs, girls screaming in delight at the sight of you, praising your acrobatics/ fighting/ climbing and even trying to aid you in combat time to time. On the flip side when you were bad people ran in the oppoisite direction screaming or cowered at the sight of you and there was always one who would stand toe to toe and give you a dressing down or spat on you. Even the ability to form mobs and attack you. This was completely missed in games like Oblivion and Fallout and to a lesser extent Fable. That is the type of thing that is needed to reward morality, seeing peoples perception of you with your accolades in the game world.

EGOE
EGOE

I think it makes the game more enjoyably.

Gammet25
Gammet25

Its ncie they're adding more and more things onto the world of gaming. Hope they can keep up with such ideas.

MBJC
MBJC

I like what oblivion did, no karma system but you are treated differently by the public. If your a murderous and theiving person your treated with disrespect by people who are good and greeted friendly by those who have a lack of morality. But Oblivion was not a game focused on morality, i found fallout was.

OldKye
OldKye

Darkrobe's idea of a quiz pre game isn't a bad way of going about it but if you limit it a little bit just not as much as as they have and take out the +3 good or -2 bad it could be done without much work at all things like if i help this guy these guys die and these live or the other way round if you don't and the game never gave you that ended a good way or bad comment on it then really you just picked what you thought was right or wrong i think that's what they are really getting at leaving it open ended and taking out karma bars like in my last post dragon age makes a good step in that the only good and bad is what you think then what your party members think but it's still things like destroy the most holy of ashes or not 90% of people read into what the programs think is good or bad in that. they just need more open to interpretation kind of situations for the player to have to pick rather than a cat in the tree kind of thing how bout do i fund the black smiths or the potion masters tell they monopolize the city do i fight along side the thief's of the underworld or the smuggles things like in halo are the red team or blue team good or bad? it became a internet comedy cause it's impossible to pick unless you hate one of the colors all they need to do is make it impact the game world in some way and you can pick for yourself if you think that one of the 2 sons of almost the same right and both have the love or hate or maybe both of their people is the good or evil king

Darkrobe
Darkrobe

I think the article was well done but missed an important note in that the amount of code to do a proper morality in a game would be overwhelming. The gray area would have to be huge, not just black/white; just like in life. Such as stealing something to help someone because the NPC won't give you the item willingly due to your moral character standing; which is full of gray. Does the end result justify the means? Can you imagine writing all the code for this, plus the storyline text menus, as well as trying to gauge whether it is right or wrong. We are all individuals, and what games miss out on is that what is perceived as "good" in a game is subject to the whim of the person(s) writing the code; perhaps what I think is good is far different than the developer does and the choices presented aren't good at all; especially from a religious context (i.e. sexual relations outside of marriage for Mass Effect; which brings up the gender question as well if you chose to be a lesbian but then again the Ansari gender is comprised of both). As game development increases into the morality what needs to be done is gauging what the gamer considers good, bad, and gray; with some sort of morality quiz prior to the game to determine how the game plays out; now that would be an interesting game to play!

Scarshi
Scarshi

Driving to work to support your family: Good. Driving to work and do hit-and-run on pedestrian on way to work: Bad. Driving to work and hit a pedestrian, stop and call police: Bad/Good. Driving to work and hit a pedestrian trying to rape/mug/attack another person: Good/Bad. Everyone loves a hero, hates the villain in most stories. But realistically we can't stop wondering about anti-hero's who do the right thing the wrong way for the right reasons by their own point-of-view. Morality isn't about either just good or bad, right and wrong. Its about making the best of a bad situation or screwing up a perfectly good one. That is our reality and at the moment is just way too much code to put into a home computer or console.

Asheileon
Asheileon

@tehepicpwnzor For someone who claims to be christian you sure have a weird mind-set.

Giglioroninomic
Giglioroninomic

Irrational I think you completely ignored the fact that morality is solely a byproduct of human consciousness. There are no core values that are mutually exclusive from religion or metaphysics. Morality and ethics have their roots entirely in religion, only recently have people begun to examine the idea that there are standards that should apply universally, independent of religion. Anyway, I'm not sure what they're talking about in fallout 3. You have complete moral flexibility. If you do something evil, all you have to do is give a bum a bottle of water, or do any other good deed, and you will get karma back. Granted, doing "evil" things nets you a far greater amount of negative karma points than any "good" actions will, but it's far from impossible to go from -1000 karma points to 1000 karma and back and forth again, for anyone who actually plays 100% of the game.

dg3215
dg3215

Most moral decisions are black and white if you really think about it, unless you were raised without any.. So thats why they are in video games too, maybe they are a little more exagerated but isnt every thing else in a video game.. stupid article

tonyf55
tonyf55

Props to Gamespot for a great article... its a shame I had to search the homepage for it. It should be more prominent.

OldKye
OldKye

i think they are slowly getting better about the way they go about it like in dragon age i made many avatars each with there own way of handling things rather than good or evil at first i meant to k she's good this ones bad but soon i was making he's a soldier good at heart but will kill anyone for revenge or she only cares for animals and other elf's like in the city elf home at first giving the elf money seemed like the good thing to do but at the 3rd time he came up with friends not even trying to pretend they were in need attacking him seemed like a nice option i want to see even more depth than that and hope bioware has put some of it in mass effect 2

9thedevilmaycry
9thedevilmaycry

mostly it seems just to make it like your in the game

nteger
nteger

I retract my comment from part one of this article about not mentioning Dragon Age's morality system. Good work Gamespot!

masakri50
masakri50

great. an epic moment of a great game ruined in the first few seconds of reading. im waiting for my new laptop before i get modern warfare 2 so ive been rather stern with not ruining anything about the single player. a little warning would be nice.

s0l1dsnake007
s0l1dsnake007

I think it's fine for games to have the main goal, save the world, it gives you a clear cut picture of good vs. evil, but I think they should start thinking more in the real world much like how Dragon Age did and start letting the players natures dictate how they go about saving the world. Does my nature as a person delve into evil deeds for the greater good, or as a morally righteous person does always doing the right thing at the moment always mean I'm doing the "right thing" for the future, can there be a consequence? I think it's great for there to be a grey and ambiguitiy just as it is in real life. Think about it, if you give a homeless man a dollar you might feel like you did the right thing, but was that dollar all he needed to buy himself another drink and spur himself into further depression?

copia
copia

First off, I think Molyneux tries way to damn hard to coerce emotion out of his games. The only way you can get a true sense of morality in games is to have a good story and believable characters. And that's VERY TOUGH to do. Fable 2 was a let down. He would brag about his dog (and although it was cool) it no where near matched the emotional weight of Aeris' death, for example. Games are based in binary, 1s and 0s, hence programmers find it easy to only make morality either Good or Evil. And people, I think in general like the ease of having a clear objective, to not have to think so hard and just KILL, KILL, KILL. So I think in the end that everyone involved gets caught up in a false dichotomy of whether something is good or bad, when the focus shouldn't even be that at all. Final Fantasy, Suikoden, Deus EX, Mass Effect, hell even WoW to a certain extent, blur that line of Good and Evil; how characters struggle with their nature and how tyrants do too. As someone mentioned earlier, like most myths and stories you have to have conflict and that comes from a well defined protagonist and antagonist. It is easy. With the advent of more and more technologies, as writing for games becomes more and more lucrative we'll see deeper stories and morals, hopefully even within an even more viable indie community.

Floymin
Floymin

I played The Witcher and also participated in the forum on the developer's site. I actually asked them if the writer of the game was a sociologist, and one of them answered that several of the team came from social science backgrounds. I loved the game because the moral conundrum that was involved created characters like Lutinpofin. He expected a polarized morality system and got pwned! IMO, The Witcher's morality system was not flawed... it was deviously brilliant!

firedrakes
firedrakes

one thing i notice. was no mention of kotor 2. it had this topic in its game play

ZippyLemon
ZippyLemon

Peter Molyneux can certainly learn a lot from Bioware Less floating numbers and more subtlety please

RevJim92
RevJim92

The problem with morality in games is that games usually have you tasked with saving the world. What a game needs to do is reduce the goal of the PC, at least if it wants to do so-called "grey" choices. Because if the fate of the world is your goal, it almost has to come down to good vs. evil if you want choices. Save it or Destroy it? Have a smaller goal and your "morals" will be easier to make ambiguous.

NI_paolo
NI_paolo

I think Bioware took a step in the right direction with Dragon Age: Origins. Any developer wanting to make a game with deep moral decisions should follow DA:O's lead and get rid of the vulgar "morality meter". However for me, your decisions in DA:O are not as deep as they should be. No matter what course of action you take, the game ends with one of two possible endings (referring to either *SPOILER* Allistar's, Loghain's or the PC's death; or the secret ritual). Bioware could have invested in more possiblities for endings. Still, it's a step in the right direction. At least it's better than Fallout 3's crappy black and white "moral" system.

lutinpofin
lutinpofin

I found myself being immersed in the Witcher's universe. I took the time to weight all the good and the bad about my moral decisions in-game. I was proud of myself and thought : "Hey, the moral system is really deep but I think I figured out the best way to act in this game..." NOT ! To my surprise, I finished the game and I got one of the worst endings, they told me I acted egoïstically and blah blah... so I'm not sure if the system is really that deep or just flawed. The game was great ; but it left me bitter.

irR4tiOn4L
irR4tiOn4L

As far as im concerned morality is a proxy for a deeper understanding of actions and their consequences in the real world. Christian morality is not exactly a 'deep' system, and 'philosophizing' morality intellectualises it in a way that does not reflect its true nature either; most philosophical conceptions of ethics or morality start from a core 'ideal' (such as life is precious, survival of the species, you should not kill, divine actions etc) and shape choices and consequences in the world to fit or promote that ideal; but morality involves choice about 'core values' as well; adopting a philosophical position piecemeal is a choice itself. Morality is none of these things. Morality is cause and effect with a view to an aim. When you direct your energies to one aim, it is an account of how others will percieve this act and direct their own energies; even how inanimate objects will react and influence others' choices. It IS mechanistic, only between the most complicated mechanisms of all, life. It is also a vague and implicit choice of what 'core values' to promote (judged by hindsight). Morality is nothing less than the choice of who you wish to be and what you feel is important in life. For a game to reflect this would be both difficult and possibly misleading; morality is grounded in life, not the faux morality of imagination. Books, movies and television can and do get it wrong

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

The Witcher is the game has has probably got it most right, followed by Fallout 1 and 2. Having said that, this is the sort of article that should be on gaming sites like Gamespot a lot more. I am as fed up with the shallowness of gaming sites as I am the games themselves! It's easy to see why every open-world, non-linear, morality system based, 100's of NPC's and 100's of square miles of world to explore are released with bugs and need a patch or three. For this reason, I wish RPG's like the above were not marked down just like shooters for having bugs, and I wish gamers would give RPG's a break too! I would rather have a buggy deep RPG that needs patches, than just have easy to program corridor shooters as the only choice!

Slash_out
Slash_out

The best morality system I experienced without black and white choices was the one of Dragon Age. An exemple out of the many, many you'll encouter that stuck with me. Was when you encouter a woman asking you to kill her to end her suffering (won't spoil too much on the situation and the "why"). Do you kill an innocent to easy her/his pain? Do you choose out of a self righteous decision that goes against her own wishes to let her live to try and find another way? Or simply not do anything and let it die of her own pain?

bartimeo8
bartimeo8

ye indeed, assuming you'd be given choices inbetween black and white u'd need a more complex system to back them up i don't agree with the opinion that morality is silly though, that is just superficial probably from the usual observation that the person that seems to abide it is usually the one that gets to lose something, it may as well be one of the strongest binds to society, had it been an existing trait in everybody, we wouldn't need a boogieman over us they'll never be able to simulate this in a game, at some point u wouldn't be able to scale the choices, add an extreme amount of background detail to everything plus they'd have to include their personal opinion which could cause reactions from people

FattyPudgeMufin
FattyPudgeMufin

Morality is silly enough a concept to me in real life, but it's fun to try to emulate real-life choices in a virtual world, if only to see yourself in a different life (that is, as an antisocial bastard who takes advantage of every opportunity for loot or sex scenes). This writer seems to be discussing morality in video games under the assumption that there could possibly be a virtual world that emulates the complex moral decisions we face day-to-day. Though I doubt it's possible within the next decade if ever, the concept of guilt and empathy for an NPC on the same level of a human feeling for another human is very interesting to me. This discussion, as silly as it may seems, sheds light on some serious possibilities within the somewhat distant future of video "games."

blowtrees
blowtrees

dnrta. It's a simple answer - the less choices the player has, the less a developer has to account for when it comes to building the game. If there's only 1 choice, they need only program 1 outcome, saving time and resources. While we'd all agree this is not preferable, it certainly was very practical as little as a decade ago. Thankfully technology, skill and resources have all come a long way since.

SoNin360
SoNin360

I actually like games where you can play as good or evil. For me it means at least 2 playthroughs from a different perspective. But I love Fallout 3 so much I'm thinking about playing it again just for the hell of it. Same with InFamous...

Red_lath
Red_lath

I usually play in a place between good and evil because I love it and I can see different aspects of the plot an in-game features, but in most of games I'm pushed to chose a side in the conflict. It's important to know that we as humans are chaotic, sometimes we like sweet but sometimes is better bitter. I hate that points in a game when the player is push to take a side no matter what morality is considered, Why no a third faction that suddenly appears and smash all the storyline?, Fallout is a good example of this sometimes. The most important thing is, please developers and writers, try to do that important points of flexion in the plot softer, that the player only knows according to his/her own morality and the choice is not based on get some feature (item, exp, etc) of the game. I think that details matter and it's not needed some kind of morality interface, the plot and in-world consequences are enough.

katjajett
katjajett

"Lothos_Delion Posted Dec 1, 2009 2:28 pm PT I mean I think its good for the story but beyond that games are just that games. Not to be taken seriously or considered to be anything more than they are." At the risk of sounding crazy: not all games are just games. There are serval I like to think of as electronic art. They are intricate designs with epic stories, grand musical compositions, and many moral questions that are meant to make you think. Video games are a modern medium. Like many genre books, a lot of them are purely for entertainment, but you can do more. Many games are developed for at least 3+ years before they're put out on the market. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of people spend those years trying to make that singular game the best it can be. I'm not saying there are several LOTR or Dune out there in the gaming world, but I'd hardly say all games are simply entertainments that shouldn't be given any serious thought.

moncealyo
moncealyo

I usually try to make good choices in a game. However, I recently picked up mass effect on the the pc. I played like a heartless brute. Man I couldn't stop laughing. I have not had that much fun in a long time. I think I will continue to go the direct opposite of my values. It a lot more fun.

DKant
DKant

Good point @FlashHawk79. I'm going to sound like a sickening fanboy, but I remember in the opening Liberty Island level in Deus Ex, when you get to the NSF leader you have a choice of interrogating him or just shooting his proud head off. I had run through either choice multiple times and the reaction from Paul (your brother) was predictable in each case ('Good job' vs 'Too much force!' - or something like that). However, there was this one time when I accidentally shot the guy in the MIDDLE of an interrogation. So I walk back to Paul, start up the conversation, and I'm waiting for him to say "Too much force"....and he goes "You're an A*****!!!" That was SO completely unexpected and awesome :D, I revisited practically all the dialogues and situations to see if there were any other such things I missed. I did find a few gems, but the great thing about this was these events weren't the result of an either-or choice like "What if I did or did not do this?", but also "What if I did THIS first, and THEN the other thing?" and in some cases even "What if I did it like this?" That the developers had actually thought out all these possibilities was just absolutely incredible, but I don't know if this kind of depth can be approached today, given the quality we expect from AAA titles, the associated costs and the almost-double marketing costs after that. Although I sure hope someone CAN figure it out!

wbhlaab
wbhlaab

“In Fallout 3 it’s pretty damn clear that by the end of the game, your decisions have had some serious repercussions on the world. This all sort of culminates in the game’s climax, where you hold the fate of the Capital Wasteland’s people in your hands. Do you poison the water, or leave it clean? Do you sacrifice yourself, or talk someone else into doing it? All of those things--which are all tied to the game’s morality--are pretty central to Fallout 3’s themes and gameplay." Are we talking about the same Fallout 3 I played here? None of the "big decisions" in this game had ANY repurcussions. Set off a NUCLEAR DEVICE IN THE MIDDLE OF A TOWN? No worries, just hand out water to bums and everybody in the world forgets it. And better yet, the shopkeeper and giver of the only major quest in the town miraculously survives! And that ending, forgetting for a moment that the Broken Steel DLC made a point of showing the player that their choice had no repurcussions (you survive no matter what, poisoning the water changes more or less nothing) the entirety of the choice came down to an incredibly non-ambiguous GOOD/EVIL dialogue choice. As for the indicator that helps the player know when they've done something bad (shouldn't they know by the fact that they're, you know, doing it?) one of the first mods was to get rid of that stupid thing because it's irritating lowest common denominator design--something that describes Fallout 3 perfectly

Mel-Lombardi
Mel-Lombardi

but i guess Golden Sun could get some morality added into its story

Mel-Lombardi
Mel-Lombardi

Oh... wow. I've never realized this was in the games while I played them. I guess the developers hid it pretty well, and still somehow taught us... very... subtly ... . ... well, for some games, it just won't work for the players to make their own choices. Take Kingdom Hearts for example. If you make the gamers decide, then the story would start to get ruined. The developers made the story like it is... and it's the type of story that just won't be the same if it was any different, because every detail counts for it.

FlashHawk79
FlashHawk79

Quite honestly, the best way to be "moral" in a game is to not make it obvious that this is [GOOD] and this one is [EVIL], obviously, but two should be to not make it obvious that we're making a major choice at the time. Obviously pressing "The Button" is a clear choice, but some things should be less obvious. Here's an example: To anyone who has played the Broken Steel expansion of Fallout 3 and witnessed the confrontation at Megaton between the settlers and the Brotherhood of Steel water caravan, THAT is a good situation for a morality check. I recognized that it was about to hit the fan, got to cover, and sure enough, a shot rang out. I literally thought, "who do I shoot at?" I didn't really see who fired the first shot, and in the end I chose to fight alongside my Brothers. Perfect moral situation in the game. I think that right there is what should be used, not some shallow meter. Individual events should affect endings and stuff, and not some idealistic "points" system. Each action should have its own consequences. In Fallout 3, for example, you know those bounty hunters that get sent out to get you if you're really good or really evil? You should have a choice of how to react. Either try to bribe them, or maybe try to reason with them, or anything else for that matter. Then, if you do wind up shooting him in cold blood, there should be some kind of game-changing, however so slight. That'll take up a good deal of AI, sure, but THAT's the way to do Fallout 4.

Soapweed
Soapweed

I only play as a good character in Fable 1 and 2, but in Oblivion I play as a xenophobic Imperial that kills off any nonhuman. While these two types of play are fun and I get to balance out my desires to be a paragon or a Devil, I would enjoy more opportunities to be neutral throughout most of the game. I'd like to see multiple outcomes for good and evil choices as well. Humanity is chaotic and games should reflect that with different conclusions/rewards/events for quests or actions rather than having a single event.

Lothos_Delion
Lothos_Delion

I mean I think its good for the story but beyond that games are just that games. Not to be taken seriously or considered to be anything more than they are.

LungDrago
LungDrago

I think if Bioware made a RPG played in first-person perspective, all of us would get even more immersed in the world and care for the world the devs created. Im sick of people that kill a child in a RPG saying "nah, its a game and the child is not real anyway, so whats the deal" :-/

Jak_Napier
Jak_Napier

really great article. touches base on alot of unexplained subjects that maybe alot of people like myself have wondered while either playing these games or questioned about ones judgement.

Alan1224
Alan1224

I like to be evil just because its a lot easier to kill then let live. But im really niec in real life that might be why who knows....lol