Thursday, June 16, 2011

Morality in Gaming: Why I Always Pick the Good Path

Morality in gaming has become the norm. Developers give you the option to take the protagonist down the good or evil path. They give you the freedom to choose whether to become a savior to the people, or fearful tyrant.

Despite the ability to choose, I always end up picking the good path. Mass Effect, Fable, Infamous; in each of these titles, I can rarely bring myself to go down the evil path. Even when racking up additional trophies or achievements, it's never satisfying to be evil.

It is with Infamous 2's release that I had to ask myself why I did that. Why do I always take the righteous road to the endgame on most of these titles?

Part of it has to do with story. It seems like in all of these games, the canon and true story of the game is the heroic one. Nobody wants to see the story of the evil tyrant that drank his fill at the tavern, destroyed a city, and shot the pedestrian to send a message. Those are the kinds of people I want to see overcome, not the ones carrying the story forward. I always felt like the good path was the path the developers favored for a canon story, and the evil path was more of an additional "what if" scenario.

The darker choices in gaming these days are just too evil. I want to be the bad guy sometimes, but not the kind offered. There is just too much guilt in it, even for a video game. When completing a side mission in Fable or choosing to help a colonist on Mass Effect, the gratitude shown afterwards feels...good. It sounds awkward that a video game could induce such an emotion, but each time I completed a heroic deed and am thanked for it, there is a sense of satisfaction attached to that. The same occurs with an evil deed, as scripted sprites beg for their character model to be spared. Despite knowing there are at least 30 more clones of that same person running around the world to replace him/her, there is hesitation in swinging the sword.

When it comes down to it, the good choice is about sacrifice. Will you give up 30 gold to get information out of the informant or rough him up to get it for free? The problem is that the sacrifice is not taxing enough. While that amount of gold is a lot now, by the end of the game, I could buy a mansion with gold plated doors and a wall of shiny weapons. Sure it is inconvenient, but the good choice pays off just the same in the end for most scenarios.

There have been a few times that I have knowingly chosen the evil path for a better outcome, and one of those most recent choices was at the beginning of Fable III.  Though it would have been more intense at a later time in the game, you are given the choice on who will die; your supposed love interest (that you met not 5 minutes ago) or a group of innocents. The thought of this unique character dying so early on made me hesitant to follow the instruction that my Ethics class taught me in sacrificing the one for the many.

It is that pause that I am looking for in gaming. That moment when you weigh your options, that moment when you take a step back and examine the situation. Those are the kinds of choices where I actually stare at the screen and realize the appeal the evil path holds. The lesser of two evils scenario that rarely comes along. It is only with these choices would I ever consider the evil path.

Maybe it is the way morality is so cut and dry in video games. Perhaps if the typical "blue is good" and "red is evil" were grayed a bit, choices in video games would be tougher for me to make. Perhaps if the good choices offered much more sacrifice, I would be persuaded to be evil. Maybe it is just my own personality, and you have been reading this rolling your eyes at each of my reasonings. To that I say: more power to you.

It is the diversity of the experience that truly makes morality an interesting addition to gaming. It further personalizes the game for the player, giving you even more freedom in evolving the story on your own terms. As for me, I'll stick to saving the princess and stopping that whole "impending doom" scenario.

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