Making Morality Matter

Making Morality Matter
First Kisses (And Deaths-By-Molester)

Chuck Wendig | 31 May 2011 09:01
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Alter Ego isn't a perfect facsimile of these moral choices. That whole "death-by-child-molester" thing? It's pretty well-telegraphed what's going to happen. The game even goes so far as to give you the pederast's license plate number (hint, hint).


But not every choice has an obvious outcome. Very early on, during the infancy portion of the game, I'm given the choice to cry or sleep peacefully. I cry. I get picked up: a victory! Do I continue to cry? Well, sure. And I score another victory as my mother continues to baby me. Crying, it seems, leads to reward, and so I continue to select that option. This tactic has its limits, however, and by the end I've worn my poor mother out. She feels "rejected" and will "internalize" this, suffering guilt through much of my childhood. My Familial and Happiness stats drop. Plus, I might have colic. Oops.

Also during infancy, I'm confronted with another baby who gets his face too close to mine. One of my options is to punch him. So, I think, "Screw it, I'm going to beat king hell out of this other baby," if only to see what the game does with that choice. The answer? Surprisingly, while my Gentleness stat goes down, my Physical stat goes up. I just got rewarded for playing Baby Fight Club.

That's how the game works. I select an icon in my timeline, and depending on the icon I choose, I get a different kind of "moral dilemma" - maybe I want to focus on intellectual quandaries or social situations. I make life choices, and those life choices change an array of stats: Familial, Social, Emotional, Intellectual, Physical, Calmness, Confidence, Expressiveness, Gentleness, Happiness, Thoughtfulness, and Trustworthiness. The game also keeps tabs on extraneous details - how much money I have, my relationships, my children, my spending.

At the end of each of the game's six stages of life you're given a "status report" - you've got family troubles, you've got issues with drugs and alcohol, you're trustworthy, physically robust, and so on. A choice made will often raise one or two stats and lower other, often unexpected stats as well. Sure, I cheat on my wife, damaging my Trustworthiness - and also making me more confident and confirming that I'm a socially capable creature.

The stats matter, too - as a kid, I go to the dentist because of some cavities and I choose the option that allows me to be brave despite the pain. Except nope, sorry, that won't work: the game notifies me that my stats do not reflect my ability to make this choice. Later, I try to get a paper route, but again the game tells me that I'm just not calm enough to hold down the job for long. When I try to propose to my girlfriend, Cathy, the game tells me her father knows I'm totally untrustworthy (I really am, I've been a real dick while playing this game) and so I'm left sad and alone.

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