Good to be Bad

Good to be Bad
Is Rape Wrong on Azeroth?

SirBruce | 31 Oct 2006 07:01
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Since then, many games have featured not only a sense of morality but actual moral choices that arise during the course of play. However, such games have often brought mixed reactions from players. While most of us enjoy dealing with moral and ethical situations presented within the context of a good story, there seem to be two distinct camps when it comes to determining how those situations should be integrated into the game: moral choices with gameplay consequences and moral choices without gameplay consequences.

Those who advocate moral choices with gameplay consequences often see games as useful in teaching or advocating a certain set of behaviors. In the simplest cases, the decision presented is bimodal: Make the right choice by trying to talk your way out of trouble with a cop, and you're rewarded with more gameplay; make the wrong choice by opting to try to run away, and your character gets arrested and you lose. In games with more elaborate stories, the choices are multimodal, allowing the player to experience a variety of different but equally "successful" endings.

For example, in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the player is faced with a variety of decisions that lead his character down either the Light Side or the Dark Side, culminating in an ultimate decision at the end of the game to either become the Hero and defeat evil, or embrace the darkness and seize the Sith throne for himself. In Deus Ex, a player may choose from three different endings: merge with Helios, join the Illuminati or bring about a new Dark Age. The subsequent and often stark consequences are vividly illustrated for the player to ponder.

But those who advocate moral choices without gameplay consequences would counter that many of the situations presented above are not really moral choices in any meaningful sense. Because the gameplay is so tightly coupled with the choice made, the result is simply an exercise in pushing the right button to get the result you want. In the bimodal case, the choice is often no choice at all; one must make the "correct" decision in order to continue playing the game and "win." And games that feature multiple paths are really no better - players simply choose whichever ending they feel like enjoying, or even save the game and go back again and again to access all the endings. Much like my pen-and-paper days, players aren't really engaging in moral consideration at all; they're just following the most advantageous path available to them.

Instead of such contrivances, consider a game like Doom 3. At one point during the game, you'll come across a man stuck in a reactor room. A simple press of a button on the brightly lit computer screen can either free him or subject him to a most terrifying, gruesome death. Whichever you choose actually makes no functional difference: The game continues on, and events unfold the same either way. Some gamers would argue that this is actually more of a true moral choice, because the consequences of your actions take place entirely within your own sense of self.

More recently, while I was playing The Godfather and battling with the game's rather imprecise targeting system, I found myself accidentally strangling an innocent woman who was passing by, instead of the well-dressed gangster I had intended. As I dragged her lifeless body into the nearby alleyway, I felt a growing unease in the pit of my stomach. Had I just turned the game into a serial murder simulator? I explored this possibility further, finding out just how many innocent women I could murder without raising too much heat from the police. Within minutes, I became quite disgusted with myself and couldn't even stand to play the game again for a day or two.

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