The Good, the Bad and the Sadistic
"Still, bringing morality into the gameplay isn't easy. In The Punisher, the point penalty seems unintentional - it has a very small effect on the game system. Still, the choice is there, and it's in that space that the system works. The developers aren't strong-arming the player into acting in a specific way. They're simply offering a choice."
Alex Karls examines the Good, The Bad and the Sadistic.
The moral choice systems in these games, though presently vestigal, allow us to live out unexplored aspects in ourselves, I think. Oblivion for example:
Ron and I work at the same shitty job for a corporate entity. I am the older counterculture-damaged punk-rock malcontent to his young, dilligent, by-the-book clean self. Though Ron sees the flaws in our situation (no health benefits, dysfunctional, petty-draconian management & poor pay,) he (unlike me,) does not use the moral grey-area of our employment as license to steal, waste time, be intentionally late and spread dissent. He winces and seems visibly uncomfortable when I profess my enjoyment of these things.
Ron and I both play Oblivion, and I find it predictably ironic that he has murderously stabbed and hacked his way through the Dark Brotherhood quests, as well as become the theiving Grey Fox, wheras I have gravitated to the main quest, closed Oblivion gates, protected Martin and saved Cyrodiil.
I think that definitely stands out as one of the prime reasons to encourage this sort of game play.
To add another angle, I've been reading Killing Monsters by Gerard Jones. In it, Jones posits the theory that children play out violent fantasy (bang bang, you're dead, Cowboys & Indians, video games) as a healthy form of emotional development. Namely, that they need a way to express themselves because their minds haven't figured out how to tie those concepts to their oral expression. Therefore, being able to express the feeling of aggression by being playfully aggressive is actually helping them develop in a healthy manner. They managed to express themselves, relieve the tension created by inexpressible feelings, and get some harmless play out of it.
When you consider the power of language to craft our ideas, I think the issue becomes even more interesting. Personally, I'm waiting for someone to take the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis to it's fullest conclusion, and lay down the root of a language that will unite instead of divide, and encourage philosophy and education instead of warfare. All while blasting the hell out of some Covenant.
Hate to quote Yahtzee like everyone else, but he did have a point about games touting about 'choice', when the only choice is Mother Theresa, or Baby Eating. I dont think any game has ever offered too much of the grey area.
*KOTOR spoilers, to the 3 people who still care*
In KOTOR 1 the lightside ending involved embracing the Jedi, and saving the galaxy, where the darkside ending had you joining the Sith, and dominating the galaxy. It would've been kind of nice if you could still kill Darth Malak, and still turn your back on the bastard Jedi who stripped you of you power, and wiped away all your memories.
I particularly like Geneforge's system, where there's no Good or Evil, the two sides replaced by two warring factions, the Shapers and the Rebels. For those who don't know, the main theme of the game is the power of Shaping, which is the ability to create life, and its secrets were ruthlessly guarded by the Shapers. The Rebels are mostly comprised of the creations which have escaped their control and have managed to get their hands on some Shaping stuff.
In the latest installment, you start as a Rebel, and are told by your leaders of how cruel the Shapers are to their creations and the people, and that the Shapers refused to share their knowledge out of greed. But the Shapers are no insidious Empire, instead being about as cruel as the average politician. They lack corruption and greed and mainly keep Shaping a secret because of how dangerous it is and how stupid the peasants are.
The Rebels aren't exactly virtous themselves; their leaders, the Drakons, are arrogant and vengeful, and see humans and other creations as below them. While they mostly allow the liberated to run free, they are only a few steps away from being as cruel if not crueler than the Shapers.
So, yeah. It's a good game. You can download the demo from www.spiderwebsoftware.com.
The funny thing is, the usual game "rainbows and puppies" vs. "eating babies" good and evil choices worked for me *only* in KOTOR and its sequel *because* of the SW cannon of light side vs Dark Side, esp. how Dark Side was kind of supposed to be "if you turn evil and your force sensitive, things go bad, very quickly." The canon was there.
I'd just like to put out there that Mass Effect does some choice. Even though they were thinly veiled good and bad, its nice to see the stark contrast between the Paragon and Renegade solutions, to the same problem.
Oh, and Alex Karls, that's a very interesting idea raised by that book you mentioned, about how children use violent games as expression and release of aggression.
I like the placement of the copyright disclaimer.
Nice, a mention of The Punisher. Such an amazing game. The Punisher was really only similar to one other game (Hitman: Blood Money) in how it dealt with the subject of death. As gamers, we've been killing people since the days of NES Ninja Gaiden, but Hitman and The Punisher force the player to take a step back and really consider the full import of murder (even if it is all fake). Hitman placed a great deal of weight and severity on every life you took, but there was also a grim humor to it as well.
The Punisher set you up against truly detestable enemies who would stab you in the back at every opportunity, take innocent hostages and kill civilians, yet the horrible things you could do to them whenever you wished (just about, Castle is a beast) gave The Punisher a sense of supreme power and control that certainly made me feel bad on more than one occasion for killing a scumbag Mafia member during an interrogation.
But they had to die. That's the thing. Castle couldn't leave them alive, because wounded and broken enemies never gave up. Leave them alone, they run for a weapon. So they had to die, it was the method of their execution that led to the moral quandary.
In Hitman, however, almost nobody HAS to die. The decision of who to kill (or avoid killing) to reach the one or two people you actually HAVE to kill is entirely in the hands of the player. It's all on MY conscience. Nothing is born of necessity, there are no "him or me" scenarios in Hitman that are not of my own making. If I kill to reach my objective, I have to live with that.
It is for this reason I respect Hitman as a series like I do few other games. There's a reverence for life here (although hidden underneath dark humor) that is pretty much unique in the medium. Well, I guess Chaos Theory did a pretty good job characterizing the various guards and guilting you into feeling bad for anything you did to them, but Chaos Theory is also a pretty amazing game.