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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 helps to further those in depth discussions you have with your friends after you complete your first run. 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.
So what about you? When playing through a game featuring a good and evil path, which do you find more satisfying?
I think "morality" bars should be done with and instead give us no clue as to what is considered good or evil. Most players tend to lean on way, but if you would eliminate that glowing color, I think players would make more interesting decisions.
Sigh, I usually go with the good guy path too. With a few kitten killing missions along the way.
great blog. i too take the high road everytime. maybe in gta or some such game i'll wander around and create havoc. but only when there is little consequence. in those games the worst that happens is you end up in the hospital/prison for a spell and have items/loot confiscated. slap on the wrist.
but in games where it affects your path, i.e. others' reaction to you, dialog options, available side missions, and of course plot, i'll avoid it like the plague. i don't like movies that are entirely grim and without redemption, so why would i like to play my game that way?
speaking of, why not have an evil path that nonetheless has opportunities for redemption throughout? even at the climax, the player should be able to choose the righteous path, to mend their evil ways. i have to say i kind of agree with cody, let's do away with meters/bars/etc.
instead, let's have multiple paths throughout. a continuum of choice and consequence where every decision has an impact but there are always options to choose good or bad. after all, we are all complex and few are entirely good or bad. in other words, give us the option to be real.
I usually pick the good path for a completely different reason: Game developers give you really stupid evil choices. I mean, most of the Renegade options in Mass Effect went along the lines of "Do you insult the alien's race and act like a complete racist/jackass, or do you let the alien finish speaking?" Developers need to give us reasons to be evil. The main problem is that most evil decisions are pointless; there is no advantage to them. There are so many games where you're given the choice to sacrifice or torture a person rather than help them, but no reason for being evil is given. Do you get a rare sword? No. Do you advance in the main quest and get to skip a mission? No. Do you get some money? $5. WHY WOULD YOU KILL A PERSON FOR $5????? Evil people in real life and in well-written stories have reasons for their actions; Maybe they're paranoid, maybe they want to ensure political stability, or maybe they want to topple governments. They don't just walk into town and begin slaughtering. They have reasons. The only possible exceptions are psychopaths with serious mental sicknesses, but even they have deep-rooted reasons for doing what they do.
It sounds a lot like with InFAMOUS(1), do I want to save this person that Cole loves, but has been a *** to me throughout the entire game, or do I want to save this team of doctors I've never met but who could save TONS more people then just one person.
Pick the good choice and you don't feel bad(most of the time) about his love interest dying, pick the bad choice and
You feel like an idiot for being tricked into thinking that the person who you were saving was her
I normally start by playing the bad guy(just for trophies sake), but the second playthrough I play as I want to(more often then not, the good guy).
I was just finishing up a blog regading this very topic, although as is usually the case, yours is better than mine.
It is very hard for me to play the bad guy, but I will do it for the platinum trophy! However I cannot use my same character and if possible will skip all of the cutscenes. For example in Infamous 2 I am using the Kessler skin to play through the evil portion, and because cut scenes cannot be skipped, I simply ignore them. ME2, I made a whole new character and just blew through the game as quickly as possible, but I'm not done yet.
The one that sticks out in my mind is Bioshock, the first opportunity I had to harvest a Little Sister, I did it for the extra eve. I agonized, literally, for the next few minutes. I ended up starting the whole game over, and saved them all! I felt terrible, and that was the first game I played where it was really a big deal to choose good or evil tasks.
Now what happens if the choice the game gives you as good, doesn't coincide with your personal perception of morality... The game says X is good, but for me, Y is much better...
I generally try to make my first run through the game as a "good" character, and then make an evil run. I have found that in many games, being good is the more difficult choice from a gameplay view. For instance, in Knights of the Old Republic, the final battle was kind of a pain in the ass as a light side of the Force character, but on the dark side, the entire campaign was a breeze.
One of the interesting things about being good versus evil is that being good is a lot harder than being evil. And in the real world, this is also generally true. Once you get power and money, it's pretty easy to degrade into sociopathic indulgence. Being truly good usually means you're stuck in poverty and get assassinated by aforementioned sociopathic hedonists. And even then, most of the people you're trying to help might not even appreciate what you've done or you might be completely glossed over in history books.
Being good kind of sucks for YOU.
Games reflect this really well, IMO.
*nod* The Fable 3 choice you mention was indeed one of the few times a morality system has ever made me stop to think for a moment... two bad choices :/
I also choose the good path in almost all games, mass effect, fable, infamous, etc, however in kotor I became dark, it is the only game in which I was 'bad' my first time through, however that is because I prefer the empire over the republic
I choose good as well. I could not harvest the Little Sisters in Bioshock, and even in my second run through, I wanted to to see what the alternate ending would be, but I still could not do it. I even hated the "No Russian" level of COD:MW2, no way was I going to gun down any innocent civilians.
Although in Halo 3 ODST, I did attack the floating alien's to get an achievement, but that was the only time I did something evil, I swear.
I never thought of it that way.. it really does seem like the evil path is more of a "what if" branch, but I suppose you're supposed to make your own story at that point.