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Community Discussion: Blog by Andrew Kauz | Can games transcend good and evil?Destructoid
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In loving memory: PAX 2009 (thanks ZombiePlatypus! And WalkYourPath, of course)


I'm Kauza, which is pronounced like cause-uh. My real name's Andrew Kauz, if you'd rather go for that.

I like talking to Dtoid people, so please add me on your favorite social networking site:
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/kauza
Gchat: santakauz[at]gmail.com.

Basics: I'm 25, and I write things.

Eternal thanks go out to Y0j1mb0 for the amazing header image you see above. So, thanks, sir!

Look at some of the things I've written.

Things on the Front Page:

Mass Effect, Metal Gear, Moon Unit, and more: An interview with Jennifer Hale
The Future: Demanding more from the voices of videogames
Love/Hate: A plea to play as a female Shepard
A warning: Regrets from a former life and experiences yet unlived
Top ten games for people who hate Thanksgiving
The wrong thing: Being evil should be more like sex
Staying dry in a sea of spoilers is a matter of building a boat
Lessons on taking games just seriously enough
Come, take your pilgrimage to gaming's one true mecca
Here's to you, random-JRPG-dialogue-writer-man
The forgotten: Crushing disappointment at the hands of Crash 'n the Boys
The people who have the power to change the world
Improving game communities: Enough with the negativity
The draw of exploration: Antarctica to Oblivion, Shackleton to Shadow Complex
I suck at games: BlazBlue and a slapdash attempt at fisticuffs
I, the Author: My Everest
Untapped Potential: The Gamer's Education
Other Worlds than These: Our World, Only Different

A series sort of thing about status effects
Toxic Megacolon and other fresh status effects
Curse you, status effects, stop confusing my heart
Status effects are poisons that turn my silent heart to stone
Also check out the related forum thread.

The Fall of the Titans (wherein I talk about dead or dying gaming companies)

The fall of the titans part 3: What once was shall be again
The fall of the titans: Sega died so that we might dream of the future
The fall of the titans: Why do the giants of gaming die?

Stories from the Past (a series about my experiences playing certain games):

Stories from the Past: Tobal 2, Tomba! 2, and console double-vision
Stories from the Past: Diablo and the Dark Ride
Stories from the Past: What the f*ck, mom?
Stories from the Past: Xexyz and the battle aboard Turtlestar Lobsterica
Stories from the Past: The One-Balled Man-Bear
Stories from the Past: The Battle of Olympus
Stories from the Past: Suikoden 2

Storytelling (a series about, well, storytelling):

Storytelling: The Problem of Genres
Storytelling: Mass Effect, Vonnegut, and the Fourth Rule
Storytelling: Doing Nothing in "The Darkness"
Storytelling: The Power of a Single Line (Yeah, it was my first post.)

Other stuff that is good:

Lessons on taking games just seriously enough
A consuming power: The demon and the borderlands
Can games transcend good and evil?
Nothing is sacred: We won't let you go alone, but we have made a tragic decision
How Destructoid single-handedly changed my motherís opinion of gaming
Why Tecmo Super Bowl is the greatest sports game of all time
Seven reasons that I will end you in creative ways if you don't play Folklore
Mother Nature and the Impending Death of the Gaming Spirit
Times Games Forgot: The Dark Ages
The Sins and Successes of In-game Collectibles
The Lock is Broken
When Music Surpasses the Game
Truckasaurus Rex and the Humor of Games
I Want to Cry (storytelling related, but not part of the series)

I have others as well that you can check out on my blog. You'll enjoy them or your money back.

Since it seems like the cool thing to do, here a list of my favorite games that is coming straight out of my ass and onto your computer screen, and in no particular order.

Fallout 3
Uncharted 2
Suikoden 2
Mass Effect / ME2
Metal Gear Solid followed by any number you can think of
Tales of Somethingendinginia (OK, and the Abyss)
Crackdown
Battlefield: Bad Company
Flower
Player Profile
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Andrew Kauz's sites
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Heroes and villains have been a staple in gaming since its inception. Of course, this is the same in any storytelling medium, as prototypical stories must contain conflict, and the most direct way to fashion conflict is to introduce a struggle between good and evil and between heroes and villains. Itís universal, and itís boring.

Thereís no hiding the fact that struggles between good and evil have grown tiresome, and the many calls for a renaissance of good and evil in gaming show just how badly many of us want to see stories that discard simple black and white for shades of gray. There have been plenty of efforts to this end, but have any of them truly been successful? We still complain about how poor moral choices have been done in games, as what is meant to be a true moral decision ends up being simply a matter of choosing the good or evil path. Itís not a revolution at all, but simply a new set of curtains covering a stained, broken window.

So, where can good and evil go in games now? Is there a way to truly transform the ways that games treat good and evil? Of course there is, and itís perhaps not nearly as difficult as a lot of people make it out to be. In fact, thereís a fairly recent game that, for my money, handled the conceptions of good and evil in an impressively original way, and itís a choice that might surprise you.

Hint: Itís a JRPG. Really!




While dozens of games lately have attempted to put the weight of good and evil into the hands of the player, Tales of Vesperia tells a linear story, and one that, when taken on the surface level, doesnít do a whole lot differently. The basics of the story involve an evil force thatís threatening to destroy the world, and a villain who hopes to dominate the planet and will do whatever it takes to achieve this goal. Whatís impressive, though, is how various characters who seem so unambiguously good surprise you. So letís take a look at some of those characters who truly seem to distance themselves from what we normally consider heroes and villains. You donít need to have played the game to read this post, but if you want to avoid spoilers, you might consider putting this aside for now.

Yuri

Yuri is the main character in Tales of Vesperia, and being the main character, is tasked with saving the world. Sounds like a job for a hero, right? In some ways, this holds true for much of the game. Yuri is the type of character who simply acts to do whatever he thinks is right, and most of the time, the character will agree with him. He sets out to recover a stolen item that controls water in his city, and thus his journey begins.

Then, all of a sudden, on a dark city street, Yuri encounters a minor villain in the game, Ragou: one whom you havenít had to fight at all, as heís not the fighting type, really. Sure, itís clear that heís not your friend, but in the realm of villains, heís no Sephiroth.

So, on this cold, dark street, what does Yuri do? He assassinates the unarmed Ragou and tosses his body into a river. Hard. Core. The best part? He hardly struggles with the decision.



Later in the game, yet another villain meets the same fate. Cumore is a bit more of a bastard, basically taking an entire town over and using its citizens as slaves. One night, Yuri sneaks into Cumoreís room, wakes him up, chases him out to the desert, and backs him up against a pit of quicksand until he falls in. Then Yuri just watches as Cumore is buried alive by the sand. Hard. Core.

After this scene, we get to see a bit more about Yuriís justification for his actions, which essentially comes to down to fact that he had no faith in the ability of the justice system, so he went off and exacted his own brand of punishment. His husband (not really), the ideal knight Flynn, gives him a healthy chiding for his actions, but Yuri doesnít waver from his opinion that the only way to truly stop evil is to stamp it out completely.

The great thing about the game, and where it allows Yuri to succeed as a character, is that it, as a game, never seems to take a stance on the issue. I feel like so many other games fail in moral ambiguity because they write one good choice and one bad choice, and expect us to be the ambiguous ones through the choices that we make. It is not up to us, as players, to create moral ambiguity in your games. It is up to you, writers and developers.

Estelle



Annoying princess character with a sheltered upbringing? Yep. Healer character? Yep. Crappy voice acting? Yep. Wish she was dead after about thirty minutes? One thousand times yep.

Yet as the healer character, Estelle is later given one of the more interesting roles in the game. See, sheís the only character in the game who is able to naturally heal characters not only in battle, but any wounded NPC that the party might come across. Because of this, sheís celebrated throughout the game by nearly everyone you meet.

That is until some flying bird thing calls her an insipid poison, which doesnít really make any sense, but letís focus on the poison part for now. Indeed, later in the game, you do find out that she is literally a poison. Her healing ability uses ďaerĒ (stupid term for a familiar thing? Check!), which the world requires in a certain balance. If this balance is interrupted, oops, the world is broken.

So, you come to find out that every time Estelle has used her healing ability, she has killed the world a little bit. Thatís heavy.

In all honesty, though, itís a fantastic way to put a spin on something that we so often see as a universal good. While, in their struggle to defeat the villain of the game, they unquestionably require Estelleís healing, they also have to come to grips with the fact that itís destroying the planet. Keep using it and the planet turns into a giant unhappy face. Stop using it and your friends probably fail in their journey and die. Itís a tough choice, and those are the sort of choices in games that make us truly forget about the lines between good and evil and think only of whatís necessary.

So, what can other games learn from this? Thereís nothing, nothing in this world or any other world that we should ever treat as universally good or universally evil. The real world does not work that way, so why should a game world? Stop thinking in terms of good and evil and simply think in terms of characters: what does one character want, and what is he or she willing to do to get it? It is this consideration that makes for realistic morality, and, properly executed, will give us far more rewarding games than the cut-and-dry morality of many of this generationís attempts.
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