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CodenameV
9:54 PM on 01.26.2010



I sit calmly, as I do every morning, sipping my milk and chewing on some oh so delicious cereal. Later that day, I realize I'm all out of milk and cereal; what a bitch. Because I'm desperate, I head on down to my local grocery store. Inside I grab some milk, some cereal, and maybe a tub of ice cream or something for good measure. Approaching the clerk, I realize I don't have my wallet with me; it's out in the car.

But wait, here's an idea: I could go out to my car and grab my wallet, come back inside, and pay. Or I could head down to the kitchen utensil's aisle, grab a cleaver, head back up front, slit the throat of the cashier and leave with a free meal, plus dessert. Quite the black and white decision.

In another event, perhaps I'm driving and a kid jumps out in front of my car. I could hit the kid, killing him, but keeping me in my lane, or I could swerve into the other lane, causing a wreck, killing more souls than just one. Now, imagine this situation, but time pauses. Then, words in a red-colored font pop up saying "swerve," with words in bright blue saying "hit the kid." Kind of loses any sense of right and wrong when those two things are being dictated to you by something that thinks it knows the answer.

In games it appears we've not evolved past this issue of morality. We're trying to use it as a gimmick, as a selling point. Not many games have taken the idea of morality and made it into something truly reminiscent of choices in everyday life. In the majority of games, you can be an asshole, a decent guy, or a saint. Make your choice.

Inherently, interactivity allows for much more varied exploration in this area. We're not restricted to black and white decisions, though you would never know that at a glance of the industry thus far. It's almost too pretentious to tack on the 'right and wrong' choices that many games flaunt. This whole thing might not be so painful if, for one second, games could just simplify what they're trying to do a bit.

inFAMOUS sports an incredibly black and white morality system, hardly a soul could deny that. But I'd argue that the choices you must make could be far more impressing upon the player if there wasn't that blue and red text stating which action is justifiably holy, and which one the devil himself would choose. Mass Effect falls victim to nearly the same idea.

On the horizon, we can only hope for a brighter tomorrow; morality can evolve. It can be something that is subtle, that you won't acknowledge till you feel for the actions you're making. Games won't need to pause and allow you to read the "good" and "bad" text. When you see that kid in the middle of the road, the game needs not to tell you it's a choice that will affect your morality, you'll simply either plow on through the poor child, or swerve.

There still remains a delicate balancing act to this all. With Bioshock, you're not told explicitly which action is right and which is wrong. However, inherently in the choice of slaughtering a child or saving one, there is a problem. The decision you make in that situation is such that you know which choice is the "wrong" one. There's just something too predictable about a game that pauses to allow a decision like that. If it's not obvious, subtlety works nicely for morality.

I want to wonder, when I run over the kid, if I did the right thing. I want to wonder if killing a man is justified in a certain situation. These things should affect the player on an emotional level, and so far, most games have fallen utterly flat. It's a shame, but one that I feel will not go without experimentation. There is no doubt in my mind that morality will soon evolve, and perhaps not into the ideal form I'm describing, but a game will come along that paves the way for others to tread.



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