. The fun little thing thrown into games to give you shiny new powers and dialog options in generally three distinct flavors per game; such as helpy-mc-helperton, casual observer, and massive dick. Generally those lives you have ruined or save will net you a nifty red or blue colored power! Or more dialog options to be a bigger dick or savior. And those of us who believe in neutrality will be fucked over, because main characters NEED to have an extreme alignment (That is preferably mixed with chaotic). Now this is all well and good and fun, and in fact a much needed spice within what would otherwise be a rather bland game; Yet my faithful reader this is not true morality. Morality is about living with yourself after a choice with no good options. Its not about helping a little girl find her parents or selling her to slavery. Its about pulling the plug on a terminally ill patient who's every breath is one of living agony, or walking away because life, no matter how painful is worth living. Its a personal and deep choice that you will live with and wonder about for the rest of your life. Perhaps it will come back and bite you in the ass, and there is an off chance one end of the decision will have a reward, but generally? Its a choice you HAVE to make with the only repercussions being the loss of sleep you will soon suffer.
Perhaps the only sensible choice left at this stage...you know...time travel.
You see, In this world good people die just as much as the bad. The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray and the road to hell is paved with all sorts of intentions. Its horrifying to think of yourself in a situation like that in real life, but here in a game we can experience something like this situation from the safety of home. Its why we like video games and movies, its pretend and we as a people like to pretend yet to still be safe. Games provide this in spades wonderfully. It allows us to touch dangerous things and ideas without getting scared too deeply. That's where the fun is boys and girls.
Now lets be honest here, generally the choices come down to being a 'Good Guy' and a 'Bad Guy' you know, cosmic Balance
and all that. Yes, sometimes a girl but there is always the option to BE a guy as well, and generally its written for a guy anyway with a female in their shoes. Male/Female Diversity will be discussed at another point. It SHOULD be noted however that the Mass Effect Series is a reverse of this, and that the female charterer choice feels more natural, whereupon every other game the female choice feels forced.
Female Shepard still has a shlong the size of a wookie's however.
Back onto the topic at hand however. Modern morality in games generally is based on Tabletop Role Playing games
(Ahh where one's moral fibers are truly tested in the name of an enchanted item -Ed). Your character's actions effect what sort of stance he takes morally, generally between two extremes of good and evil, or law and chaos, or perhaps a little of both options. Take an action and your little moral slider will go up or down depending on what sort of alignment choice you used. It should be noted that in Tabletop Games however, your alignment is something you chose during charterer creation and binds you into a certain alignment mindset which can change based on major decisions you take in the world.
Its a relativity nifty system of character advancement. Gaining items unique to your alignment adds replay, as well as the odd item or power that you cant use unless you've unlocked X amount of asshat points. It invests the player in the story, makes them feel like they are having a real meaningful impact on the game's story. That its their narrative, and that everything that happens will be effected by their actions. Naturally, this isn't generally the case, as most decisions are thinly veiled Yay or Nay options that only re-skin a weapon or give you some alignment experience. When the day ends your still be fighting the same boss, going through the same levels, and fighting similarly modeled enemies. Only difference is if your get the bad or good ending based on your decisions.
Simpler times with simpler endings with a distinct lack of morality. Now there is a distinct lack of Burgers in games. A connection?
Its a GOOD gameplay mechanic, and a great hook for getting one involved in the story. Yet, I feel as though were treating gamers as if this is their first choose your own adventure page and the player has countless fingers to flip back to. And every single ending except for two have been cut out.
A game based heavily on its narrative SHOULD have multiple endings strewn across its length. Planescape Torment for instance has multiple endings BEFORE the big ending at the end which rates your morality and your decisions. Not only that, some of these endings have a real and meaningful weight to them leaving you satisfied. The game realizes that this is a story that the player is guiding, and therefore like all user driven narratives has endings at multiple points. Understand that endings are always predestined, but how one stumbles across them and if they accept them differs from person to person. And no, the game over screen is not an ending, unless your a tool.
Or the game is terrabad.
You know which one is horrible and a complete precognitive rip off of the other...right Zach? (Hint, its Alan wake -Ed)
I also want to note that any sort of alignment scale is fine, awesome even. Avatar modification based on this is an even further plus, and something we all love. And yes, some characters should respond to you based on your alignment, that is of course if their able to tell what your alignment happens to be. Note, if you murder anyone who sees you do evil no one should really KNOW your evil because dead men tell no tales. Unless they can see the force or have some plot device to tell you. However if your Infamous or Famous and decide to let that one child from the orphanage live ForTheEvulz
(WARNING THE PROCEEDING LINK WILL DESTROY YOUR FREE TIME-Ed) , well expect it to bite you in the ass. The point, however; is that your evil or good score shouldn't WORK on everyone. Some people wont give a rats ass about how big your horns are or how shiny your halo is. To make matters worse tying in the dialog system directly into your moral's system forces one to pick an extreme and stick with it. It becomes a game mechanic that separates itself from the narrative. Yes, your invested into the game but will it come down to 'I need to help those people because no one else will' or will it be 'Oh, looks like I can get a special option because I'm a big enough good guy to circumvent this problem then gain more good guy points. Awesome.' Or someone simply picking an option to further an alignment score. Your scores in a game (that is, if the game has one) Should only be mildly boosted by dialog. Action should be whats important.
Of course, that's a mechanic within the game, and not on the morality of games itself. The fact is that the way its in games treats the subject through the glassy eyed stare of a grade school tyke. Like I said before morality is about LIVING with yourself, not the people you effected. Sure, that plays a big part in matters but at the end of the day these decisions should be so massive, so heavy that you worry about the little digital lives you effected. Yes it requires you to be heavily invested in the game's world, but we ARE at a point where its possible. Its been done. I mean, if enough of you can cry over some stupid broad dying in a PS1 launch title and still piss and moan over CGI from three generations ago then its time to really pull out some tearjerkers.
Yes I went there. She dies. Also, oh shit spoilers. Get over it.
Am I saying every decision should be some massive debacle with the cognitive impact of the African Political environment? No. Only a few should have that a key few while the rest can be the fluff to keep the player invested. But we still need a few, a few adult situations with real weight and emotion. We also need moral decisions where the selfish option is monstrous, and the selfless one is...is an act of martyrdom, and not just at the ending. For instance, lets say you start some new game in a space station and the first hour is you getting to know the people. Especially your bunk mate Jim
. An hour later all hell has broken loose and your faced with a decision. Jim
or you. There is one escape pod left and this guy, all he has given you is moral support. Unlike you however he doesn't know how to fight, but then again...hes not you. What should you do? Save this man whom you've bounded with or save yourself from his fate?
Hes either going to die in one moment of pure horror screaming your name before his lips mimic a why as his last breath leaves his lips, or you help him on the pod as he screams for you to stop, to not do this, to not sacrifice yourself for him.
And then the tutorial ENDS.
Quick! Guess which one is the Playable charector, a lead NPC and...Jim.
On that note lets look at Mass Effect 2's famous suicide mission. I wont go into details but to actually have Shepard die, and for that matter to have anyone die is extremely difficult to do. Unless you rush through the game and I mean really rush, then everyone is going to be dandy. It reminds me of the Wrex Paradox. If you don't care he will die and thats that. Yet if you do, if you care enough to jump through HIS hoops (or in the sequel's game your cremates hoops) they will live. And as wonderful as that is its unfair emotionally. Your robbed of a payoff, of someone you care about and have spent hours playing with dying and not a damn thing you can do will bring them back, unless you reload a save. What we need, if were talking morality is for people you care about to get cut down even if you do all you can to make sure you live. You wanna know why you cried for Aries? Because nothing in the world could have saved her.
I want to cite that Dragon age, a game that I did not enjoy very much at all had perhaps one of the best companion system I have ever experienced. Depending on your moral decisions, and even decisions not based on morals, your party members may leave, die, or even ATTACK you because they disagree. Just like people would in real life if you decided to...oh...I don't know...defile their religious relics or kill their whole people. Yes men are bad men to have as companions. They are not extensions of the player, rather extensions of the narrative. Just like the world, they need to react to the player's choices.
Sex is often has a destabilizing effect on morality. Morrigan is just a destabilizing element.
Deus Ex also deserves mention, simply because the game (even if its older then ten years-Ed) because the damn game still highlights how morality and consequences should be presented in a mature fashion, even if the main charterer is perhaps the biggest douche bag in the gaming world. JC Denton is NOT a nice man. Here are a few decisions in no particular order. Also, Spoilers.
Killing an unarmed civilian on orders, leaving so your partner can do it, or killing your partner so he may live.
Letting your brother cover your escape as he gets gunned down, or assisting him against impossible odds.
Beating a starving child for the candybar you just provided for security information.
And much much more!
What a shame...
(Should be noted there are multiple outcomes for this event that we should be talking about. -Ed)
End spoilers. And okay, the last one was just there for those who like to be an ass.
And there is no persuasion system or alignment system. Its all based on dialog choices, and trust me there are quite a few more within the game without even touching its ending. Its just another way to do those choices.
I also need to highlight how stupid it is to make a morality a gameplay mechanic. Did anyone really care about the little sisters well...being little and of the sisterly gender in Bioshock? It just came down to the numbers in the end, and sadly allot of games DO this, just throw in some stupid moral gimmick in hopes of it being a good hook. Often it is not. Whats worse, are the games that only throw in one or two choices that only effect the ending itself, especially if the decisions are simplistic on a moral scale. Its a cop out, trying to force players to spend more time with the game when youtube is just a URL away. If your going to have me act within the bounds of my morality in game, then please provide challenges that test my code and may even change it. And let it change the game world, let it open up and close levels; change how people react to you turning friends to foes and vice versa. Games are interactive, and the more we interact with the world and the less it changes the less magical the game world becomes. However if every single action we take causes a reaction...
Well, then we would have something special wouldn't we?
Note- Team fortress 2 picture located Here