Imagine with me right now, you are the ultimate, killing-machine (unless of course you are such, in which case carry on,) and you're mowing through a small army. The army is "evil", but lacking any other description besides that they are your enemy. They were put in your pathway to kill, and you're going to do just that. You kill countless hordes of soldiers...of men and women, and you save the day; but for who? For the faceless voice commanding you daftly through the game? The unrepresented, and faceless home country? For the millions of people who are never shown to you, but you assume are now in better hands, because the person/government/self-motivated solider that just killed millions of people have "got it from here?" Where is the sense in all of this, and where is the reasoning that drives a story?
There isn't any-- all of this was rhetoric.
You see, what many story lines have gotten away with over the years is making the main characters "Unapologetic Soldiers." People who are morally free to gun down the masses; who don't question the orders or objectives of what is happening around them, simply because that's what they're there for. It makes for boring stories, because the character may not ask why, but you or I will, hopefully. I'm not just talking about first-person shooters either. Even games like Assassin's Creed and RPGs, like Skyrim, have got my goat on this one.
Sure, in AC's case it's usually the loss or emotional struggle backing the revenge killing of the Templar, but what of the soldiers
? Am I to believe every Spanish navy-man is inducted into this top secret order, with the aim to remove self-control from the common man? Are the soldiers not who I'm supposed to be protecting, as I'm pretty sure most of them are in fact, common folk being used as means to an end. After killing armadas of them, where is the result, the progress, and why am I not the villain here?
In a game like Skryim, it isn't the morality or logic behind killing the unarmed, as that mostly comes from the players perspective, but instead the lack of reaction from it. There is no affliction it causes besides beatable hostility. No effect on the game's economy, and in the end, you are still the world-saving Dragonborn. The game just ends up feeling empty, and lonely.
One Skyrim player,
rips through the Solitude country-side with ease, massacring everyone in her way.
While we're at it, lets also make sure not to confuse choices that inspire reflection on the matter at hand, with ones that just alter the play-through and force you to replay it just to see what the greener (or not) grass is like. Simple, yes-or-no, questions that really don't affect ones' perspective aren't really choices. Those are predetermined paths that flavor curiosity with time consumption, as you check out the other side of the fence in a second play-through. When something really presses you as a person, you end up not wanting to go back because the choice was so terrifying, and outcome so uncertain, it makes you put down the controller to study-up on zen and meditation to find who you really are. Sure, that was a bit extreme, but games with different outcomes should make you feel obligated to experience all of them, not that they're a chore or an ending achievement.
Many games, however, have perfected this medium. In the first Bioshock, the opportunity to harvest or purify children from their atom-based parasites was presented to the player. One with an immediate reward that killed them, and another with a long-term one that reverted them to normalcy, respectively; however, both had an affect on the game's ending and the player's interaction with other characters, and in my opinion, the Big Daddy. In a play-through where I planned to save the children, killing the Big Daddy protecting them felt wrong. We both shared the goal of protection, and seeing them so hurt after the death of their "Mr.Bubbles," had me feeling like a bad guy. Sometimes, it even drove me to avoid interaction with any Little Girls until it was necessary. Protecting them all to the end also lead to one of the most heart wrenching endings to a game
(Spoilers,) I've ever played, and it's because it left me emotionally satisfied. Everything was met with justification.
In the end, that's what I ache for. I want my money, my time, and my passion for these games to feel justified. I don't want an army with a label and a grudge, I want to feel like I'm doing something even if it feels like something wrong. I don't want to just loot ammo off a dead solider's corpse. I want to stumble across a family photo, a wedding band, a love note, or diary dripping with personality and emotion. Make these NPCs feel like people and give me choices. Don't present me with cannon-fodder and a singular path to follow and call it a, "player-driven narrative," because it's not. It's a book with graphics, and games have more potential than that. They should be more than just a story with a character to walk across it.