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The wrong thing: How low can you go?

3:00 PM on 11.28.2009 // Mighty Pinto

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I’m a very non-confrontational person. Whenever I’m presented with a moral choice, regardless of the game, I usually end up taking the moral high ground; even when the NPCs turn out to be complete and utter dicks. Worse still, I do it even when I have irrefutable proof that the other party will screw me over once I’m done with their little favor; yet I endure whatever inconveniences it may cause me, only because I know I remain a hero in the eyes of the people that I protect. In the game, everyone likes me because I uphold an image of all that is supposedly good in the world, and for that, I feel a rewarding sense of acceptance that eludes me in the real world.

But this isn’t my story. This is a story about the other end of the spectrum, about those who take the moral low ground, those depraved souls who only gain pleasure from spreading human misery. Moral ambiguity is all the rage these days; although in most games, we’ve always had the opportunity to be jerks. The problem was, it was always detrimental to the player’s cause. “Shoot a hostage, you lose health.” Well, what if the dumb civvie just happened to run into your line of sight? “Tough Luck, aim better next time.”

Nowadays, if you want to shoot that hostage, the game will step aside and simply say “Go Right Ahead! You’ll just be awarded negative karma/dark side points/etc.” Which is fine and dandy, but it still raises a question in my mind: what happens when you get all the points you could possibly get? What if, let’s say in Fallout 3, merely completing the evil-themed side quests just wasn’t enough? 

Well, a friend of mine answered that question for me one fateful night, when I let him play my copy of Fallout 3 for the first time. This friend, who shall remain nameless, is a part-time Taekwondo instructor, as well as a volunteer for the local YMCA. He works mostly with special-needs children, and they all seem to like him well enough. However, the thing about this guy is that once you put him in a game and offer him a slew of morally-ambiguous choices, he becomes the anti-Christ. He always manages to do things that go well above and beyond the scope of the normal “evil” path in the game, and the thing of it is…he ALWAYS manages to get away with it!

For instance, that very night he first played Fallout 3; he immediately took the evil path. He mouthed off to Butch, then let him have his way with Amara, then later killed him and his mother…along with anyone else he came across during his escape from Vault 101. He couldn’t kill Amara when she came to meet him at the vault entrance…though that didn’t stop him from beating the ever-living crap out of her with a baseball bat until she fell unconscious to the floor.

His escapades didn’t end there, though; once he got out into the world, he killed without discretion, murdering anyone unlucky enough to cross his path, stealing whatever items they may have had. He didn’t even bat an eyelash when asked to blow up Megaton, and did so with a smile on his face while Mr. Tenpenny and Mr. Burke applauded his work. Still, with his position in Tenpenny tower secure, my friend STILL wasn’t satisfied. His bloodlust knew no boundaries; and the game wasn’t showing any signs of holding him back. Hell, even in Grand Theft Auto you had wanted stars: The more acts of crime you committed, the harder the heat would come down on you. It was a simple balance, but in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, they had no meaning whatsoever.

Later that night, my friend ascends the stairs to the balcony where he observes Mr. Tenpenny taking potshots into the distance. Tenpenny starts rambling on about wasteland safaris and the like, but my friend has only one thing on his mind...

“I want that sniper rifle.”

Before I have the chance to ask, he pulls out his pistol, puts two slugs in Tenpenny’s 10 spot, and grabs the rifle. Along with the red smoking jacket off of the old man’s back. He then proceeds to waltz through Tenpenny Tower, sparking a massacre that started with Mr. Burke, and didn’t end until sunrise, where he faced off in the courtyard with the few guards that remained. It seemed like nothing could stop him; even when he ran out of ammo for Tenpenny’s rifle, he merely took the weapons off of the dead security guards and just kept on going.

By the time the sun hovered over the horizon, everyone in Tenpenny Tower lay lifeless. My friend spent the rest of the day systematically decapitating the corpses, then dismembering Captain Gustavo and laying his limbs in a decorative manner around the courtyard fountain in the style of a compass: Legs pointed south, arms pointed east and west, and his severed head facing north. Several questions flooded my mind at this point, the most prominent of which being “what in the fuck did I just witness?” followed closely by “What in the hell is WRONG with you?”

However, I was too frozen in terror to form words at that point. I’d seen my mild-mannered friend of nearly seven years slaughter countless innocents for his own amusement.

His joyride of death finally ended, though, when he made the fatal mistake of attacking the caravan just outside the Megaton ruins. He only managed to get in one well-placed headshot before the angry nomad riddled him head-to-toe with bullets. Discouraged, he merely re-started his character and played things out normally, only because he blew up Megaton without first attempting to get info on his father for the main quest.

Over time, he lost interest and moved onto other games; particularly Fable II. Back when he first got Fable I, he spent the majority of the game running through every village he came across, robbing its inhabitants blind and then murdering them in their sleep. I figured Fable II would be no different, but I was wrong… dead wrong.

He told me he had found an easy way to get lots of money in Fable II. Curious, I let him continue, but I quickly came to regret it. Although I never played either Fable I or II myself, he explained that when your spouse dies in Fable II, you get $2000 gold as monetary compensation (either that, or you get $2000 as the dowry, I can’t remember which). So, he would find a lonely maiden out in the world, marry her, murder her, then rent out her house to the highest bidder. He would repeat the process until he had ownership of every house in the village, then swiftly move onto another and start all over again. If the woman already had a husband, he’d murder the husband first, then follow the formula. Same goes if she has any children, regardless of whether or not he’s the father.

Funnily enough, when he recently acquired a copy of Modern Warfare 2, I immediately had to ask him about his feelings on the whole “No Russian” controversy, and whether or not he actually played the level. I wasn’t surprised when he said yes, but I WAS surprised when he confessed that slaughtering all those innocents actually did bother him…though he never mentioned why…and I was too shocked to ask. I assumed it was due to that fact that it wasn’t his choice, rather than the mission objective itself. The game told him to kill those people (or maybe, “The Devil made me Do It?”).

So I suppose evil does have its limits in the gaming world, though I suppose it would have to weigh in to the level of guilt a player has for his NPC compatriots. As a great man once said, “Even the Devil cries sometimes.”

…wait, I think that was Toji Suzuhara. Eh, whatever…I’m tired.

Mighty Pinto,
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