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Can True Morality Ever Exist In Games?

It's widely known that as of late, morality in games has been a rigid, blunt, mechanic. It is often just used to give the player certain rewards or perks for playing in a certain way or sticking to a personality type. Some good examples would be inFamous, Fallout 3 and Fable 2 as they all featured quite an obvious morality mechanic. The morality mechanic in these games were highlighted a lot by the developers in order to create interest and a buzz for them as it gives the illusion of diversity within the game.

Thinking about Fallout 3 in particular led me to question if we could ever have a proper, real morality system or mechanic in future games, I will explain with an anecdote.

Fallout 3 Spoilers

There's a particular section or mission arc in Fallout 3 that requires you to visit a location called "Tenpenny Tower" that houses a rich, corrupt business man by the name of "Allistair Tenpenny." Earlier in the game this man sent a "goon" of his that tries to persuade you to blow up the City of Megaton for a fee. Obviously even to somebody with a vague understanding of the average mans moral code, this would be seen as an evil act.
Anyway back to the anecdote, before you enter the tower you are shown a verbal conflict between a guard and a ghoul named Roy Phillips. The guard refuses the ghoul asylum from the wasteland due to his physical appearance as he believes ghoul's are sub human. Right there you are deliberately shown that the ghouls in this area are being oppressed by the richer and "smooth skinned" race, which would generally be seen as a cruel thing.
When you enter the tower and go to see Mr Tenpenny you can choose whether or not to kill this man as part of a quest and if you choose to indeed kill him, you will be rewarded with positive karma. Right then the game decided that the man was evil and that killing him was a morally positive act to commit.
Once you leave Tenpenny's living quarters and speak to a guard named Gustavo you quickly discover that he too detests ghouls and wants Roy Phillips to be eliminated in case he starts a rebellion against Tenpenny tower. I quickly went to find Roy to talk to him as I felt sorry for his character for being oppressed and I came to an arrangement with him that instead of killing him I would help him get his revenge.
Roy wants you to open up the backdoor of the tower so him and his feral ghouls can get in a wreck up the place. I felt that this was justice as personally I strongly dislike prejudice and discrimination, especially as the residents of Tenpenny tower wanted to kill Roy and his family. So I let him in and helped him kill everybody inside thinking that the game would see the reasons and allow me to break even in the Karma system as on one hand I'm dealing out justice but on the other hand I'm doing it in a really extreme way. However after the quest was complete I found that I had gone from "Neutral" all the way to "Evil". Right there I wondered why they said that Fallout 3 has a morality system as it is more like a "law" system. In law murder is murder no matter what the circumstances and you will be punished for committing homicide. In Fallout 3 the game decides what reward or punishment you get preemptively without judging the scenario and thinking about any moral ambiguity.
Is it right to kill to stamp out an oppressive force that was trying to kill you?

Of course we don't have the technology yet to create such a broad morality system that could efficiently judge moral situation and we probably never will. Even if we create an AI so powerful it takes on human thought and logic then morality will be judged due to that AI's personality type. If it has no personality then it will have to use logic, and then we're back at square one. Everybody has a different definition of what is morally right and what is morally wrong. We have rigid laws that try to fit in the middle of the average moral view but in the end, that system has to remain rigid.

It makes me question why we need moral systems at all? Why call it a moral choice system if all you can do is pick a really obvious morally wrong or right situation like in inFamous? Surely a better idea would be to enforce a "law" system and let us judge a situation and weigh up the pro's and con's of the games options and act upon that? Wouldn't that be a true moral choice?

For example lets say that there is a game where the objective is to find your daughter who has been kidnapped and torture might be the fastest method of achieving that goal. In this game there is a law system that says that torture is wrong and you will be punished (arrested = Gameover?) if you do it and are caught. However if you get away with it the reward is that you've become one step closer to your daughter, but you've had to torture a man to do it. Of course for this to work there would have to be some considerable risk to resorting to torture and/or it would need the game to give you a reason to not torture that character, they may have a family or something.

Surely that is a proper moral choice? Judging the outcome of the situation within the realms of an in game law would present you with a real moral choice, not just a "Yes/No" box that is used either subtley or bluntly in todays games with "Moral Choices".

I really hope developers abandon trying to incorporate a moral choice system into a game where the moral choices can be made in our brains instead. I suppose that is why I'm really looking forward to Heavy Rain, the story in that game appears to be incredibly flexible and able to allow you to choose a solution that fits you, the punishment being a character death.

Thanks for reading.

(If this blog reads wrong it's because I wrote it from 4-5am)
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About Tzarscreamone of us since 4:57 PM on 12.09.2008

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