well Red looks more badass..But the blue matches my eyes....
Chances are youíve probably played a game where you are presented with "moral choices". Choices you have to make based on what (the game) decided its right and wrong. Often such scenarios fall flat when put under scrutiny. I think some games handle the use of "choices" and "morality" better than others
First off, I'm going to talk about the absolute worst offender, Fallout 3. To me this game is an example of how not to do morality and choices.
Fallout 3 is set in post-apocalyptic America. More specifically DC. The funny thing is the post apocalyptic genre is one that challenges our concept of morality...like...a lot. When society crumbles so does "right and wrong", to what lengths will we go to for survival? At what point do you lose your humanity? Is a world without humanity worth living in? (And all that other deep stuff)
Fallout 3 takes such a setting and paints it black and white....like Disney black and white....do you want to be Scar or Simba? The light side or the dark side? Run a home for orphaned puppies or bathe in the blood and tears of children? Take your pick!
Ok, I may be exaggerating....
within the story of Fallout 3 you are more or less shoe horned into the same role, you are the kid from Vault101 and your out looking for your dad (assuming you see it through and don't just say "fuck it" ignore the quests and play the rest of the game as a slaver....in a way that could be equally valid)
One of the main problems with moral choices is that "it makes no sense to be evil"
unless you're being evil for the sake of being evil.
Like I said, in FO3 the main story will generally follow the same route, you will look for your father, and you will work with the "Brotherhood" no matter how much of an evil prick you are
So why are you an evil prick in FO3? Stealing and killing certain people is one thing. But a lot of the time the "evil" decisions don't really seem to come from any kind of struggle or need to survive. Or any real "reason" other than some petty gain and "the lulz"
Ok, so maybe Kid Vault101 is an asshole...a lot of people are assholes. It does seem a little odd considering your upbringing...so he/she was just born an asshole..or has some serious daddy issues which translate into killing and stealing...I guess thereís nothing wrong with allowing for the fact that the player is going to do bad things (since not everyone is a straight as an arrow moral crusader like me)
The main problem is (as I said) when the choices are so bland and predictable, itís been said before the most evil people don't believe they are evil...they are just utterly convinced that their way is "right"
Back to FO3. Bethesda made the world very black and white, like "The Brotherhood of Steel", some fans say they "ruined the brotherhood of steel", they did and they didn't
They didn't "change" the Brotherhood of steel, what they did was wrote in a scenario where the BOS were "lawful good" instead of "lawful neutral". They wrote that there was a rift in the faction over "mission priorities" and that the "BOS" were now fighting super mutants (more or less helping people) rather than looking for technology The "outcasts" are what the "actual" brotherhood of steel are like
So while what they did may be on "bad fan-fic" levels, its still perfectly valid lore wise. Just wanted to make the distinction
Anyway, as I said no matter what you do in FO3 the main story is going to follow along the same path, youíre going to fight against the enclave with the Brotherhood. You can't join the Enclave. You can fetch quest for the outcasts but you can't join them or re-unite them with the BOS or help them "take back leadership and therefore see the consequences of the BOS pulling out of the region.
perhaps the game would have benefited in getting rid of the annoying Karma meter altogether, in a post apocalyptic situation having an annoying little sound cue constantly berating you for every little thing like stealing stimpaks from slavers when your injured doesnít really fit with the setting...morality can shift and change depending on the situation
The morality fairy
As in so what if I killed Moriaty?... had it coming because he was a prick!
Pictured: a Prick man with a Prick beard
another thing about FO3 is that you donít have to think
at all, thatís the major problem, choices are boring when you don't have to put any thought into them, granted its not all bad since the game still is allowing for the fact your an asshole-uh....I mean for the fact you will play as an asshole
But if the game acts like its choices have actual weight beyond "hmmm..I'm felling a little evil today.." Then you'd want that to show
So. Mass Effect
Mass Effect takes a different approach to the "morality thing", again your role in the story is essentially the same , your Commander Shepard fighting the reapers (the difference between this and FO3 is FO3 presents itself as the kind of game that should give you more flexibility)
Itís essentially what attitude you take, are you a ruthless renegade? Who will go to any length to get the job done? Or an upstanding Paragon? Who will fight for fairness and justice while keeping ones hands clean? Thatís the concept..
But the problem is it falls completely flat.....the thing is Renegade Shepard is not only a major prick. But a majorly incompetent Prick
Major Prick reporting for duty!
lets just ignore for a second that in ME3 our choices feel kind of meaningless....I have not yet played the extended cut so please no spoilers for that..REGARDLES of how awful/good it is
Can you name one relatively important choice where being a "renegade" worked out for the better? The Idea behind renegade seems to be that he/she will get the job done "at any cost" and that in some cases this is a necessary thing....
But the fact is it isn't. There is no Paragon option that turns out worse than the Renegade alternative, (the only one I can think of was the "re-write" incident with the geth)
at least in ME1 such choices were not so clearly "marked" so it seems reasonable not to release the rachni queen or even save the council (on my first playthroguh I didnít because everything was at stake)
But in ME2 its either Paragon or Renegade, the choices are color coded for your convenience and no thought what so ever is required. Itís essentially a "good/evil" karma system repackaged as something else, I know that handing the collector base over to Cerberus is a bad long term move. Not because I had to think (though I did...because fuck Cerberus) but because itís in blue, and blue is better, regardless of what I actually think
Now regardless you could say that the renegade/paragon is merely a role playing thing. a form of "flavor text" which is true, and no doubt being a renegade makes sense sometimes and is probably fun (I wouldnít know, I hate renegade shep) but the fact is it presents itself as something "different"...a choice system that requires thought when it really doesn't
The only choice I was ever truly stumped at was the very last one....and we all know how that went...
It still haunts me......
And this seems to come from the same thing. when you think about it may actually be better to do away with marking choices as "good" or "bad" and just presenting them "as is"
because things like "good and evil" or "paragon and renegade" in a way train
you to play a certain way...and at the end when they throw an actual "real" hard choice in your face (like Infamous 2 or ME3) it throws you out
maybe its good because its like "ohh! deconstruction!" and all that....or maybe its bad because (as I said) it takes away any thought and if you do make a choice that goes against your usual pattern then you feel like your doing something wrong..
Dragon Age: Origins had a similar approach to Mass Effect, again you are the Grey Warden, you are there to fight the dark spawn threat, you can be a hero or an absolute prick about it
the difference is there is no set "measure" of your morality aside from what your companions think of you, each has their own moral alignment and will approve or disapprove depending on your actions. or leave if they hate you that much (and whatever you do Morrgain will disapprove)
and I think this is a great approach...I'm free to make whatever decisions I deem necessary, and only answer to my companions and not some invisible Karma Fairy who gets annoyed when I steal from someone who was trying to kill me
and even for a "straight edge" moral crusader like myself it still presents me with interesting situations
like when I think I called upon the aid of a blood mage to help save a possed Mage child....only to have Alistair (the one you could call "good") chew me out on the evils of blood magic, to which I defended my position and shut him down, he wasnít happy with me,
I feel like the game gave me some genuinely grey situations and not just the illusion of them
but then again I think Infamous (that has Binary good or evil choices) works more or less because it isnt an RPG, nor does it claim to give you "tough choices" its a sandbox game that allows for the fact that gamers + sandbox =lots of dead civilians, but also allows for that fact that some of us arenít interested in mindless chaos
its like being able to play god of war or Prototype without being a massive dickbag, something I really like. and I guess (judging from the cover) they are trying to paint Cole as somewhat neutral and possibly "inclined" both ways, both work more or less within the story. Of coarse thats just my interpretation.
aside from Dragon age: Origins a game a I feel does moral choices well is Fallout: New Vegas
it still uses the basic "universally right and wrong" Karma system which as blogger myherozero pointed out
creates some inconsistencies
however the reason I think F:NV does moral choices well is because much like Dragon age your relationship with the different factions matters, you can be on pretty bad terms with the Karma fairy but best buddies with the NCR
alot of the plot revolves around deciding which faction holds the best hope for the future of New Vegas, and at first glance "NCR vs Legion" seems pretty black and white...unless you seriously think the Legion are the best option. in which case I'd point out Caesar is a lying hypocritical little prick
who has a very punchable face
but aside from the legion the real decisions lie with Mr house and the NCR, that was where I had to make tough choices
because you could go through executing every whim of the NCR because you believe yourself to be paragon...only to stop and realise how many people youíve actually screwed over in the process....is it right to kill the great Khans or Mr House because the NCR demands it? what about following Mr House? or going solo? which is the right decision? or maybe you don't care. maybe its all about the power
I remember when I killed Mr House he asked "why?" and whatever answer I gave felt very hollow and unjustified.....because mabye it wasnt right, but the fact was I had to do this bad thing in order to achieve what I thought was right, and there was no "good karma" feeling to back it up
There was something very satisfying about playing the NCR and then at the last minute showing them the door (in a more or less polite way) not because I was evil or didnít believe in the NCRÖbut because I just didnít they were right for New Vegas right now...a hell of a lot more interesting than being a wasteland Jesus
or if you want to be "evil" you could play a character who was a legion fan boy or NCR fascist...again unlike FO3 you have actual motivations to you being a bastard
anther issue with Moral Choices is being "locked out" I can't think of many straight examples except some Pirates of the Caribbean RPG I played a long time ago on PC...
but essentially being "locked out" shouldn't feel frustrating, like a characher comes to you with a morally dubious task but you decline. and then you never find out what happiness next. Its like you've got the Karma fairy on one shoulder berating you for even thinking of accepting. and Danny the devil on the other telling you how uncool you are
Hence why I like the Dragon Age aporach..you never feel like your closing doors, but theres still other things to try for another playthrough
F:NV does have a form of "locking you out" as in if you piss off a faction you can't get by without getting shot (or wearing a disguise) but then it still integrates your alignment with the story, I can team up with whomever I please and I suppose it makes sense for the NCR to outlaw me if I'm buddies with Caesar
so essentially I think the main problem with moral choices is they are too ridged, its ok to have a sense of "right and wrong" since we all like good guys and bad guys but putting a numerical value on something as "subjective" as morality usually waters down our "choices" and makes them boring.
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