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Morality in Games, Part 2.

Posted by Chris Avellone , 15 June 2008 · 2345 views

And more on morality…

What do you personally consider to be a typically good character?
A good character is one who places others before himself, and is willing to let his character suffer physically, financially, and materially in order to help someone else. They sacrifice, in the recognition that the act of sacrifice is the reward in itself. Sometimes I fear that games undermine the power of these acts by always consistently rewarding good players and punishing evil ones, which ends up making the choice a false one.

What do you personally consider to be a typically evil character?
An evil character puts their self before all others, and lets others die or suffer if there is something to gain by it. They are the ones who kill anyone who blocks their progress, steal from others, lie to gain trust, and do anything to get ahead.

Is it your opinion that the antagonist in a game needs to have a certain type of morality in order for the game to be successful?
No, but I think any antagonist with a philosophical or moral outlook is considered a deeper character and tends to engender more respect from players. Heroes, in my opinion, are only as strong as their adversaries, and that extends to moral and ethical conflicts as well.

Can you foresee any potential risk or reward in designing an antagonist/villain that goes against your perception of a typical such character?
I think the rewards are great by doing this - players, while they take comfort in some archetypes, also appreciate being surprised and challenged by adversaries morally and ethically. Gary Gygax once raised the point that it wouldn't be surprising if two Lawful Good nations went to war, for example, and a world that allows for realistic conflicts such as these just seem richer than standard fantasy fare.

Do you consider the antagonist's/villains motives and personality to be important?
Incredibly important. Without these, there is no villain, and a purposeless or emotionally shallow villain is not one that players can respect - it's more akin to fighting a force of nature than a personality, and while that can work (Sauron), it's much more interesting to fight someone with motives that run deep and also are understandable in context of the situation (Gollum).

Would you say that it is ok in a game to have human characters that the player can kill without any form of penalty?
Yes. I think there should be consequences for it, but not always a penalty. If that's how the player wishes to play the game, they should be allowed to do so. Arbitrary invulnerability for townspeople or non-player characters isn’t something that caters to evil characters.

These types of characters could be placed anywhere, the important thing is that their deaths have consequences that fit the context of their placement (murder in towns should affect reputation, should affect guard presence, and if the player is seen hurting or attacking anyone, then the town should turn against him).

Again, the important thing is that there is some consequence, but such a consequence is not only a penalty.

Are there in your opinion situations in video games where the use of violence can be considered to be OK?
Yes, because the game world is a fictional one, as such the moral choices can easily be set up so that you know that if a certain person were killed or defeated it would obvious be to the world's benefit. I don’t think anyone would argue that killing the Joker in the world of Batman would probably be a good idea for the population and happiness of Gotham City in the long run.

In games, do you think violence can be a successful/desirable way to solve a problem of moral character? If so, why?
I generally play diplomatic and speech-skill characters in games (which usually allow you to talk your way out of situations), but games often present the player with clearly evil opponents that if they were captured, defeated, or killed would be to the game world's benefit.

We usually try to provide the "capture" option for some encounters in our games, but usually, some villains refuse to surrender (usually out of fear or pride) and it comes down to self-defense. We always try to make sure that moral characters have a choice in how to approach a situation and at least try to reason with criminals, enemies, and monsters, even if the results end poorly because that's what good players

Do you think it would contribute to or detract from the game experience if the player was presented with a moral choice that had no obvious morally superior choice? Why?
It would contribute to the game experience - choices like this challenge the player to think them through, and to all accounts, the Witcher did this quite well. When you present options that could go either way, it makes the world seem richer and deeper, and as long as you show the consequences of the actions, that's what's important.

In what games you have played in the past do you consider the use of moral choices particularly interesting or successful?
See Part 1 of the interview below for Fallout 2 and Mass Effect.

What sort of development of these kinds of moral choices do you envision in the future of the games industry?
More cinematic interactions and conversations are becoming an increasing part of role-playing games (you see this in Mass Effect), but I think one of the most interesting aspects of moral choices is actually in massively multiplayer online games, because the victims and benefactors of your choices are other players... and they are a huge jury to play with. If people routinely rob, betray, or leave other players in bad situations, one's reputation usually catches up with them. I usually find other players are the best policemen and reflections of your status and the consequences of your actions in the world.

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