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Morality in Games


Heijoushin

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Let's talk about morality in games.

A friend of mine posted on facebook the other day that she was trying to play renegade in Mass Effect, but couldn't do it because she was too "soft-hearted". I sympathize with this, but I think it’s not because of the softness of anyone’s heart, but simply because games with a "Good-Evil" morality system tend to be written like "Lawful Good - Rude Douchebag". Unless you’re fooling around or have consciously decided to make all the evil choices, most people don’t select the douchebag dialogue options (I think?)

 

So, alternatives!

 

The Shin Megami Tensei games (which I love) often have a “Law - Neutral - Chaos” alignment system. Law represents religion, or “The system”, whereas Chaos represents freedom or “Survival of the fittest”. Or they have characters with other ideals about how the world should be run. I think this is a lot more interesting than vanilla “good vs evil”.

 

Morally ambiguous situations:

Do you remember the gypsy from the Ultima series? To determine your class at the beginning of the game, she asks you some philosophical questions. What I loved about these questions is that there was never a clear “right” answer. For example: “You slayed a dragon but a poor knight, who is trying to feed his children, claimed the reward. Do you turn him in?” Games need more situations like this.

 

Ideas? Remarks?

Edited by Heijoushin
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"Good-Evil" morality system tend to be written like "Lawful Good - Rude Douchebag".

 

Mass Effect was Lawful Good - Rude Good so it doesn't really fit this discussion. Not many games do: you save the world regardless, just sometimes you're a jerk about it. Unless the 'Control' ending of ME3 secretly involved Shepard using the Reapers as his personal army to conquer the universe, I suppose.

 

I do understand the perspective of your friend though, sometimes playing a jerk is actually harder than playing evil. Evil people presumably still have friends, things, places that they care about, yet in many games, it's expected that you be a jerk to everyone and not give a damn about anything, treat your party members badly, etcetera. This is nonsensical, but all too common a problem: the 'evil' option is really nothing more than Stupid Evil (or indeed Chaotic Stupid, or the elusive True Stupid).

 

Still, the gentlemanly bandit archetype is a well-established trope so there's plenty of scope to play like that if a game allows it. Sometimes it's flat out impossible due to lazy scripting, e.g. magical karma systems where people automatically know what you do and react as such. No witnesses is no witnesses, dammit. Appropriately enough, one of my favourite Oglaf quotes (from "Abyss"): "Good and evil are relative, but being a **** cannot be allowed."

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ME is a game with a fixed character that eventually fell into the trapping of its own system by having to resolve every situation through a binary choice.

Generally speaking I haven't found games that do moral system well, the consequences never reflect the player choice and end up diluting the main storyline. I much prefer games like ME where you're playing a character that has a small variation of choice but with depth rather than a bland character with plenty of choices. Plus I do hate it when games enforce their interpretations on you rather than giving you free choice, Chaotic Stupid can still be roleplayed in a tabletop setting for as long as the DM will put up with it. Games tend to be less forgiving of it, so there really is no point to having a choice that will end in a reload.

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I'd say the answer to that question is kind of like the answer to "who's the sucker in this poker game?"*

 

*If you can't tell, it's you. ;)

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"Good-Evil" morality system tend to be written like "Lawful Good - Rude Douchebag".

 

Mass Effect was Lawful Good - Rude Good so it doesn't really fit this discussion. Not many games do: you save the world regardless, just sometimes you're a jerk about it. Unless the 'Control' ending of ME3 secretly involved Shepard using the Reapers as his personal army to conquer the universe, I suppose.

 

I do understand the perspective of your friend though, sometimes playing a jerk is actually harder than playing evil. Evil people presumably still have friends, things, places that they care about, yet in many games, it's expected that you be a jerk to everyone and not give a damn about anything, treat your party members badly, etcetera. This is nonsensical, but all too common a problem: the 'evil' option is really nothing more than Stupid Evil (or indeed Chaotic Stupid, or the elusive True Stupid).

 

Still, the gentlemanly bandit archetype is a well-established trope so there's plenty of scope to play like that if a game allows it. Sometimes it's flat out impossible due to lazy scripting, e.g. magical karma systems where people automatically know what you do and react as such. No witnesses is no witnesses, dammit. Appropriately enough, one of my favourite Oglaf quotes (from "Abyss"): "Good and evil are relative, but being a **** cannot be allowed."

 

One has to wonder why games are designed like that. It's a bit of narcissism on the players' part, I think. Roleplaying an evil bastard or the alternative should be its own reward, but it'd be unacceptable if the game world mostly dgaf about THE HERO's inclinations and past deeds, no matter how small, and there was no internal moral tracker. This way, petty evil actions become necessary in order to rack up enough points to be recognized as GOOD/EVIL by the world or boost the OOC metrics (because who wants to be a mediocre evil doer, anyway?).

 

Personally I hate games that warn you about "karma lost!" and "influence gained!" because that invariably leads to me metagaming and deviating from the archetype I've created for my character. It came up recently in another thread that somebody was replaying ME2 and hated the morality system — I know I did. In fact, one of the worst decisions regarding NG+ was that your P/R gauge was reset to zero, which left you in a worse place than when importing a ME1 character. I just gave myself a ton of R/P points and went on to actually have fun roleplaying.

 

The way SRR:Dragonfall handles it works much better for me. There is no good/evil in labels, actions simply have consequences. You *know* if what you've done is evil, but characters don't tremble in fear because you don't radiate an overwhelming aura of evil that the prince of darkness himself would be jealous of. And yet you may find that what seemed like the right thing to do at the time wasn't quite so further down the road, superficially exploring the difference between a deontological and a utilitarian approach to ethics. It's a more subtle way of doing things, and it conditions roleplaying and gameplay less.

 

Good and evil are social constructs and society as a whole isn't big on letting openly evil people run around doing their thing. Those who are successful at being evil invariably hide it behind a façade of respectability, or normality at the very least. In addition, a good/evil divide isn't really reflective of what happens in the real world, where legitimacy and legality are often much more important than moral good or evil, but this is simply overlooked in games, or confused. One can be a law-abiding citizen and be seriously evil, because the moral compass of the society they live in is totally messed up.

 

Unless games shift focus from being EPIC!!!1 to exploring actual character motivations, interactions and development, we will never have depictions of good and evil that aren't caricaturesque. Would something like Crime and Punishment even work in this medium?

Edited by 213374U
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- When he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worst, he is little better than a beast.

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It's easier to do a darkside-lightside slider and have dialouge options colourcoded. ****, neutral, altruist. That way you can add or remove modules with relative ease and have a simple measure for when you want people to react to your reputation. It's simplistic bordering on the banal.  It would be better to go without and have NPCs react to how you completed certain quest, which would in turn have the dialouge trees be more complex and more work. 

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Na na  na na  na na  ...

greg358 from Darksouls 3 PVP is a CHEATER.

That is all.

 

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ME is a game with a fixed character that eventually fell into the trapping of its own system by having to resolve every situation through a binary choice.

 

Generally speaking I haven't found games that do moral system well, the consequences never reflect the player choice and end up diluting the main storyline. I much prefer games like ME where you're playing a character that has a small variation of choice but with depth rather than a bland character with plenty of choices. Plus I do hate it when games enforce their interpretations on you rather than giving you free choice, Chaotic Stupid can still be roleplayed in a tabletop setting for as long as the DM will put up with it. Games tend to be less forgiving of it, so there really is no point to having a choice that will end in a reload.

The problem with ME isn't necessarily the binary choice, but the fact that, at least in ME2, there isn't really much of a choice. You either play the shining knight or the douche, the game mechanics actively punish you for not sticking to one or the other (there is a mechanism in the "alignment" system in ME2 that decides based on a weighted percentage of paragon/renegade choices you've made whether you will be allowed to use persuasion/bluff so if you don't stick to your chosen "alignment" you at some point will no longer be able to persuade/bluff your way out of any situation). I must say that I was quite disappointed when I found out about this...

 

Also note that the above only applies to ME2, it wasn't the case in ME1 (because persuasion etc. were actual skills iirc) and I have no idea whether they did something about this for ME3.

 

And really, this is the general problem with "moral choices" in games. There are usually mechanisms in place that "force" you in one direction.

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No, ME1 was no better, indeed arguably worse - the charm and intimidate ranks had to be unlocked by having a sufficiently high value on the alignment meter. So you had the same metagaming issue plus you had to spend skill points on them. A moderate character then might end up 'wasting' points on both charm and intimidate without being able to max out either of them, and also is doubly punished since the points could have been put into a combat skill or whatever.

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Playing Torment and the traditional nine alignment axis of the game is really magnificently implemented, not because the nine alignments are inherently attractive in and of themselves, but because they are fluid and reinforced by the mechanics of the game. If one had to choose an alignment at the beginning of the game, and play throughout it in such a way, then alignment would be boring and simplistic but the shifting and fluidity really bring this system to life and serves as yet another choice and consequence system.

 

I can make decisions as I wish, not constrained by a system and simply see where it leads me, and unlock content and items based upon that. I am what I do in action essentially, it's very good.

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Quite an experience to live in misery isn't it? That's what it is to be married with children.

I've seen things you people can't even imagine. Pearly Kings glittering on the Elephant and Castle, Morris Men dancing 'til the last light of midsummer. I watched Druid fires burning in the ruins of Stonehenge, and Yorkshiremen gurning for prizes. All these things will be lost in time, like alopecia on a skinhead. Time for tiffin.

 

Tea for the teapot!

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Would be nice to have more grand evil schemes, rather than stuff like kicking beggars off ledges or the (rather enjoyable in some cases) emptying of an SMG into a kid in The Den.

Why has elegance found so little following? Elegance has the disadvantage that hard work is needed to achieve it and a good education to appreciate it. - Edsger Wybe Dijkstra

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The problem I would say is firstly of making a too simplistic division into "good" and "evil" to begin with.

 

Secondly, it is also true that what we usually call "good" and "evil" comes with much different rewards in real life. If you're criminally selfish you will find yourself chased by the law. If you're unnecessarily altruistic you will often work without receiving any reward. In games, you instead receive a similar reward (red sword/ blue sword) regardless of your choice. Thus there's no way you can actually play a renegade at odds with society.

 

Playing "evil" should be fundamentally different, gameplay-wise. You would be tempted with great rewards, with the risk of alienating yourself from people, completely shutting off some paths throughout the game. In the extreme case, this would end up like playing a Nosferatu in VtM:B. Playing "good" on the other hand, you would completely forsake the material rewards but instead gain the diffuse reward of having friends and allies in the game world.

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"Well, overkill is my middle name. And my last name. And all of my other names as well!"

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Would be nice to have more grand evil schemes, rather than stuff like kicking beggars off ledges or the (rather enjoyable in some cases) emptying of an SMG into a kid in The Den.

There is a problem with communicating to the player that your choices have some variety than what NPC communicate to you. Having NPCs do it for you seem a bit ham-handed and if you don't "teach" the player to do it by having more than one quest resolution set up in this manner, it might go over their heads.

 

The problem I would say is firstly of making a too simplistic division into "good" and "evil" to begin with.

 

Secondly, it is also true that what we usually call "good" and "evil" comes with much different rewards in real life. If you're criminally selfish you will find yourself chased by the law. If you're unnecessarily altruistic you will often work without receiving any reward. In games, you instead receive a similar reward (red sword/ blue sword) regardless of your choice. Thus there's no way you can actually play a renegade at odds with society.

 

Playing "evil" should be fundamentally different, gameplay-wise. You would be tempted with great rewards, with the risk of alienating yourself from people, completely shutting off some paths throughout the game. In the extreme case, this would end up like playing a Nosferatu in VtM:B. Playing "good" on the other hand, you would completely forsake the material rewards but instead gain the diffuse reward of having friends and allies in the game world.

VtM:B is why I prefer playing characters than playing alignments, throughout all possible clan options you were still someone with a sense of humor who fell into a world they knew nothing about. Morality in that game comes with its own penalty based on the Humanity path, and yet it doesn't seem dissonant to move from one end the moral spectrum to the other. You're always playing someone that it is struggling with his newly found condition and whose moral default is grey.

I'd say the answer to that question is kind of like the answer to "who's the sucker in this poker game?"*

 

*If you can't tell, it's you. ;)

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I hate morality SYSTEMS on the grounds that it feels like a constricting of choices. When it becomes a system there becomes an incentive to stick to one side of that system. You're making choices for the meter, not because you like the choice.

 

If the incentive is significant, then you won't ever want to stray. The game might as well have just let you pick good or evil at the beginning and made your choices for you.

 

If the incentive is minor, then there's no need for the system.

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"Show me a man who "plays fair" and I'll show you a very talented cheater."
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I hate morality SYSTEMS on the grounds that it feels like a constricting of choices. When it becomes a system there becomes an incentive to stick to one side of that system. You're making choices for the meter, not because you like the choice.

I'm pretty sure that's just some players choosing munchkining over role-playing freedom.

The real problem with all behavior-meter systems is that mixing your choices amounts to neutrality rather than bi-polar disorder.

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I'm pretty sure that's just some players choosing munchkining over role-playing freedom.

The real problem with all behavior-meter systems is that mixing your choices amounts to neutrality rather than bi-polar disorder.

I think it's a dominate behavior among players. We're well conditioned that way. It doesn't take a min-maxer to not want Legion or Tali to die on the suicide mission.

"Show me a man who "plays fair" and I'll show you a very talented cheater."
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The problem with ME isn't necessarily the binary choice, but the fact that, at least in ME2, there isn't really much of a choice. You either play the shining knight or the douche, the game mechanics actively punish you for not sticking to one or the other (there is a mechanism in the "alignment" system in ME2 that decides based on a weighted percentage of paragon/renegade choices you've made whether you will be allowed to use persuasion/bluff so if you don't stick to your chosen "alignment" you at some point will no longer be able to persuade/bluff your way out of any situation). I must say that I was quite disappointed when I found out about this...

 

 

This is not necessarily a bad way of doing things- there are circumstances where it makes perfect sense. It is treated more like a 'karma' system from Fallout only instead of opening up conversations or whatever with good/ bad guys it means that you can intimidate or persuade because of your reputation for ruthlessness or integrity- which does make sense. ME3 is potentially somewhat better, since it has a generic 'reputation' as well, though whether it actually does anything I don't know.

 

There's also questions such as whether it actually makes sense for- as an example- the big DS/ LS decision in Kotor to be a fully free one; and that in a game where you got very large benefits for going full one side or other philosophically. Does it make any sense really for a full DS guy to go LS or vice versa on a purely arbitrary basis, or would it be better gated through the meter mechanic... Obviously player agency should be key and railroading is bad, but it also doesn't make a lick of sense for someone to swap their philosophy around like it is possible to do, especially for a DS guy. You cannot satisfy everyone there.

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"Good-Evil" morality system tend to be written like "Lawful Good - Rude Douchebag".

 

Mass Effect was Lawful Good - Rude Good so it doesn't really fit this discussion. Not many games do: you save the world regardless, just sometimes you're a jerk about it. Unless the 'Control' ending of ME3 secretly involved Shepard using the Reapers as his personal army to conquer the universe, I suppose.

 

I do understand the perspective of your friend though, sometimes playing a jerk is actually harder than playing evil. Evil people presumably still have friends, things, places that they care about, yet in many games, it's expected that you be a jerk to everyone and not give a damn about anything, treat your party members badly, etcetera. This is nonsensical, but all too common a problem: the 'evil' option is really nothing more than Stupid Evil (or indeed Chaotic Stupid, or the elusive True Stupid).

 

Still, the gentlemanly bandit archetype is a well-established trope so there's plenty of scope to play like that if a game allows it. Sometimes it's flat out impossible due to lazy scripting, e.g. magical karma systems where people automatically know what you do and react as such. No witnesses is no witnesses, dammit. Appropriately enough, one of my favourite Oglaf quotes (from "Abyss"): "Good and evil are relative, but being a **** cannot be allowed."

 

mass effect is Heroic hero or Rude hero, but the dialogue options as they are written look like Hero or Douchebag

to make an example you get

1. Just listen to me (paragon) that actualy means: I know you need to make a profit here, but think of the publicity it would provide if you gave a few of your guns for free to a spectre.

2. F*** off idiot (renegade) that actualy means: I could use my authority to get your guns for free anyway, so it's better for you to take my deal.

in both cases you make a reasonable argument in favor of your proposed deal, but while the short version of paragon hints at reasonable persuasion, the short version of renegade makes it look like you are going to punch him and leave without the guns

The words freedom and liberty, are diminishing the true meaning of the abstract concept they try to explain. The true nature of freedom is such, that the human mind is unable to comprehend it, so we make a cage and name it freedom in order to give a tangible meaning to what we dont understand, just as our ancestors made gods like Thor or Zeus to explain thunder.

 

-Teknoman2-

What? You thought it was a quote from some well known wise guy from the past?

 

Stupidity leads to willful ignorance - willful ignorance leads to hope - hope leads to sex - and that is how a new generation of fools is born!


We are hardcore role players... When we go to bed with a girl, we roll a D20 to see if we hit the target and a D6 to see how much penetration damage we did.

 

Modern democracy is: the sheep voting for which dog will be the shepherd's right hand.

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ME1, at least, had Charm and Intimidate being skills that you put points into that was partly independent of your Paragon/Renegade score, so you could have a Paragon Shepard that could intimidate people, or a Renegade Shepard that could Charm people.

 

ME2, in keeping with its massive de-RPG-ification of the gameplay mechanics, made Charm/Intimidate entirely dependent on your Paragon/Renegade score, essentially encouraging you to go fully in either direction. Those who played a "Paragade" Shepard would find themselves unable to use Charm or Intimidate in many situations. As with KotOR's full LS/DS bonuses, you were really being punished for playing a character with nuance.

 

Of course, one key aspect of "moral choices" is making the player care about the choice and the possible outcome. This was one of my big issues with games like Dragon Age 2 or The Witcher. The writers were hell-bent on making certain that there was no dividing line between the "good guys" and "bad guys" (because that is "stupid" and "childish" according to present thought), and the result was that I found both sides so loathsome and despicable that I simply didn't care about either one. (It also didn't help that both Dragon Age 2 and The Witcher have absolutely awful protagonists). "Morally grey" (god, I hate that term) choices aren't inherently more interesting than black and white ones.

"There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness and truth are absent." - Leo Tolstoy

 

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For Bioware's history, one suspects that picking Star Wars as the post-D&D IP had consequences nobody expected at the time. The KOTOR scale made sense in a lot of ways, and of course the "Evil = Meanie" thing was a feature in older games, Bio's and others'. But KOTOR really made it possible to explicitly code and show your character as light side / dark side, and integrate that into RPG mechanics that make you trade monetary gain for further help from the population, 'good' rewards vs 'evil' rewards, etc. 

 

The faction / karma system is the best I have ever seen morality systems in action and not on paper, the pinnacle being New Vegas. 

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i have not played DA2, but in the witcher you could always take the moral highground and tell both of them to F off. in witcher 2, you picked a side for personal convenience and in both cases the events were out of your hands (after all there is only so much one man can do in such short time). still your part in it is strictly for personal reasons and if you dont care what each side stands for where's the problem?

to use a real life analogy

i dont care what console sells more or has more exclusives. the fact that i picked one over the other was because that one served my needs better. the fact that each has fanboys, does not mean i have to join their ranks because of my choice

The words freedom and liberty, are diminishing the true meaning of the abstract concept they try to explain. The true nature of freedom is such, that the human mind is unable to comprehend it, so we make a cage and name it freedom in order to give a tangible meaning to what we dont understand, just as our ancestors made gods like Thor or Zeus to explain thunder.

 

-Teknoman2-

What? You thought it was a quote from some well known wise guy from the past?

 

Stupidity leads to willful ignorance - willful ignorance leads to hope - hope leads to sex - and that is how a new generation of fools is born!


We are hardcore role players... When we go to bed with a girl, we roll a D20 to see if we hit the target and a D6 to see how much penetration damage we did.

 

Modern democracy is: the sheep voting for which dog will be the shepherd's right hand.

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I'm pretty sure that's just some players choosing munchkining over role-playing freedom.

The real problem with all behavior-meter systems is that mixing your choices amounts to neutrality rather than bi-polar disorder.

I think it's a dominate behavior among players. We're well conditioned that way.

 

But that's exactly the problem.

Interesting decisions have disappeared from games as they didn't fit neatly into one-dimensional alignment bar.

And it's mostly due to our gaming habits since the mindless chase for rewards has long ago overrode any notions of role-play.

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