The portrayal of morality in games right now is a joke. Games are worlds with no shades of gray, only black and white. Surprisingly games that advertise the idea of mortality as a bullet point on the back of the box are likely the biggest culprits.
Infamous is a game that puts you in the shoes of a normal person whom has gained super powers. It gives you the option of being either a super hero or super villain. I guess they went the classic comic book style by making your character pure good or pure evil. Morality in Infamous is a screen that pops up right as an important event is happening and gives you two options. First morality test is to either give some starving people in the city food or keep it all for yourself. It is actually detrimental to your experience to play the game any other way. If you look at the decisions and judge them yourselves, then you are playing the game wrong. You can either kill everyone in your path or help everyone in your path. You are either Gandhi or Hitler.
Fallout 3 is another game that had morality all wrong. In the world of Fallout, a nuclear warhead was launched on the United States and almost all human life on the planet was destroyed. I went into this game thinking I am just going to be a bad guy. I will kill for money, enslave people for profit, basically be the worst human being whom ever existed. I was so bad that I nuked an entire town with the inhabitants still in it. Throughout the game, I would find characters that I liked or could relate to. For instance there was this mutated creature who wanted me to help him escape from his wrongful imprisonment. When I helped him escape, he told me he could not continue working with me for I was known to be a bad person. For a second I thought that was astonishing, that he would not fraternize with my kind.
As I kept playing I began to do some activates that would result in people thinking I was a good person. So much so that the mutant decided to aid me on my quest. I nuked a city. I killed men, women and children for money. This should not be so easily forgotten. Another problem I had with this game is you could not complete it without killing people. Even when you are considered good throughout the world, you have killed hundreds of people. How is that good?
Fable 2 was a game I played for about an hour. I had heard great things about the game from friends and read multiple positive reviews online praised the moral decisions. I walked up to a villager in the town my character grew up in and waved to a fellow villager. He replied, “Oh I like that”. Then I selected the option to make him laugh. My character then proceeded to fart. The man then exclaimed, “Oh I like that a lot.” I shut the game off.
There are games on the horizon that I hope bring a deep moral consequence and decisions to games. As of right now, a game might have an important choice one that seems life change for a character. Unfortunately any decision that you make will drive the story in the same direction. Maybe what I want from games is just too expensive for the average developer. Maybe some games with moral decisions should be a bit shorter so they have more time to make alternative routes for characters showing consequences for their actions. I know I am being rather harsh to these overall good games, but I think they are the ones setting the example for others. If games ever want to be more than mindless entertainment, they have to create real life scenarios with numerous outcomes. Maybe people do not want games to become more then they are. I for one cannot wait until they are high art.
Infamous’s morality gauge was a joke, but I thought Fallout 3 did it well, or at least the best any game has done it so far. Sure, you could start the game at one end of the spectrum and by the climax be on the other end, but the changes were small and subtle enough for my taste.
I don’t know how you did it, but I went back to try and get some of the level up karma achievements and I could not for the life of me get rid of my “Scourge of Humanity” rank. I guess I’m just too evil…
The difficulty with a true, “Go Anywhere, Do Anything” game would be the amount of programming required to handle all possible variables. Even in a procedurally generated game, the code needs to be able to handle whatever comes in. Everything has to exist in the code for it to occur.
I think games are only “black and white” when we consider the player controlled character to be the protagonist. Take Gears of War. Humans are trying to beat locust, locust trying to beat humans. If that game placed you in the position of a locust soldier, you’d be in the clear. Humans are a contamination that needs to be destroyed. They want to see your species eradicated. They look different, act differently. (These sentences work with either locust or human in the subject.)
Grand Theft Auto 4’s Niko Bellic is another grey area. Discounting his conduct in the superfluous missions, of which there are many, his central storyline cannot be neatly defined as good or evil. In fact Niko seems to be one of about five people in the entire game with any sort of moral compass.
On the issue of killing hundreds in Fallout 3, and indeed, many other games, I’m going to cite Cliffy B (Gears of War designer) on this, “To date, no one has come up with a more compelling design than reaching out and shooting someone” (paraphrased). It is for that reason that the enemy in Gears of War are the locust, to remove from them the human element. Because many games follow this blueprint (kill, kill, kill), its difficult to jimmy fit morality into place. Hell, look at God of War. Even though Kratos is the protagonist of the series, he is a villain through and through (we can understand his motivations, but not his actions).
Now that cogs are turning, I might have to consider a post next week on some of these games.