REPLY TO ALL: I Did and Didn’t Have a Choice

Which side will you take?: Morality systems are spreading out to more and more video game genres. Which games are better for it and which ones are better without it?

Want in on the weekly conversation?
Every Wednesday we pose a question on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. You can answer from Wednesdays through Mondays on Twitter with the hashtag = #RE2ALL, and in our weekly thread on Facebook.com and Google+ posted every Wednesday. Check out this week’s responses at the end of the post, and add to it in the comments!

God of War

Kratos seemed pretty sure of himself.

Rob (Robeque)
I’d almost rather a game force me to be evil, because I can’t help but to the “right” thing when I have the choice. I think it would probably be more fun playing the asshole, though. I guess God of War kind of does…

Justin L (JDevL)
Even though the story was dumb in the third one, I can’t imagine God of War with morality choices. The series has an interesting story that would be completely broken if you could change the course of character for Kratos.

The first game that jumped out to me that would be unrecognizable with a morality system is Red Dead Redemption. I think Rockstar found a great balance in allowing gamers to be a despicable or angelic as they wanted without it affecting the story, which is one of my all-time favorites. Plus the character of John Marston is so great, I think my choices would have played out to make him much less awesome.

Aaron (BGRadio)
I feel like inFamous 2 is a good example of doing a morality system, but the main issue overall is whether or not the player truly commits to going full on good or evil. There’s no benefit to Cole being neutral and the story pushes you to make a decision that affects the evolution of your superpowers. It also helps that it’s not a super-long game, like Fallout 3 or New Vegas, so a second opposite-karma-run doesn’t require too much commitment if you want to see the other side of things.

Skyrim

All kinds of shades of a dragonborn.

Brandon (H21)
I think if there was a true morality system in Skyrim it would feel out of place. You get to play your character however you want, and your actions tend to be the deciding factor in the game. If it tried to truly track and show you how evil you’re being I think it would take away from the experience and the “open concept” the game gives you. There are no classes and no “morality system” which makes the game that much better. I don’t even feel like it’s missed.

Justin L
Couldn’t agree more with both Brandon and Aaron. I thought the first inFamous handled its morality system well as I like to feel superpowered when I go extreme in one direction with my choices. The story was good enough and had moments that made me want to replay it on the good side (of course I go evil first). I’d also go as far to say that Bethesda’s games do the best at allowing your character to play in the gray area.

Brandon
An obligatory Catherine reference, but this game takes morality and kind of turns it on its head. It doesn’t focus on whether or not you’re good or evil, but instead it focuses on whether you are a person who follows rules and traditions or if you’re a free spirit of sorts. Your actions and comments in the game have a direct outcome on how it will end, and I think it made the game that much better.

Ethan (Wizardtrain187)
I appreciate having a choice when it comes to morality, but as you all have stated it really depends on the story. My big issue with morality is that it has implications outside of simply doing good or bad things. Perception and the interpretation of one’s actions by other parties are components to this idea of morality that few really take into account. Killing kittens seems like an immoral thing to do, but what if the act saved the lives of a million people? PETA members may hate you for doing that regardless of the benefit while the people saved may see you as a hero.

New Vegas

Less absolute than you'd think.

I much prefer the idea of building affiliations with certain groups as a better way of tracking this idea of story change through action interpretation. Having factions (like those seen in Fallout: New Vegas) allows a player to act in a specific way, thus building affecting their reputation with a certain group that either approves or disapproves of their actions. This helped alleviate the gray that finds itself in certain moral qualifications as actions are either going to benefit a certain group or not, and that group’s resulting prominence is then what alters the story.

However, like pointed out there are times where I’d rather be pushed into that evil or good role as I obviously struggle with over thinking such concepts. I tend to be a good guy, but holy cow is it fun to let loose. That being said, given the choice to stick to doing good or bad things in a sandbox style game (which is where this system works best) it’s tough not to do the “right thing” whatever that is.

Justin G (GiffTor)
You’d think with my love of the Mass Effect series and Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2, I’d be a huge fan of the morality systems, but I’m actually not. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to be a generally-good but with a dash of practical, some scoundrel and some all-out ass thrown in, but only had my decision to do something that isn’t all goody-friggin-too-shoes come back later when I can’t use a persuade option in conversation because I’m not “good” enough or “bad” enough. I don’t often heap praise on Fallout 3, but the lack of a morality system was great, because, look, those jerks in Megaton who were living in a trash heap next to a nuclear warhead were asking for it. And had I needed to stay “good,” they never would have gotten it.

Like Aaron said, there’s rarely any benefit to staying neutral, or only being a little bit good or bad, which irritates the crap out of me, probably partly because I, myself am, at best, a chaotic good but tending towards chaotic neutral. I think my favorite “morality” system was in the original Mercenaries - if you pissed off a faction by, say, dropping a 5,000 gallon fuel tank onto their base from a helicopter, you could make it up to them by rescuing their dudes or whatever.

Brandon
I think Ethan hits the nail on the head here. I actually prefer faction-based systems over morality. Going back to my example in Skyrim. The Stormcloaks and the Imperials. When you side with one it becomes clear on the behavior. I did enjoy that about Fallout: New Vegas although admittedly I haven’t played that game in its entirety to get a good enough grasp of its full potential.

Gifford is right too. There are times when something happens in the story and I’d be damned if I did the “right” thing to be a good guy because sometimes you just need to show the enemy that your tolerance has run dry.

The Force Unleashed

Is there a third option?

Justin L
I also appreciate how the factions in Skyrim reap certain benefits or abilities, it is definitely a subtle feature that adds to the true openness of that game. When you are playing in the gray the game has be more open and Bethesda has a leg up on most here which is why it works so well. I’m not sure many small studios can pull that off which is way we see so many linear stories or extreme evil vs extreme good morality options.

It is the games that try to buck that trend without the resources that has been giving morality systems a bad name recently. I’m of the mind that you either go with a great linear story or come up with two great polar-opposite stories and reward/enforce/guide the player to pick with and stick with the extreme options. For all of its faults, I think The Force Unleashed did this really well as being evil was just damn fun, and the final choice was incredibly satisfying.

This raised the other problem of morality systems and sequels. Mass Effect being an exception where your choices carry over. Both The Force Unleashed 2 and InFamous 2 ended up picking one of the previous games endings as the “right ending” to continue their tale. Because I did not choose the “right ending” in InFamous 1, it did sap some of my interest in the story of the sequel.

Community Responses

@Nintendo_Legend- Can I get a definition on “morality system”? I mean, 99.9% of successful games throughout history had no formal, quantitative morality system. Only the gamer decided whether to feel bad for stomping a Goomba or not.

@Pixelmixer- It seems that linear or on-rails games benefit greatly from having a strict moral scope. I’m not entirely sure why, I would venture to guess that the success of these types of games avoid giving the player the freedom to do what they want because they place more focus on the story and immersion into that story line that they have created for you. In my experience this includes pretty much any FPS shooter out there today.

On the other side of things, games that have an open world tend to give the player more freedoms to create their own story in their own way. In games like these players wouldn’t be nearly as engrossed if they weren’t able to make their own moral decisions. Imagine trying to play GTA with rules send you back to your last save point if you do anything like steal the wrong car or hurt the wrong person.

Conclusion

That about covers it, I think the most frustrating part is there is still no go to source for hard release dates so that we can budget properly. We could all be in trouble if a few games slip or rumors of early releases turn out to be true. What will you be picking up?

REPLY TO ALL – Our weekly conversation where our writing staff offers up their opinions on the gaming topic of the week.

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