Does morality in games improve the experience?

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Broken moral compass

I love when office chat turns to decisions we’ve made in games. Contrary to popular belief, Darryn is quite possibly the worst human being on this planet, at least when it comes to being horrible in games. Opportunity to steal from children? He’ll take it! Opportunity to nuke an entire city? Sign him up! I just can’t – I get far too invested and attached to the characters to let them be bad people. But is morality really something that adds value to games?

Over on Cracked, the guys did a hilarious video about Fallout. No, not Fallout 4 because they haven’t gotten to play it yet, but even based on Fallout 3, it gives a great idea of the game’s universe, and the arbitrary nature of morality:

The video is hilarious, but it does raise an interesting point. I’ve made some tough decisions in games. In Mass Effect, it was a matter of saving or destroying entire races and every choice could come back with dire consequences. But who gets to decide what is the right or wrong decision? Why were some choices considered good or bad?

Morality is such a vague and tricky topic in general. Depending on time period, location and general mindset, the moral code of what is acceptable or not can vary so widely. When I started playing a popular PC RPG a few months back, I was shocked that I got in trouble for looting everything from a house – I’m the hero, aren’t I allowed to just take all this junk and use it for a good cause? Sure, in real life I know that stealing is wrong, but in games we’re conditioned to run around mowing the grass or breaking all the pottery in the hopes of finding something of value hidden away inside. What would a Legend of Zelda game be if Link didn’t go about smashing all the pots and taking the Rupees left behind?

Read  Mass Effect Andromeda is being added to EA and Origin Access

But isn’t this sort of what we do in all games? I yell at my assassin characters for not doing parkour well enough when I can’t even do a pull up at the moment. There is a suspension of disbelief in games as our characters do things that we never could – from physical acts of might to blurring moral lines. Half the time in games I find it easier to just stealth kill almost everyone than actually sneak past them. In real life, how could I cope with casually killing 10 people in the space of five minutes just to steal some stuff? Probably not well.

But with morality such a subjective concept, does it really make a game better? Do you like playing as the “good guy” even if that can include some morally ambiguous activities? While I enjoy the intricacies that it can add to the gameplay, I do feel a bit cheated when a game decides that I’ve played it “wrong” and don’t get the optimal ending, whatever that might be.

Last Updated: November 11, 2015

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. I believe people should stop defining themselves and just enjoy playing games, so let’s get on with it!

  • Captain JJ the Goo

    It definitely improves the experience.
    And it is of course a HUGE surprise that Darryn is such a terrible person in games.

  • Hammersteyn

    Yes! Because then I play the game twice. First time through I help the old lady across the street, the second time round I push her under a bus.

    • Captain JJ the Goo

      I cannot get myself to be a bad person in games. I’ve played Fallout New Vegas so many times and I’m always the super good guy. I feel too bad otherwise.

      • miaau

        Same. Always. Cannot do it. It just feels wrong.

      • Hammersteyn

        But it’s more fun! Massacre a town instead of doing silly side quests and get more loot.

        • Captain JJ the Goo

          I take these things too seriously probably, but I feel so bad if I screw someone over in a game

          • Hammersteyn

            That’s why you play it twice. See both sides of the coin

          • Captain JJ the Goo

            Nope. Still can’t. Replayed New Vegas three times. Just couldn’t do it.

          • miaau

            3 times? Nah, just once was enough, but I covered more or less EVERYTHING. Got to the point where I looked up online guides, to make sure I get all the quests I could

          • Captain JJ the Goo

            Tried Fallout 3 a second time, and although I love the map more than the one in NV, it’s just so barren that I couldn’t get into it again.

          • Hammersteyn

            I’m so gonna play Fallout 4 twice. The second time round I’ll name my character Dr. Manhattan. Because it’s gonna rain nukes

          • Captain JJ the Goo

            I thought that was your restroom name.

          • Hammersteyn

            Nah, they call me DJ Master Dizzy. The stench makes the rooms spin O_o

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            They call me The Exterminator, because once I’m finished in there nothing’s alive.

          • Hammersteyn

            Saves on disinfectants

          • Hammersteyn

            You can do it! No one’s looking πŸ˜›

          • Captain JJ the Goo

            Haha
            XD

          • miaau

            I do not think he understands. Some people do, some people are able to completely dissociate themselves from the game.

            It would seem you and I, and a whole host of others, are simply unable to do that.

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        I’ve never blown up Megaton.

        • Hammersteyn

          I did! From the balcony of my snazzy apartment after I killed the old guy. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            I tend to do the “good” thing overall, but I like having the option to not be very nice to the “bad” guys when doing so.

            I did that in Dishonoured – I went out of my way to avoid killing regular guards, but also to kill the elite guards. The former were just doing their job, the latter were arseholes.

          • miaau

            Indeed, yes. I also like to play to my own twisted morality, be it right or wrong.

          • So did I. Played another hour. Felt bad from all the stuff happening due to it. Reloaded save before my choice and never blew it up again

      • Bob of the Khundelar

        Fallout, as much as I love them, does morality badly in my opinion. You get penalised for stealing (karma loss) even if you don’t get caught. It’s a post nuclear world – survival of the fittest.

        • Captain JJ the Goo

          That is quite true.

    • wow…

      • miaau

        I know, hey. More money in helping the old lady across the street, into the sweat shop.

        Really.

        • Hammersteyn

          hahahaha

    • VampyreSquirrel

      #same

    • yes!

  • *looks around suspiciously*
    It’s not Friday yet is it?

    • Hammersteyn

      No, I think yesterday was with the Capcom censors article

      • Just checking. This felt very Friday debate like

        • Hammersteyn

          Xd

  • I enjoy when games have morality in games. Especially when it’s all mostly grey area stuff. Witcher 3 did this exceptionally well.

    I reckon it makes a game more rounded. Do I feel cheated if I don’t get the optimal ending? No. It makes me play again to try get the ending I want by making my choices differently to what I am used to.

    It makes a person examine their own choices and personality as well.

    • Captain JJ the Goo

      Witcher 3 has the special ability to make me feel bad even when I think I made the right decision. I liked that…made it feel more real because there were big consequences.

      • [spoiler warning if you haven’t played much] Yep. Like dead wife, dude hangs himself…. All I did was save some children for crying out loud!

        • Hammersteyn

          I know right. same thing happened. Then every one judges me

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          Yes. And then after that you get soldiers harassing the townsfolk on a few occasions because he’s not around to control them anymore.

          • Eish yeah. So much hurt. For saving children. What was I supposed to do????

          • oVg

            Mine was when I was trying to stay faithful to Tris while brushing off Yenifer after she realised that she loved me and wanted to know if I feel the same.

            Hell hath no fury than a women scorned.

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            …What? Furry? Do they stop shaving their legs in anger? *run*

          • oVg

            Not at the witches guild.

          • 0_O

          • I’m currently down the same path. Trying to let Yen down easy. This makes me worried now….

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            pfffft. #yen4lyf!

          • pffffft. Red heads win every time

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Oh really? Explain Rince. BOOOOOOOM!

          • oVg

            oh dear

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            πŸ˜€

          • You shut your piehole!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            strawberry pie hole? tee hee

          • 0_O

          • yoh

          • oVg

            In a fox mask …. giddigy giddigy gooooo πŸ™‚

          • I’ve been saying that for years!

          • AfricanTime

            in this case however, who does not love a girl who has the power of necromancy

          • oVg

            tee hee hee

          • Make “dead” things “rise” you say?

          • AfricanTime

            “you raise me up so i can stand on mountains”

          • hahahahahahah GG WP

          • oVg

            Nope, you will feel like shit. No other game has ever made me feel like shit lol

          • Never! Triss rocks. Cannot regret πŸ˜›

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            You will. Yen is the boss.

          • oVg

            Its a tough one. They both ooze more sex-appeal and class than the entire gamergate scandal.

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            lol. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t happy at letting Triss go, especially after the fancy dress party. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

          • oVg

            I went to Cripple Kates to make up for the guilt.

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            I remember lol’ing at Vesemir’s story about Yennefer losing her temper at Kaer Morhen and destroying certain furniture.

          • oVg

            SPOILER lol she went and teleported my ass 50 feet above the middle of a lake.

            Hell, Its been 10 months and we are still talking about the game. If its not GOTY at the VGAs then the Industry sucks nekker balls.

          • spolier man! SPOILER! I just left the unicorn, now you tell me this?!

          • oVg

            You did what to the Unicorn?

          • Hue hue!

          • teeheehee

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            I just loved the bit just before that.

            Yen: “Geralt… look!”
            Geralt: “………oh no”
            Yen: “Oh yes!”

            bwhahahahahaha

          • I can’t stop laughing man. He is always rolling his eyes at what people ask him and stuff. Flipping funny.

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Geralt is a better troll than the trolls.

          • 0_o

          • I have to agree though. Has to win #1 game of all time

        • Captain JJ the Goo

          Yea man. That one also got me.

  • HairyEwok
    • Captain JJ the Goo

      *vipaka

    • VampyreSquirrel

      That gif would be WAY funnier if that ball flattened her.

    • Needs a Micheal Bay explosion at the end

  • Bob of the Khundelar

    I think the option for morality makes the game better. The ability to play a character similar or vastly different to your personal view is what makes a game for me.

    I find it frustrating when a character displays a certain morality or I lead it down a certain morality only to have it slotted into a set ending which would differ completely to the experience before. Witcher 1 was a good example – I played my first game aligned with The Order but sympathising with the non-humans only to have a huge change near the end where you basically commit mass genocide because its a set piece. Ruined the playthrough for me.

    Morality should influence and enhance the game but it shouldn’t define it.

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    It all depends on the story and the context. There’s gameplay logic & story logic. Gameplay logic has me happily mass murdering my way through whole cities, it’s meaningless unless the story makes it somehow meaningful.

  • oVg

    I took awhile to get used to Ass Syndicate. Once I realised that its an arcade game and not a Sim I enjoyed it more. Thanks to the horses being nothing more than an extension of a dodgem Model T Ford and that Londoners are all cockney gangsters from a Guy Richie film… I WENT TO TOWN πŸ™‚ Great fun.

    Although… I still feel a little guilty after randomly slitting the throat of a gangster after he politely asked a child what directions he should take. If only he knew when he woke up that morning πŸ™

  • Dutch Matrix

    An interesting debate I had once with a friend: In Mass Effect, if Femshep romances an Asari, does that make her a lesbian?

  • Michael Matusowsky

    I liked morality. In Mass Effect I made Shepard the baddest ass in the Milky Way Galaxy. Fuck being a paragon, you’re a fucking commander and you need to do what you have to do to save the planet. No nonsense, no kidding around. Renegade Shepard is the only Shepard <3.

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