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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?

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

90 Comments

  1. Captain JJ the Goo

    November 11, 2015 at 12:38

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

    Reply

  2. Hammersteyn

    November 11, 2015 at 12:39

    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.

    Reply

    • Captain JJ the Goo

      November 11, 2015 at 12:40

      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.

      Reply

      • miaau

        November 11, 2015 at 12:41

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

        Reply

      • Hammersteyn

        November 11, 2015 at 12:41

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

        Reply

        • Captain JJ the Goo

          November 11, 2015 at 12:42

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

          Reply

          • Hammersteyn

            November 11, 2015 at 12:42

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

          • Captain JJ the Goo

            November 11, 2015 at 12:44

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

          • miaau

            November 11, 2015 at 12:44

            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

            November 11, 2015 at 12:46

            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

            November 11, 2015 at 12:48

            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

            November 11, 2015 at 12:49

            I thought that was your restroom name.

          • Hammersteyn

            November 11, 2015 at 12:50

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

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            November 11, 2015 at 12:55

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

          • Hammersteyn

            November 11, 2015 at 12:59

            Saves on disinfectants

          • Hammersteyn

            November 11, 2015 at 12:46

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

          • Captain JJ the Goo

            November 11, 2015 at 12:46

            Haha
            XD

          • miaau

            November 11, 2015 at 12:43

            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

        November 11, 2015 at 12:54

        I’ve never blown up Megaton.

        Reply

        • Hammersteyn

          November 11, 2015 at 12:56

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

          Reply

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            November 11, 2015 at 13:05

            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

            November 11, 2015 at 13:35

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

          • Raptor Rants

            November 11, 2015 at 13:07

            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

        November 11, 2015 at 13:01

        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.

        Reply

        • Captain JJ the Goo

          November 12, 2015 at 07:50

          That is quite true.

          Reply

    • Raptor Rants

      November 11, 2015 at 12:42

      wow…

      Reply

      • miaau

        November 11, 2015 at 12:44

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

        Really.

        Reply

        • Hammersteyn

          November 11, 2015 at 12:45

          hahahaha

          Reply

    • VampyreSquirrel

      November 11, 2015 at 13:00

      #same

      Reply

    • RinceThis

      November 11, 2015 at 13:32

      yes!

      Reply

  3. Raptor Rants

    November 11, 2015 at 12:40

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

    Reply

    • Hammersteyn

      November 11, 2015 at 12:42

      No, I think yesterday was with the Capcom censors article

      Reply

      • Raptor Rants

        November 11, 2015 at 12:42

        Just checking. This felt very Friday debate like

        Reply

        • Hammersteyn

          November 11, 2015 at 12:43

          Xd

          Reply

  4. Raptor Rants

    November 11, 2015 at 12:41

    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.

    Reply

    • Captain JJ the Goo

      November 11, 2015 at 12:45

      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.

      Reply

      • Raptor Rants

        November 11, 2015 at 12:56

        [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!

        Reply

        • Hammersteyn

          November 11, 2015 at 12:58

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

          Reply

          • Raptor Rants

            November 11, 2015 at 13:00

            ikr! Such a twist. Did not see it coming

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          November 11, 2015 at 12:58

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

          Reply

          • Raptor Rants

            November 11, 2015 at 13:00

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

          • oVg

            November 11, 2015 at 13:13

            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

            November 11, 2015 at 13:15

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

          • oVg

            November 11, 2015 at 13:22

            Not at the witches guild.

          • RinceThis

            November 11, 2015 at 13:33

            0_O

          • Raptor Rants

            November 11, 2015 at 13:16

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

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            November 11, 2015 at 13:19

            pfffft. #yen4lyf!

          • Raptor Rants

            November 11, 2015 at 13:21

            pffffft. Red heads win every time

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            November 11, 2015 at 13:24

            Oh really? Explain Rince. BOOOOOOOM!

          • oVg

            November 11, 2015 at 13:25

            oh dear

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            November 11, 2015 at 13:27

            πŸ˜€

          • RinceThis

            November 11, 2015 at 13:34

            You shut your piehole!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            November 11, 2015 at 13:34

            strawberry pie hole? tee hee

          • RinceThis

            November 11, 2015 at 13:36

            0_O

          • Raptor Rants

            November 11, 2015 at 13:52

            yoh

          • oVg

            November 11, 2015 at 13:24

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

          • RinceThis

            November 11, 2015 at 13:34

            I’ve been saying that for years!

          • AfricanTime

            November 11, 2015 at 13:35

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

          • oVg

            November 11, 2015 at 13:37

            tee hee hee

          • Raptor Rants

            November 11, 2015 at 13:52

            Make “dead” things “rise” you say?

          • AfricanTime

            November 11, 2015 at 14:21

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

          • Raptor Rants

            November 11, 2015 at 14:27

            hahahahahahah GG WP

          • oVg

            November 11, 2015 at 13:22

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

          • Raptor Rants

            November 11, 2015 at 13:23

            Never! Triss rocks. Cannot regret πŸ˜›

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            November 11, 2015 at 13:24

            You will. Yen is the boss.

          • oVg

            November 11, 2015 at 13:28

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

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            November 11, 2015 at 13:30

            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

            November 11, 2015 at 13:34

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

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            November 11, 2015 at 13:18

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

          • oVg

            November 11, 2015 at 13:32

            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.

          • RinceThis

            November 11, 2015 at 13:35

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

          • oVg

            November 11, 2015 at 13:36

            You did what to the Unicorn?

          • RinceThis

            November 11, 2015 at 13:36

            Hue hue!

          • Raptor Rants

            November 11, 2015 at 13:53

            teeheehee

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            November 11, 2015 at 13:38

            I just loved the bit just before that.

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

            bwhahahahahaha

          • RinceThis

            November 11, 2015 at 13:40

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

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            November 11, 2015 at 13:42

            Geralt is a better troll than the trolls.

          • Raptor Rants

            November 11, 2015 at 13:53

            0_o

          • Raptor Rants

            November 11, 2015 at 13:54

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

        • Captain JJ the Goo

          November 11, 2015 at 13:21

          Yea man. That one also got me.

          Reply

  5. HairyEwok

    November 11, 2015 at 12:48

    • Captain JJ the Goo

      November 11, 2015 at 12:49

      *vipaka

      Reply

    • VampyreSquirrel

      November 11, 2015 at 13:03

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

      Reply

    • Raptor Rants

      November 11, 2015 at 13:04

      Needs a Micheal Bay explosion at the end

      Reply

  6. Bob of the Khundelar

    November 11, 2015 at 12:59

    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.

    Reply

  7. Alien Emperor Trevor

    November 11, 2015 at 13:00

    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.

    Reply

  8. oVg

    November 11, 2015 at 13:06

    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™

    Reply

  9. Dutch Matrix

    November 11, 2015 at 14:09

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

    Reply

  10. Michael Matusowsky

    November 11, 2015 at 15:19

    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.

    Reply

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