Why Good & Evil Just Don’t Cut it Anymore

As posted on ButtonMasher.

When was the last time you saw an insanely evil person? Or even a saintly good person? Our videogames teach us to see in black and white. They are the bad boss guy, I am the good hero. Even in games that let you choose your character’s destiny there are only ever two sides; good or evil.

And quite frankly that is not how the world works. In other media we have characters that reflect actual human beings. This is why I watch TV shows like Breaking Bad and The Wire in favour of playing many games. The protagonists aren’t always clear cut. Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things. If you even elect to use the words “Good people”. The world is made up of shades of grey, not a single binary position.

In the Fable series you are often given a moral decision. There are literally only two options in either extreme. Do you save your dog or the entire land of Albion? There we go again with the good and bad. Is it bad for a person to choose their loved ones over a room full of strangers? Can we really say that is a selfish, evil decision? What would you do? Really?

Why can’t we just lock him up?

In the first Infamous you are given a similar decision. Do you save your girlfriend or a bunch of doctors? Instead of just bums off the street the victims were made “doctors” to make the decision harder for you. Doctors help people and could save many more lives down the track.

But of course I chose the hero option which was to sacrifice my love for the lives of the random strangers. All because I was playing the hero. I wasn’t choosing how I truly felt, or what decision I would’ve made if it was actually me in this character’s shoes. No, I wanted the good ending. I wanted to win. I wanted the powers and the PSN trophy that went along with it.

And I know Cole McGrath is supposed to be a comic book superhero. But even comic books have range to them these days. Have you read/seen Watchmen?

Hmm which side lets me fry dogs to feed the homeless?

Most games make us pick sides. In dialogue trees (or wheels) in games like Mass Effect we typically have three options; the Paragon (good), the Renegade (bad), and neutral. The more good dialogues you pick the more “good” your character is regarded. And vice versa.

Will it give me room to be a good-meaning jerk? Someone that will moan and complain but in the end gets the job done? No. You have to pick a side. Savage or altruistic. One or the other. The Charm & Intimidate dialogue options are only available when you progress your respective morality side. We all have the capacity to charm and intimidate in our lives regardless of which side of the morality fence we sit. Oh and by the way, the neutral dialogue option conveys little to no personality whatsoever. Commander Shepard? I say Commander Robot.

Select: “Internal Affairs? Shit, you guys are everywhere.”

I want to be a bad-ass who doesn’t mind saving a cat from a tree every now and again. Which game will let me do that? While you won’t be saving any cats Heavy Rain is one game that springs to mind.

Heavy Rain doesn’t fall into the old tropes of good and evil. Instead you make decisions, and those decisions have consequences. Just like real life. A meter doesn’t fill up specifying to the nearest integer exactly how evil you are.

“How far would you go to save someone you love?” David Cage’s words echo in your skull. There’s a moment in Heavy Rain when you are tasked to kill a drug dealer (who has kids of his own) in order to find your kidnapped son. Cage noted in an interview that most players neglected to kill the man even at the risk of Ethan losing his son. Again like my previous examples there really are only two options in this case, kill the man or let him go. But in Heavy Rain there is no “good & evil” meter. It’s truly about you facing up to your own morals.

In conclusion…

I understand that adding these grey areas is no easy task. It will require some serious programming wizardry. But game designers, if you truly go whole hog with decision making like a Fable or Infamous, please for the love of God give us more than simple hero or villain decision making. Get rid of morality meters once and for all. Give players the room to think for themselves. Let the consequences rule.

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