Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Epic Mickey Offers No Choice

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 4 Jan 2011 16:00
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I trust everyone had a good Saturnalia or local equivalent of same. Sitting around with the family while your mum occasionally pops her head out of the kitchen to say "It's alright, I don't need any help!" in a really meaningful voice. While aunties you barely know ask the most insulting personal questions and read out godawful cracker jokes while laughing like fat middle-aged parrots. And then Granddad says something racist and you have to agree out of politeness and then your brother's Asian fiancee walks in and you have to pretend like you were just stretching your eyes for medicinal purposes. At least, I presume that's what you did. I sat around on my own and had a great time. Being estranged rocks.

But remember the true meaning of Christmas, kids: just because your parents only bought you one of the consoles doesn't mean you have to loudly and obnoxiously defend it in every internet argument for the rest of the year.

Anyway.

Before my holiday break I left you with my critique of Epic Mickey, the latest in the occasional things Disney like to put out now and then to remind you that they used to be about fun jolly cartoons and not rapaciously consuming the soul of everything you hold dear. On the whole, the game was unpolished, lacking edge, and controlled like a horse on roller skates, but it did have one somewhat interesting feature, and that was the dual choice aspect.

You have a magic brush - just roll with it, okay - that can either spray paint, which creates, or thinner, which destroys. What an interesting approach, I thought, that could lead to all kinds of philosophical dilemmas. The acts of creation and destruction are both morally blank, after all. Should our goal be to try to fix this microcosmic bubble society filled with obsolete characters and machinery, or is it kinder in the long run to delete it? Does the fact that its artificial residents appear to be sentient give them a right to exist?

In practice, though, none of this was explored. "Creation" just meant "make look nice," and the whole mechanic was largely used as a moral choice. There was one case early on where you could either use creation juice to rescue a minor character or use destruction juice to catapult them to an uncertain fate, which would allow you to acquire some extra money. I mean, come on. A lot of video games really do suck at creating moral dilemmas.

I've railed against "moral choice" systems in games before because they're often executed in ways that make little sense. At best, they're a system for denying you access to some of the game's content until you play it again and make opposite decisions. And then there are games where both options wind up giving you pretty much the same benefit, which makes the choice itself completely inconsequential. So the only negative consequence for taking evil options is having to live with the guilt and the shame of inconveniencing some imaginary beings from pixel space. I'm pretty sure I could find a way to live with myself eventually, Peter Molyneux. You know, one day at a time.

Moral choice in gaming only makes sense to me when the "bad" option is some easier alternative to the "good" one but which comes with greater risk of consequence, like stealing a car in GTA because it's cheaper and less work than hiring a cab, but runs the risk of bringing the cops down on you. Or in games like Metroid Prime 3 or Dark Earth where you can use the evil force possessing you to gain a temporary power boost but doing so makes it likelier that you'll succumb to it. But even these don't so much paint you as a "bad" person, just a weak one more mindful of short-term benefit than long-term effects.

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