James Portnow: I'm not sure what I can add that I haven't said in our episode on morality bars, but the short of my stance is:
A. If you peg morality in your mechanics to a 2d bar, your moral choices will be 2 dimensional. No writer can write around this, no level of voice acting is going to save you.
B. There are lots of non-extrinsic ways to do morality. If you look at EverQuest's faction system, they simply had different races judge the same action in different ways, so what the Dark Elves thought was righteous the Hobbits probably didn't find so awesome. This allowed the player to explore their own beliefs and gradually gravitate towards the groups that they agreed with.
Unfortunately this is expensive and most games simply don't have the design time, so we can always hop on the terrible stop gap of doing axial morality (a la D&D), but the real answer if you want to provide moral choice in a game (rather than just another way of leveling) is to make the actions in the game raise inherent moral questions. Unfortunately for this to really have an impact we'll have to wait for the audience at large to be willing to look at game mechanics as expressive and think about what they mean rather than just doing them to progress. Fate of the World is a good example of this (though it falls a little bit more on the serious games side).
C. There are ways to deliver moral choice with unsharded MMOs or with Social Games that offer possibilities perhaps unparalleled in stand alone games, but I'm not going to go into that here as it took my whole talk just to scratch the surface at GDC (I'm sure I'll rant about this somewhere on The Escapist sometime...).
Mikey Neumann: Points for the OpFor mention, Yahtzee.
You guys brought up some interesting things. I guess it comes down to what is your definition of morality within a game system? A case could be made that Zelda: Four Swords on the Gamecube had a real morality system because it was quite possible to screw the hell out of your fellow fuschia and tangerine Links by simply choosing to put your greed over their well being. But, that's meta-morality. I just have lingering guilt from friends that no longer speak to me for the crimes against Nintendo humanity committed in the name of Rupees.
Back to the seemingly RPG-heavy side of the morality argument. What do we gain out of this manufactured morality? Is it simply the belief that we can role-play on a massive scale where even seemingly innocuous choices can come back to have effects we had not imagined?
You know what game did that amazingly well for the time period? Chrono Trigger. I will never, for my entire gaming life, forget being put on trial and made to look a fool for choices I did not know the game was tracking. I stole that old man's lunch, and the game friggin' knew I did it. I felt that pang of guilt in my stomach when I realized, not only was I going to jail, but those bastards kind of had a point. I broke the law. But that was so effective because I was unaware the game even had a morality system in place to be tracking my transgressions. I simply thought I got away with being in the moment.
Come back next week for the rest of the discussion.
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