In response to "Ethics Without a Net" from The Escapist forums:
I think that the real problem with morality systems in games is that the developers aren't clear on what they're trying to do with the system.
There are two fundamental types of morality choices in games: Ones that we're supposed to struggle with, and ones that are there to give us freedom.
In Mass Effect 2, I can either reprogram the Geth or destroy them. This is supposed to actually make the player stop and think. There is an excellent Extra Credits video about that one.
In Fable, I can either help bandits kill an old, retired guardsman to take his stuff or I can defend him and kill the bandits. This choice exists to provide agency. It exists so that I can do it two different ways in two different games and how it changes things. It exists so that I can just play a bad guy if I want to.
The problem comes in when developers don't understand which on they're doing. Morality meters are detrimental to the former. A moral quandary that is designed to have no clear answer shouldn't be immediately telling you whether you were right or wrong. Mass Effect's renegade/paragon meter is holding the series back by trying to force a story designed around difficult moral choices into a one-dimensional spectrum.
In Knights of the Old Republic, on the other hand, it made sense. The game was about the light side versus the dark side. It was a genuine binary choice- the story was about whether you would be redeemed or whether you would fall back to the dark side. Difficult moral choices weren't the centerpiece of the story, and so being told that you just got 5 dark side points for force choking that orphan wasn't a problem.
This doesn't mean that you can have both kinds of choices in a game, of course, but the developer needs to be cognizant of what they're trying to accomplish with them. Bioshock is a good example of an offender here- what point is the moral choice supposed to serve? Killing the little sisters or not isn't the kind of moral choice that we should need to stop and think about, so it's not the first kind. There's very little effect on the gameplay or the story (one cutscene at the end), so it's not the later kind. So what's the point of it?
In response to "First Kisses (And Deaths-By-Molester)" from The Escapist forums:
I believe the problem with morality systems in games these days is that they are taking place in a sphere where the risks are too high. When stakes are up and the chips are down, you really only have three options: You can be a paragon, you can be a dick, or you can be a chump.
The reason Alter Ego is able to pull off a "shades-of-gray" morality system is because your character isn't tasked with saving the world or doing secret missions or anything like that. The only thing your character is tasked with doing is living his/her own life as best (s)he could.
I put forward that the stark "black-and-white-and-50%-gray" morality system exists because if people were given a multitude of options, there is a large chance that nothing could be accomplished. Or, worst-case scenario, tons of content would be created that most players probably wouldn't see.
"Shades-of-Gray" is great for making a character seem human, but given the quality of writing these days, the character will most likely come off as being dodgy and inconsistent -- especially if the decisions are put in the hands of the players.
We can lament the lack of "Shades-of-Gray" in our games. However, the more I look at it, the more I realize that it's probably for good reason.