Good vs. Evil

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Good vs. Evil

Games tend to fail when it comes to giving the player real moral dilemmas - here are a few ways to fix that.

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I would be very interested to play a game like that, but, unfortunately, I don't think it's likely to be made any time soon. If prior games are any indication, developers prefer a simpler good/evil balance; the most complicated it's been is in the old D&D games where you had Good/Evil and Law/Chaos as your alignment.

Although, the kind of game I really want to play is one where it's unclear whether you're good or evil. I find moral ambiguity in films and novels very interesting, mainly because it's a much better reflection of what real life is like, and as such I'd love to play a game like that.

Like it was mentioned in the closing comment of this article, a Star Wars game where you get to play a Grey Jedi would be brilliant, in my opinion: using whatever Force powers you like, and not having the game tell you you've fallen to the Dark Side because you like to use Lightning. What if you used it to fry a Sith Lord? Surely that would make you good, even though you used an "evil" power? Whether you're good or evil doesn't depend on what you do, but on why you do it.

That's kind of my dream game. I doubt it'll be made any time soon, though.

Id like a game with a genuine sense of moral dilemma in it. But in all the games ive yet played where they try to implement on, the moral choices are presented in the context of only 1 storyline. Good or bad, in Bioshock, Fable & Fallout III your alignment doest really change much beyond some dialog & cutscenes. To do it properly would, as you suggest, require the mechanic to be figured out first & a story built around that; rather than the way it seems to be now where someone writes their magnum opus storyline & then the devs say "hey, lets mix in some arbitrary good/evil choices to make the player think they're not just playing the writers animated novel."

You've made a great game idea, full of possibilites, with the the sort of open-ended gameplay that I can only dream of.

Unfortunately, I doubt anyone would pick it up, but if by some chance it was made, I'd certainly put my money down.

You mentioned something which I had considered while playing a couple of RPGs, Fallout in particular. The idea that if you go down the negative path, it should offer you more negative choices to make, drawing you away from the centre, and making it hard to return to a positive state.

This is missing in many RPGs to date, they tend to allow you to do everything, which makes things very disjointed and immersion-breaking. This is especially a problem with a linear main quest, as in Oblivion for example. You can be a theif, and assassin and generally scum, and yet you are also the noble hero saving the world.

Of all the games I've played, the D&D ones (Baldurs Gate, Neverwinter Nights) have been the best for these choices. Things have got a bit more binary (good/evil) in recent times, and Bioshock is a perfect example. There was no incentive to perform either save or kill, it was just a case of whatever you felt like at the time.

My favourite example is that of Jhareg's Castle in Neverwinter Nights, which involves two undead brothers, trapped in time because of an unspeakable act. You end up having to judge them, and the choice is truly a difficult one to make (or at least as difficult as any game decision can be).

That's a good plotline for a western game, as well as similar themes. I almost felt like I was skimming through the cheatbook at a bookstore, and wishing I had the game to play.
As for your ideas in incorporating morality and the choices between bad and good, I feel they are strongly spot on. Once you're on a certain path, it can be very difficult to give in to that smaller voice and change. There are many factors that would add to the difficulty. Say you were deep in Jake's gang, but for a while were naive to what Jake was really after. Eventually the time would come that Jake would spell it out for you out of a sense of trust that he has in you, and then you realize what you have gotten yourself into. Just taking that into account, one would think it easy to just pull out your six-shooter and put one in Jake's head. But, there are going to be other factors. There will be the friends you made in the gang, the leaders you have grown to respect, the people not in the gang but who you probably alienated and will most likely not lift a finger to help you, as well as the enemies you made who would be after you in no time at all for taking down Jake. It's those times when you truly feel the consequences which nagged at you before but were able to ignore. There are many good stories that encompass the factors that can bind you to a choice you thought trivial so long before.
Take Darth Vader; during Return of the Jedi Luke would plead with Vader to give up serving the Emperor, to embrace the light side that still glimmered in his spirit. Vader felt it, more for the desire to feel that his life had more accomplishment than helping to destroy the Republic, and slaughtering so many Jedi. But he also felt trapped by the consequences of his actions, that it might not make a difference to just change. He had seen the Emperor and his plans, and even with the power over the Force that he had, he felt so much weaker next to his Lord Sidious. He also felt obligated to serve the Emperor, since the Emperor had saved his life after his battle with Kenobi. It wasn't until Luke was about to be destroyed by the Emperor that he felt the true opportunity come, the final chance to make the choice. Many might say he had no choice except to stop and destroy the Emperor himself, but also sacrificing his own life as well. I agree with that myself, though not everyone will, nor do they have to.
It is one of the more difficult factors of our life, but it is always important to keep in mind the consequences of your actions, and your choices. They are not always immediately apparent, but can return to bite you in the butt when it is most inconvenient.

I am looking forward to more articles, on 'The Hard Problem.'

This game could work, and done right it would be mind-blowing. Introducing multiple traits (not just good/evil) is the most obvious step. Unfortunately the next most obvious step is to remove a main narrative, which does indeed have you cast as the "hero" even if you do not act heroic. So my thoughts? Make it an MMORPG, with your actions towards other players thrown into the equation; or at least make it a single-player game with multiple endings (say, one for each combination of traits).

I would love to play that game, preffereably with a rich open world setting (like Oblivion if it was done right) and lots of quirky backstory sidequests if you walk up to the townsfolk and perhaps ask "anything to report citisen?" or some other generic quest obtaining function.
If anyone does make this game they have to not make the same mistake as mass effect and not just rely on the story, i.e. actually put in decent gameplay to get you through the story, FPS please.

Brilliant. Seriously, contact Bioware with this, I would so play a game like that.

Love the concept - a 4-dimensional character would certainly be very interesting to develop with the game responding to those changes.

That said, I don't think we'll see it any time soon, sadly :( It'd be unfriendly to 'casuals' so the development houses wouldn't want to spend cash on efficiently pandering to the 'hardcores'. Also, it'd be alot of work to produce all the various forms of mission, especially if you want to make things interesting and combine several factors in determining when a mission can be used.

It'd be great to see something out there like that, but few, if any, game companies have that kind of esteem for their customers. That said, it might work more easily in an MMO, where your morality attribute scores would influence which quests you qualified for. Changing alignment as a high-level character would require going all the way back to the beginning and doing some of the differently-aligned noob quests that you skipped the first time around. Could be interesting. There would have to be other alignment-dependent effects, though, like maybe a high Viciousness score giving you a better crit chance, while peacefulness increases your defense?

nerdsamwich:
It'd be great to see something out there like that, but few, if any, game companies have that kind of esteem for their customers. That said, it might work more easily in an MMO, where your morality attribute scores would influence which quests you qualified for. Changing alignment as a high-level character would require going all the way back to the beginning and doing some of the differently-aligned noob quests that you skipped the first time around. Could be interesting. There would have to be other alignment-dependent effects, though, like maybe a high Viciousness score giving you a better crit chance, while peacefulness increases your defense?

With that last part, no, because then it becomes about the gameplay benefits, not the morality.

There is not, and never will be, good or evil.

The concept itself is ridiculous; countless implications have done nothing but help my argument.

This is a great concept, very well thought-out. Bioware's affinity for stereotypical Good/Evil choices, while mildly entertaining, is largely what has kept me disappointed with their output lately (that and the increasingly formulaic storylines).

However, I'm surprised at some of the responses here, namely that a game that follows similar tenets is a long shot away.

I urge you to take a close look at the Witcher. If you examine the structure of the game, it is actually rather similar to what has been outlined in this article. Almost all points are used - the character is not a blank slate as in most RPGs, the choices are never obvious or black-and-white, and the way the game's structure of three acts develops your own choices (in our case, siding with the Non-Humans or with the Knights) isn't too far off what has been suggested so far, albeit perhaps less intricate in the underlying mechanics - the game only follows your overall important choices, rather than creating 'personality stats'.

TaborMallory:
There is not, and never will be, good or evil.

The concept itself is ridiculous; countless implications have done nothing but help my argument.

I really, really wish RPG game designers would realise this.

Really nice concept for a new feature, and I'm looking forward to future articles.

I'd definitely like to see moral dilemmas that are more involved and less clear cut than those found in a lot of modern RPGs.

It sounds like Alpha Protocol is trying to be a little closer to the concept you've outlined, though its too early to be sure.

I want decisions that are actually involving, dilemmas that take time to process and need some thinking before coming to a conclusion. Do you trust this person or not? Are you willing to sacrifice the lives of your closest friends to potentially save more? If you had information that would ruin the lives of thousands of people, would you reveal it anyway?

I do feel in most games that offer moral choice, they lack any real complexity or don't
invoke much feeling of my personal involvement in the game.

John Scott Tynes, your concept is an interesting, plausible and well thought-out solution to this problem.

I like the idea of multiple facets of your character for morality, not just good or evil.
As well as a slower more gradual progression towards the intended moral path of the character.

I'm not sure the strategy has to be as heavily number/point based,
but it's still a much better idea than what is being used in games now.

However, I doubt this idea will catch-on, based on a simple fact.
Most of the world's gaming base consists of idiots and includes many emotionally fragile individuals.
(That's not to say I'm not an idiot sometimes, anyone who claims that is a terrible liar.)

You pretty much summarize exactly why I can't play the evil side in most games. It's not good vs. evil choices, it's good vs. stupid thug with a short temper and no thoughts for the future of anything.

The problem is, just like the guy who talked about Army of Two's "tone" not working said, most simple people don't want a compelling, relatable villain with real thought and reason put into his efforts. They just want some faceless evil.

Edit:

TaborMallory:
There is not, and never will be, good or evil.

The concept itself is ridiculous; countless implications have done nothing but help my argument.

Also this. The problem with games trying to let you choose between good and evil is that the choice is according to the developers' morals, not your own. You may do something that the developers saw as "evil," but you see as completely reasonable.

Example: There's a group of people infected with a fatal virus that could mutate and go airborne, but it's still contact-transferred at the moment. The virus has progressed to a point that it couldn't be cured even if a cure existed.

- You could spend a lot of time researching a cure, but you couldn't actually obtain any samples, as the virus is contact-spread and it's too risky to move it around. This would risk the virus going airborne before you can help the infected people, endangering thousands of others.

- You could kill the infected people on the spot, as they are already beyond curing and it would not risk further mutation of the virus.

- You could isolate the people and study them as they die, in order to gain information for a cure or a vaccine, while still maintaining complete sterility.

- The decision of whether to tell the general populace about the potential outbreak also factors in. Do you want to hide the situation, and risk the virus accidentally spreading, or do you tell the public and risk panic?

All of these solutions are plausible ways to fix the problem, and I know a few folks who would be insulted to find themselves told by the game that they had chosen the "evil" option.

Interesting stuff, but I don't agree with some of the things.

First of all, I don't believe in the stark difference between all this Good and Evil stuff, because these are very vague and arbitrary definitions of social behavior. Yahtzee said it best in Bioshock review, that the game leaves only two paths, one of which leads you to be a godsend flowerchild from eternal garden of Heaven, or a cross between Hitler and Skeletor who's mere piss is pure malevolence. There is a gap the size of the Grand Canyon between the two, which is actually the entire social spectrum.

Good and Evil is two totally relative term, relative to the social setting. In most games, the Good choice is always being humble and selfless, giving money and help to the poor, fighting the "evil", refrain from killing as much as possible, and sacrificing oneself for the "greater good". Whereas the Evil path only leaves choices to be an anti-social, egocentric, murderous psychopath, who reject social rules, sees people as mere nuisance, doesn't care about the world one way or another and thinks it's only there for his own amusement. In these games, the two paths are clearly defined and you will inevitably go down one of them. But what about more complex situations, where the outcome is not black and white?

There is a highly quoted situation in KotOR 2, where you meet a beggar in a station, who asks for money. You can give the man some money or not. The clear answer would be, good: give money, evil: not give money. But after you leave, if you gave money to the beggar, some thugs come and beat the beggar to a pulp taking his money (you have him), killing him in the process. So, by choosing the "Good" path, you indirectly kill the poor guy.

I think we need more choices like this, where the outcome is not entirely obvious, and requires thinking. When being a nice guy only makes matters worse, and deciding not to interfere in a situation is not considered "evil", but simply smart. That Jack Bauer-esqe situation, where you must gruesomely torture and kill someone to save thousands from certain death, or you have to kill an entire village of small, crying children to prevent the spread of a deadly virus. The "hard choices" where the line between Good and Evil is blurred or non-existent, when morals would only make thinks worse, when the "right" choice is not always the "good" one, when you have to count the long term impact of your decisions. When, after doing the right thing, you feel like an asshole, that something broke inside of you, or if you did the "wrong thing" (that saved you mom and dad, but killed thousands on the other side), will later make you regret you've been born. Where no matter what you do, someone will hate you for it, where sacrificing yourself "for the cause" turns out to be totally meaningless, where the decisions you make will influence the game world in more than one way.

That's what I miss from RPGs the most.

I rather liked Mass Effect's method. The outcome is the same, but did you take the goodiegoodie approach or the bastard approach. The only problem is there's no real immediate repercussion, except for some nice/harsh words from another character. You have to wait for the next game to see the results of your choices.

I think I'm going to enjoy reading this column. Very well-written, sir. Brought up several good points; in particular, I liked the four-point scale as opposed to good vs. evil.

Make some games man! I'm looking forward to more articles.

I agree with much of what you say, but you didn't solve all of the problems. What if you are in a burning building, see a small child trapped under a collapsed beam and have the option to either be selfish and exit the building immediately or be altruistic and save the child first, but if you save the child he grows up to be a serial killer or a terrorist. So being selfish was arguably the moral thing to do in that scenario. The biggest problem is, the designer is just a person, what gives him/her the authority to say what is right and what is wrong, a completely ambiguous story and world would interest me more.

I think many developers would love to make their ethics systems intricate and morally grey; the question is cost effectiveness in terms of implementation. No one can afford to make a game with two completely separate plot paths, each with 4 sub-variations based on your character's exact temperament; and also have state-of-the-art graphics, polished gameplay, and an acceptable length. It's just not going to happen. Most games now with karma meters represent a compromise in terms of choice and implementability.

Personally I feel that blank-slate characters like those in Kotor and Mass Effect are the true culprit. If you play a generic character, how can he be anything other than generically good or generically evil? GTA4's story is superb in large part because the character of Niko Bellic is not totally player-defined. That is what allows such a subtle and effective manipulation of his ethical code.

TaborMallory:
There is not, and never will be, good or evil.

The concept itself is ridiculous; countless implications have done nothing but help my argument.

That's true, if you look at it as an absolute measure.

However, society tends to see things as good or evil acts, and thus creates this spectrum, which means that while psychologically, there is no good or evil, there is socially. That's why I think Tynes' idea is good, because it does create a non-relative method of evaluating morality. However, I wonder if perhaps games should embrace the idea of social good and evil spectrums instead.

The easiest way to imagine this is a sci-fi game, with multiple alien races. Each one has a different moral code, though they may agree in broad strokes (such as murder is wrong, though who knows?) Thus, by slaughtering a colony of creatures, the race you're doing it for may appreciate it, but one that places a heavy emphasis on nature will dislike you.

The Witcher has this idea embedded in the Scoiatel/Order war, as well as various other situations with shades of gray. Though alignment is not actually coded into the game, you see people view your actions as just or wrong, which amounts to a nuanced version of the same thing.

Edit: Actually the greater problem with games is that there's rarely a neutral path to begin with, and if there is, there's no point to it. Consider Mass Effect. Often, dialogues have three options, good, neutral, and bad. Good and bad choices lead to Renegade and Paragon points, which gives you discounts and speech options. What do you get if you follow the neutral options when possible? Zip. No speech options means restricting your options throughout the game, as well as missing out of the (admittedly) small discounts. It doesn't acknowledge that not everyone wants to be selfless or ruthless the entire time.

Good ideas here. Also, I would like to add that there should be "real" in-world consequences that actually change gameplay and the experience, as in getting exiled and having different allies and enemies that actually interact with you in concrete, significant ways. There should also be a distinction between short-term, medium-term, and long-term consequences.

great article, cant wait to see more from ya, and i wouldnt mind givin a game like ya described a shot

So, after reading this thread, it seems to me that most of you guys here think that the only two reasons that such a game hasn't been made are because of money; it'd cost too much to make, and it wouldn't sell well enough.

It's too expensive to make, because that's an incredible amount of writing, mission construction, etc, that needs to be done to see it happen. There are effectively 8 paths through the game, and any combination thereof; if I made my character Selfish, Peaceable, Manipulative and Modest, that's going to play completely, totally differently than Selfless, Vicious, Plainspoken, and Modest. Even though they share extreme traits (Modesty in both cases), you're going to end up with ridiculously different outcomes. Which means lots of mission. Lots, and lots of missions. All with multiple outcomes. Even having 2 outcomes per mission may be insufficient. And then they'd have to chain together, to build a cohesive narratave. It's a massive undertaking as far as design and writing go. And that's on TOP of whatever other production costs there are.

The other inhibiting factor is that it wouldn't do well at retail. It's a (relatively) complex way to have game. You'd need a serious manual to go with, explaining how it all works, explaining the character and story. You wouldn't be able to easily throw up a tutorial section that takes not a second more than 15 minutes, and get the players going; doing however they choose in this world you've built for 'em. That means that a lot of players will skip over it; likely few who visit here, but try releasing this on the Wii? You'd never do serious revenue from that console and its audience.

So, it seems to me that we have a problem. Awesome, awesome game, and noone to make it. So... why not pitch this to Indie developers instead? This seems like the -perfect- game for an Indie PC developer. They aren't as hamstringed by the production costs for making vast worlds, because they don't have to draw and render a million, billion polygons with every game. Heaps of Indie games are two dimensional, or sprite-based. Which seems to me like a great way to do it. That, or have a procedural map-maker built into the game for random missions, which has been done before in professional games; it shouldn't be so difficult to port that over to 2D for a developer who's clever. Look at things like Nethack or Dwarf Fortress; in terms of procedural programming, they work well. So... with graphics out of the way as a time vampire, we can get to work.

Someone should definitely be working on this system. I'm likely going to be incorporating such ideas as moral-magnetism and multiple scales into the next DnD campaign I run; someone should surely make a game out of it.

Thanks for the comments, folks. It's great to see the discussion!

I wanted to mention that if anyone has suggestions for future Hard Problems, I'm all ears. if there's a promising but unrealized feature in games that really bugs you, lemme know. While this installment dealt with moral storytelling, I also intend to tackle more mechanical topics like balancing content for a variety of character levels. So anything is fair game.

Anyway, thanks for reading and discussing. I'll be around to join in.

orannis62:
Brilliant. Seriously, contact Bioware with this, I would so play a game like that.

I didn't even have to read through the whole article to know that I agree with you. heck, that might be the reason I can never bring myself to be evil in games: It doesn't strike me as being evil so much as it just makes me feel like a douche.

Fenixius:

An indie developer could in theory develop something like this, to be sure, but I think that the problem is most indie games aren't about huge amounts of content, there about novel gameplay, etc. World of Goo I loved, but its short - a lack of content, or rather, a lack of content as I got through the puzzles fairly quickly.

"What kind of person is so vague that he's capable of flipping between such extremes?"

I thought this was an interesting point. I believe that there is a difference between games kind of like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect in terms of making choices. In Fallout 3, the options to be a good or bad person are really addressing the player, not the character. When playing the game, you don't believe that the character is considering all the options you are reading. The player already has crafted a personality for their character, and in the player's mind, the character has already made the choice; they have their own morals. The player is simply selecting the correct response that corresponds to what they know their character will already say. That's how I felt when playing Fallout, anyway. I played Mass Effect differently, and the way it presented conversations was definitely one of the reasons why. I felt more like the character was actually having to choose between the options. Of course, there are many exceptions and these different styles of immersion did cross over.

I do agree that morality in games should take a further step towards the game idea in the article. I'd love to personalise my shades of grey.

I was just thinking about "good vs evil" in games today! For the first time ever, I played Red Faction 2 from beginning to end in one sitting (seven years ago, I only saw some other people playing a little bit of it). I had noticed that, although the game would always progress the same no matter how many times you played it, you could either kill all of your teammates, and all of the innocent civilians, or you could let them live.
If you killed lots of friendlies, you'd get a bad ending cursing your character as an evil villain and a mass murderer. If you killed few (perhaps by accident in the crossfire of a battle) or killed none at all, you'd get a good ending praising your character as a hero.
But it makes no sense. Whether you kill your teammates or not, you're still the same guy, out to defeat the evil overlord and triumph over evil. You can't finish the game unless you bring down the regime once and for all! So why would this hero kill his friends, and innocent civilians, and then defeat the badguy? He still gets the ending where the people he helped by defeating the evil overlord suddenly chastize him and say he needs to be executed. It's just dumb.

And look at Half-Life 1. In Half-Life 1, you could kill friendly scientists and security guards for no reason, and lots of crazy, sadistic, mentally unstable players did, crowbarring every friendly face throughout the game, no doubt laughing maniacally as they did. The player would only be punished if he killed a friendly that needed to be alive for him to progress. But in the end, you still killed the evil alien in an attempt to stop their invasion of Earth. Why does everyone think you're a hero in Half-Life 2 if, in Half-Life 1, you were a psycho that killed everybody? In Half-Life 2, killing teammates isn't even possible, making sense of Gordon Freeman's heroism.

I think my point deviated from the whole "good vs evil" thing.

I am also bothered that no World War 2 game lets you play as the "badguys" in the single player storyline. Never are you put in a position that the player might find questionable. It's always "hardcore goodguy kills mindless Nazi drones". What about a game where you play as a regular German soldier, and he has friends and feelings? Wouldn't that spice up the load of World War 2 games people are always complaining about?

John Scott Tynes, you simply must write more articles pointing out glaring flaws in the personality of video games. And the gameplay.

First of all congratulations on your new column and i gotta say you should contact bioware because i can se you really have thought about this

Sewblon:
I agree with much of what you say, but you didn't solve all of the problems. What if you are in a burning building, see a small child trapped under a collapsed beam and have the option to either be selfish and exit the building immediately or be altruistic and save the child first, but if you save the child he grows up to be a serial killer or a terrorist. So being selfish was arguably the moral thing to do in that scenario. The biggest problem is, the designer is just a person, what gives him/her the authority to say what is right and what is wrong, a completely ambiguous story and world would interest me more.

Um.. OK I see what you're saying to an extent, BUT.. how the heck could you as the player possibly know that the kid would grow up into a serial killer. What kind've person would refuse to save the kid citing that 'he might grow up into a serial killer'. If a game ever pulled a stunt like that I'd be pretty unimpressed. I'm all for a degree of moral ambiguity, but please don't make me as a player feel guilty for rescuing trapped children from burning buildings.

Kevvers:

Sewblon:
I agree with much of what you say, but you didn't solve all of the problems. What if you are in a burning building, see a small child trapped under a collapsed beam and have the option to either be selfish and exit the building immediately or be altruistic and save the child first, but if you save the child he grows up to be a serial killer or a terrorist. So being selfish was arguably the moral thing to do in that scenario. The biggest problem is, the designer is just a person, what gives him/her the authority to say what is right and what is wrong, a completely ambiguous story and world would interest me more.

Um.. OK I see what you're saying to an extent, BUT.. how the heck could you as the player possibly know that the kid would grow up into a serial killer. What kind've person would refuse to save the kid citing that 'he might grow up into a serial killer'. If a game ever pulled a stunt like that I'd be pretty unimpressed. I'm all for a degree of moral ambiguity, but please don't make me as a player feel guilty for rescuing trapped children from burning buildings.

This.

I was going to make a comment about this in regards to the Tenpenny Tower situation in Fallout 3, but Kevvers said it all perfectly.

Anyway, the concern I have for Mr. Tynes' game is that there is a better-than-decent chance it would devolve into 30 hours of mini-quests a la the standard MMO format. You know the type:

"Mr Sheriff, I have rats in my basement!"
Quest accepted: Kill 30 rats

or

"Mr. Sheriff, The postmaster broke his leg!"
Quest accepted: Deliver 10 letters

This is especially concerning in regards to "Act 1" where you're performing inconsequential tasks to begin establishing who your character is. I believe it to be extremely important to provide compelling content to the player early on, lest you lose their interest.

Of course, it's up to the developer to ensure that they don't get lazy and fall into those trappings, but that's the first thing that came to my head when I read that you had to complete specific storyline missions AND achieve certain scores in at least 2 measures to advance. In addition it could result in one of those scenarios like the following example:

Ending mission of Main Quest for Act 1:
A gang of bandits attacks the village. It's in the best interest of yourself, the townspeople, and the rancher to repel the assault (don't want to make too difficult of a choice yet, it's still early). You can resolve in any number of ways affecting all variables. You complete the mission and save the day! But you can't move on because you have one last thing to take care of. Next order of business...

"Mr. Sherriff! My cat is caught in a tree, can you go save it?"
Quest Accepted: Get cat down from tree (+5 to selflesness)

Honestly, in many games a shade of moral gray could easily be achieved by a few choices here and there that do not involve an insane amount of extra coding and script writing, yet give the game replayability and the player a sense of having made an important choice. However, those choices would have to be very well written.

Example 1: Deus Ex. Sure, at the point when the first act in NY is over and you're ferried to Hong Kong, the game turns more linear, but everyone remembers the part before that. You know, when you were given the choice of either being a good UNATCO soldier or to follow your dear brother's advice (kill all rebels - tranquilize all rebels!). Everything culminates in the point where you either help JCs brother fight off the MIBs or you run away. It's a wonderfully constructed narrative and leaves you with a sense of having made real choices - without actually requiring THAT much extra work (you get cuddles from your brother and reprimands from Manderley and your robotic sidekicks).

Example 2: Mafia. Mafia is a lovely game. Entirely linear (you can choose to do some side missions if you want), but with all the potential of the same kinds of choices as made in Deus Ex. In Mafia you play a cab driver seduced into the deadly world of the mafioso. From harmlessly wrecking some cars with molotov cocktails and a baseball bat, you are suddenly gunning down policemen by the dozens and hunting down your former friends and allies. The game could easily offer you some choices and consequences of the truly morally grey type, although it doesn't: do you or do you not kill the 'whore' who ratted on you? Do you or do you not kill Frank? Take the latter: Frank is your friend, he's tried to teach you an important lesson, he has a family, and he's really just doing the same thing your character does at the start of the game (escape by cutting a deal with the police). BUT, he's also broken the omerta, he's a traitor, and he put you all into danger. By the laws of your little group, his life is forfeit. I really would have wanted to make that choice, and then hear my character (whose voice acting, incidentally, I thought was very good) explain his choices to the detective. Letting these choices have an impact on the end would be quite easy, once again.

These are both FPSes (well, an First-person sneaker/RPG and a GTA-esque carFPS), and the storyline in both naturally offer the player choices that are morally grey. THIS, I think, is what is more important than a four-point system or even a two-point system or any point system: good, solid storytelling that offers the player choices that at least on the surface SEEM meaningful (and that hopefully are). I too am tired of the "chaotic stupid/paragorn of the wastes" dichotomy: but the solution isn't a set of numbers counting back and forth, unless you're going for truly epic amounts of script. Just write your main storyline really well, sprinkle in a few ambigous "damned if I do damned if I don't" situations, and have the whole cavalcade matter in the end. Somehow.

But I'd still play the sheriff game.

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