The Game Stash: Virtual Virtues

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The Game Stash: Virtual Virtues

Is it wrong to steal a loaf of bread to save the galaxy? Hail the Appaling Hero!

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This is where I draw the line in gaming and reality. I can be an anxious person, so I've made it a habit to tell myself to make gaming as easy and carefree as possible. Yes, this is this victim's life savings, and yes, I play kind characters, but it makes it easier on me in-game.
There's also the King's Quest 8 line of, "I know these people will understand my need for the use of their gold in these dire circumstances."
The thing that got me with KQ8, though, is that they were only turned to stone, and he intended to free them. Meaning they would have no idea what happened, they would just have been robbed blind en masse. Or have their water wheel broken. Or their door torn down.
Really, finding loot is ultimately a gameplay mechanic that can help determine the availability of resources and upgrades, as well as the need for grinding. If game developers have any way to make a gameplay mechanic make more sense in game, why shouldn't they? And anyway, if a character's going to lament over the amoral actions they've taken for their quest to save the world, wouldn't they think more about all the people they've killed first? I'm fine with a bit of moral wonkiness for the sake of good gameplay, but it is still interesting to see this issue brought up when looking at the bigger picture of the gaming industry.

Ahhh...I still remember the good ole days of KOTOR 1, where I specifically didn't loot the apartments of Taris for cash and items because it just didn't feel right to me as a light-sided character. Even though I would almost never be punished for it. I guess this comes a bit more naturally to roleplayers, who even act out their character to the last detail in single-player games.

Baldur's Gate 1 was even more interesting. I remember when I played it (having played KOTOR 1 beforehand) I just went around the first stop's rooms and started looting and unlocking boxes when all of a sudden guards popped out of nowhere and started beating on me!

To be honest...maybe we should have something like that in these modern RPGs these days? A random encounter of either guards or residents of said abodes that jump you at any given time and go berserk at what you're doing? It would help I guess heheh. Funnily enough I remember in Dragon Age (in sharp contrast) most characters actually *will* turn hostile if you open chests nearby them and will fight you the moment you start to loot their stuff. So...it could be another side-effect of Bioware wanting to differentiate Dragon Age as the slightly more traditional styled RPG while taking Mass Effect into the more loose shooter/RPG hybrid route they've taken.

((God I need to stop defending Bioware this much. Sure I'm a fanboy of theirs, but now I'm turning into one of their evangelists!))

The problem is poor choice development. I've been building a roleplay system, and I've realized that all choices that I make available must answer two questions: what does this choice give that other choices do not, and; why would someone not want to take this option?
When every choice has a reason to take it and a reason not to take it, the player really does complete the process.
The problem with most morality systems is that rewards and punishments are not both upheld simultaneously.

You are right, it is odd that you're telling looters off whilst looting, but then, Sheppard seems to preform very selective looting, so I suppose I can let it slide.

Game devs do need to give more thought to how your character's morals tie into everything else that exists in the game, as morals are meant to simply be how you act towards the world, universe and it's people?

Oh well, I'm drunk, I'll think more about this later.

I don't think as few people play "bad or evil" as they say.
After all, if you're evil it's no surprise you lie when asked if you play a good guy or a bad one :P

Me, I cannibalize and shoot as much in the face as is possible, just cause it's different from real life.

Did anybody else read "Peaceout: New Vegas" and think, "Cool! New GTA game!"

Hmm, good article. I completely agree that there is, nearly always, a strange disconnect between what "good" player says and what he does. Personally, if there are no consequences for stealing in a given game (i.e. KOTOR) I will rob the place the blind. But I also deeply respect games that attempt to insert a stealing mechanism, ala The Elder Scrolls. And, although I'm not sure how many would agree with me, I'd like to see more games with even better law-enforcement/stealing mechanisms. As you mention, however, some of these elements can't be eliminated entirely, such as violence, except in extremely rare circumstances, due to the basic nature of the games themselves. What's high fantasy if you can't go shoot/slash dozens of orcs/goblins/etc?
I was highly impressed with the good/evil mechanism in The Witcher. You can't judge if what you've done is evil or not, except by your (you, the player) own conscience, and by the way other characters in-game respond to you. The dialogue is more nuanced than "kill the kitten" or "give the poor man some food," so the choices become much harder. The lack of a good/evil slider or karma points or whatever keeps a player who's attempting to be good straying more on the safe side of things.

Interesting read, and I agree with you that the bit in Mass Effect 2 is not well written. However at the same time I'm not entirely sure if I consider "looting" during a crisis situation where most of the property owners are dead to be wrong. The dead don't need their stuff anymore, and you dying (from whatever the threat is) is kind of pointless. If there was a Zombie apocolypse or something on that level, I'd have no qualms about looting whatever supplies I need from unoccupied stores or whatever.

One of the problems with dealing with any kind of morality system is that while some thing are absolutly right or wrong, there are plenty of moral standards that are entirely soicetally based and have to do with context. Things like a prohibation against slavery exist for a reason in today's society, but then again we're not living in a climate of constant warfare where we need to find a way to deal with defeated populations that we can't warehouse as prisoners forever. Assuming the war was nessicary for whatever reason, and your sitting there with the choices of enslaving them or putting them all to the sword and committing mass murder at the best, or genocide at the worst...

To be honest I don't think that the evil path is less well travelled in RPGs and the like. In part because in many cases it simply results in a much more powerful character. RPGs tend to be dominated by offense and in most cases when you see a stereotypical definition of good magic being defensive and healing, and evil magic being offensive... well the evil path tends to be more satisfying and easy to use. Not to mention the fact that it's very easy to reward evil behavior... loot, money, power, etc... however in a fantasy game which is supposed to get away from the way things work in reality, and good is supposed to defeat evil, it's far more difficult to reward it.

Heck, in MMORPGs also look at what happened with "Warhammer Online" with the destruction faction which wound up outnumbering the good guys before the game ever launched (we saw it coming with "Road To War"), the same thing is going on with "Old Republic Online" where we are in the grips of Sith-Mania. This is to say nothing of all the Everquest Necromancers, WoW Warlocks and Shadow Priests, and other popular sorts of characters that have a definate edge.

Speaking from a narrative perspective though, a lot of the evil storylines seem to be lacking because it generally comes down to malevolence for the sake of malevolence. 99% of the time in a game with a morality system I don't feel any real temptation in the actions presented, and actually most of it comes accross as being a dumb thug, or someone who is being a puppy kicking jerk for the simple sake of being a puppy kicking jerk.

Though admittedly I think a lot of it has to do with game companies not having the guts to create a real 'evil' set of actions. In part because I think they fear an AO rating and won't fight for proper definitions.

Since you mentioned virginity in your article, I'll get on one of the big motivators for immoral behavior in real life: sex (for an example). Look at games like "Rapelay" and the like and you can see some pretty disturbing stuff that people are obviously attracted to in numbers large enough to make games like that known to society in general. For all the outcry, games like that are shoveled out by the thousands, as people indulge their darker, more base instincts in private... and yes this includes girls. Not only do they consume nasty porn (despite what people might think), but I'd argue they are worse than guys, and honestly some of the subtexts involved in the "paranormal romance" genere are probably more disturbing in their own way than the worst of the H-games.

Before you misunderstand what I'm saying, and before I go much further, I will say that "Rapelay" and H-games are "AO", and deservingly so. However that's because games like this include penetration shots and such, as various erotic thrillers and horror movies have shown you can cover a lot of the same "material" in an "R" rating, you just don't use any direct money shots.

What I'm getting at here is that sexual morality exists for a reason, there are reasons why you don't just violate any attractive person of the gender your interested in just because you can. There are reasons why "jailbait" is off limits. However the temptations exist and games like the ones I mention (and various movies) exist as a way of embracing the dark side and indulging those whims both guiltily and vicariously.

You toss something into a game that allows an evil character to take advantage of a young girl that depends on him/her and then dispose of them (not nessicarly murderously) or whatever and there is an undeniably evil payoff, that people will probably go after, because it's the exact same thing most of them do with other kinds of games.

Despite that long multi-paragraph rant, I'm not all that fixated on the sexual aspects of this, it's just one example of the kinds of things you can do. Basically to do wrong the "right way" you need to violate societal taboos, because that's what being bad is. When games are fixated on "being evil, but only in a way that isn't likely to offend anyone" it turns it into a giant joke, and really all that's left with the desicians is of course the statistical benefits.

Whether it's sex, violence, or offensive political/ethical stances, the bottom line is that to do it right, it has to be accepted that your going to offend someone, and your going to have to push the envelope. To really do evil storylines well the game industry is pretty much going to have to fight to ensure things that groups like the ESRB and watchdog groups think should be "AO", are allowed with an "M" rating.

Whether it's taking advantage of girls, enslaving people for fun and profit, or casually committing genocide in pursuit of a goal or numerous other things, that's the kind of stuff you need to see...

The odd thing is that in all of the above examples it's pretty obvious what the rewards are generally going to be (sex, money, power, gratification). The writing is hard. In comparison (as I pointed out) it's easy to write and provide options for a good guy, but much harder to come up with viable rewards.

Oh yes and one final note: while plenty of people play evil, I do notice a lot of people are turned off from that path because for whatever reason game developers typically decide that being bad should be horribly disfiguring. KOTOR and Fable are paticularly bad examples here. Of course it can be argued that Peter Molyneux seems to really be fixated on human ugliness since his games have ranged from having the hero turn into walking star tissue, to a deformed Jabba-The-Hutt type fatboy... and even good guys don't get off, since in Fable 2 to remain good you need to voluntarily have yourself turned (permanantly) into an old geezer. The bad guy at this same point can get by without that, but since he's a deformed waddling ball of fat it's hardly nessicary. :P

The issue is, I think, that in most games the morality system and the storyline don't always fit together, because you generally don't control how the story plays out during the cutscenes and whatnot. Take Red Dead Redemption, for instance - John Marston was very much a "good guy" in the storyline even if you tried to play as a huge prick.

By the way, can anyone make out any games in that huge stack in the photo? I can just barely make out Ninja Gaiden, I think, but that's about it.

Enigmers:

By the way, can anyone make out any games in that huge stack in the photo? I can just barely make out Ninja Gaiden, I think, but that's about it.

I try to see what they are, but his amazing 'stache just keeps drawing my attention.

OT: Being evil in games tends to suck because not much really changes. Most of the time it doesn't have a big impact on the story. Like in Fallout 3, you can destroy Megaton, but it seems no one except for Karma Three Dog seems to notice. Your dad mentions it once, but thats it.

You blow up one of the only two major settlements in the Capitol Wasteland, and no one seems to fucking notice.

Ah, so last week I disagreed with you about the separation of form and genre. Now this week I completely agree that the demands of form often contradict the ambitions of genre. I think it's safe to say that it will be a looooong time* before someone makes a game whose morality is cohesive with its gameplay. There just isn't enough market demand yet for a game designer to move beyond the run-and-gun(-and-steal) formula, which is sad. This is what games like Portal are promising us, and no one else is delivering on that promise.

*By long time, I mean a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo-oooooo-oooooo-oooooo-ooooooooooooooooooong time.

porschecm2:
I was highly impressed with the good/evil mechanism in The Witcher. You can't judge if what you've done is evil or not, except by your (you, the player) own conscience, and by the way other characters in-game respond to you. The dialogue is more nuanced than "kill the kitten" or "give the poor man some food," so the choices become much harder. The lack of a good/evil slider or karma points or whatever keeps a player who's attempting to be good straying more on the safe side of things.

I was just thinking that the reason most morale systems fail is precisely because they're not hidden from the user...and because games are innately aimed at rewarding the player.
The problem with modeling real world morale in games is that any realistic punishment is highly detrimental of the gaming experience. As an example, suppose that real world penalties applied to theft or murder and the player was caught for one of those crimes.
The punishment can usually be avoided right off the bat by quick loading, thus allowing the player to turn back time at the smallest sign of adversity. Even considering that this option is not available, one of two scenarios will occur: either the punishment is severe or trivial.
Severe punishment like stripping the player of all of his possessions and/or throwing his ass in jail (assuming jailing time is at least annoying in real world time) will lead to a lot of players quitting out of frustration.
Trivial punishment like 5 minutes jail time, on the other hand, is clearly not effective.

The bottom line is that real world morale is mostly born out of the balance between gain and punishment, and game conventions make it extremely difficult/unattractive to correctly model that balance.

This article is automatically win due to one Kinks reference.

You know, this does bring up an interesting point for me personally. I'm always whining that I "have nothing to play", when in reality I have this massive stack of games, mostly RPGs, that I have NEVER EVER tried the "dark path" in. Not even Knights of the Old Republic, which I played through twice, both times as a light sider.

I dunno why, and it's never what I'd call an aversion to being "bad"... I think that for me it's just more gratifying to be the good guy. This did make me realise that I'm probably missing out on a lot of replay value, however.

I tend not to play the "bad guy" because it's rarely fun in games. That's not to say playing the bad guy isn't fun, just that few if any games give you the option to play the bad guy in a fun way. Sure, Fallout3 may have let you be "evil." But other than be a slaver is there anything to really do for an evil character beyond genocide? The game clearly expects you to be good (or at least neutral. But its almost impossible to stay neutral without the occasional baby killing, raising all sorts of issues with the moral system itself) so one has to wonder what the point of a moral system was in the first place.

Cousin_IT:
I tend not to play the "bad guy" because it's rarely fun in games. That's not to say playing the bad guy isn't fun, just that few if any games give you the option to play the bad guy in a fun way. Sure, Fallout3 may have let you be "evil." But other than be a slaver is there anything to really do for an evil character beyond genocide? The game clearly expects you to be good (or at least neutral. But its almost impossible to stay neutral without the occasional baby killing, raising all sorts of issues with the moral system itself) so one has to wonder what the point of a moral system was in the first place.

I disagree with that, there's plenty of fun evil options in Fallout 3, most if not all side quests have fun evil alternative solutions.
I've only had one good character, since playing evil is just too much fun haha.

Steve Butts:
no one wants to play Star Wars: Mediators of the Old Republic or Peaceout: New Vegas

Speak for yourself. When I play games, I often wish that I could stop murdering people and just go around exploring and chatting to them.

Good article. I agree with points raised.

It's a shame that these questions are raised from our 'best of the genre' games like Fallout or Mass Effect and that these games are lauded for even having matchstick constructs of morality in them. For the longest time we've played linear games, hopefully these games will be the forefront of far more open ended content in the future.

The Game Stash is quickly becoming one of my favourite Escapist articles. This article is much like last weeks, in that I agree with it on the whole, keep up the good work Steve!

My problem with morality systems is that in almost all games evil is freaking stupid. Give candy to orphans or burn down the orphanage? That isn't a good vs. evil choice that's a common decency vs. psychopathy choice.

Even people we consider the most evil SoBs in history didn't think themselves as evil... If they want to make a compelling game about the "dark side" maybe they should explore that fact and understand that "evil" isn't just being a dick to everyone you meet.

Forefront, my eye. Open-ended games already exists (Fallout 2 and Daggerfall, for examples). The problem is that morality systems which have an actual appeal are deemed too "niche" for the publishers to fund the developers to put large amounts of time and effort into perfecting the system (what with 3D engines already costing $10,000,000 in technology and manpower and time).

The issue of rewards and morality systems is a mess. I think that 'karma' systems fail entirely on their premise; karma only works if the end payoff is important and worthwhile. Otherwise it becomes a meaningless annoyance. This is especially true when it is treated as another resource. The best example that comes to mind is Fallout 3. Why does giving money to a crazy cult give me good karma? These people are clearly not helping anyone, and now we seem to be back in the middle ages with indulgences. Then the game contradicts itself when it gives you karma for helping a girl seduce a priest into marriage. So is the church good or not?

However, the game got close to a decent scenario with Tenpenny Towers, but why does killing genocidal humans/ghouls give me bad karma? These people are clearly evil, all they lack is a twirly mustache. Especially after the 'cleanup' if you choose the good option, the morality system just collapses in contradictions.

I think a decent step would be important, game changing rewards/punishments. Using Fallout 3 as an example, if being 'Evil' meant the Brotherhood refused to train you in Power Armor, or if 'Evil' you could join Talon Company instead, gaining access to unique weapons and shop discounts due to fear. Then the choices would gain some weight, since they majorly change game-play.

I always play the neutral evil character in RPG's. I love looting dead bodies and holding old men until they give me 100gp (that actually happened in NWN).

Fou morality systems suck because they are under implemented not to say using a 10 year old dailog tree that talks is not bad it is good enough for publishers to toss out but meh they can do better *looking at you bioware*

First off you need 4 to 6 paths Pure good,complicated good,bad ass and pure evil, or good/lawful, bad ass but good natured/bad ass but selfish and evil selfish/evil as in demonic.

Then you need a system to deal with those consequences (nefor Is tart in stealing should be dealt with as follows skilled stealing gets you .001 bad points,being seen around the area you are stealing from 1 and being seen is 5) you need individual, town level,regional level and world level gauges to figure out who and what you are, you treat people good or bad in a town the town reflects that in your score which then tilts the regional score, when you enter into a new region you are looked at with maybe 40% of the gauge from the last region a new person in town dose not mean much until you start ding stuff and after awhile changing your looks and hiding your appearance will need to come into play.

But there again depth in a RPG....in this era? HA!

microwaviblerabbit:
snip

FO3 was designed for the 8-10 hour main quest anythign apart from it is unbalanced and unpolished well..vats is fckered but thats because its poorly implamtned...

That's a very interesting article, and one that has been repeated at infinitum and never seems to get into developers' heads.

Designers of these games have often lamented that so few people take the "bad" path, and much creative energy has been spent trying to find a perspective that encourages players to give in to the Dark Side or, more interestingly, to present choices that aren't as obviously good or evil.

Wait, what? Really? Are you sure of this? Really, really sure? Because every time I see a thread about which path people took on a game, about 90% of the people will say they chose the evil path. If they played once, they played evil. If they own the game, they played evil four times, did a good run to see what it was like, then did a genocidal run to offset it. As a matter of fact, I've come to see morality thingies on games as just a way for gamers to feel even better about being evil. Not only do you get to kick a puppy, a message even pops up saying 'Kicked a puppy! +50 Evil Points! Thrice Damned Bastard evil level reached!'

I remember the Prototype devs saying they didn't put a morality system in their game because they saw people playing and realized everyone just plays as the most evil bastard. I usually play as a good guy but even I felt that was a fresh perspective.

Susan Arendt, for instance, chose not to steal the cash from the couples' safe because she established her own personal context for the action.

Reminds me of the guy in one of the Escapist articles whose personal yardstick for evil was that he would not kill a goat in one of the King's Quest games. Or... can't remember who, it might have been one of the Escapist columnists, who said he loved foxes and so wouldn't hurt a fox in Red Dead Redemption... then hunted a fox to complete a sidequest and felt horrible about it.

The problem is that there will always be THAT GUY who would shout at Arendt saying 'WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, ARE YOU DAFT? THE ITEMS ARE THERE, THERE IS NO NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCE FOR PICKING THEM UP WHATSOEVER, YOU ARE STUPID FOR NOT TAKING THE FREE ITEMS YOU MORONIC IDIOT!' (Poor Susie!) The point is that some people will always focus on gaming the system, and will consider a stupid choice to not take the most advantadge possible even if it means your character is acting like a bastard. Of course, a game is about bending rules for one as much as it's about telling a story for others, although THAT GUY will usually say that his way of playing is superior and use his superior game stats as proof.

And, of course, while there's some obvious conflict in the way things happen in ME, I remember an atheist complaining about the morality system in Fallout 3, in which you lose karma for stealing stuff even if you aren't caught. He said it makes it look like there is some sort of force always keeping track of the player. Well, there is, but it should be a gaming abstraction, yes?

(And I've found a lot of hate for the bad end for the Tenpenny Tower quest, even though I personally think it's one of the only quests in the game to really mean something. Congratulations, you worked hard for the best end and now everyone is happy! Except the people you just helped are bigots and they kill each other. You know what they say about the road to hell and its pavement.)

EmeraldGreen:

Steve Butts:
no one wants to play Star Wars: Mediators of the Old Republic or Peaceout: New Vegas

Speak for yourself. When I play games, I often wish that I could stop murdering people and just go around exploring and chatting to them.

Which makes me excited for New Vegas.

Obsidian stated you can go through the game without killing anyone. Its tricky to do, but possible. Which makes me very happy.

Loonerinoes:
To be honest...maybe we should have something like that in these modern RPGs these days? A random encounter of either guards or residents of said abodes that jump you at any given time and go berserk at what you're doing? It would help I guess heheh. Funnily enough I remember in Dragon Age (in sharp contrast) most characters actually *will* turn hostile if you open chests nearby them and will fight you the moment you start to loot their stuff. So...it could be another side-effect of Bioware wanting to differentiate Dragon Age as the slightly more traditional styled RPG while taking Mass Effect into the more loose shooter/RPG hybrid route they've taken.

Where does this happen, I steal stuff constantly, yet I never get this to happen. I actually want punishment for being such a theiving bastard. Though in terms of taking stuff from chests, I consider it an acceptable break from reality.

PS. Don't worry about being too big of a Bioware fan... you're not alone.

Irridium:

EmeraldGreen:

Steve Butts:
no one wants to play Star Wars: Mediators of the Old Republic or Peaceout: New Vegas

Speak for yourself. When I play games, I often wish that I could stop murdering people and just go around exploring and chatting to them.

Which makes me excited for New Vegas.

Obsidian stated you can go through the game without killing anyone. Its tricky to do, but possible. Which makes me very happy.

And apparently you can kill everyone too! Keeps everyone happy.

Steve Butts:
This is, of course, assuming that the role you've adopted in these games is more in line with good than evil. I think, for most of us at least, that's a safe bet. Designers of these games have often lamented that so few people take the "bad" path, and much creative energy has been spent trying to find a perspective that encourages players to give in to the Dark Side or, more interestingly, to present choices that aren't as obviously good or evil.

Really? If you had asked me, I would have guessed it was the exact opposite - it seems like EVERYONE does the bad-guy route. Vocal minority, I guess.

XinfiniteX:

Irridium:

EmeraldGreen:

Steve Butts:
no one wants to play Star Wars: Mediators of the Old Republic or Peaceout: New Vegas

Speak for yourself. When I play games, I often wish that I could stop murdering people and just go around exploring and chatting to them.

Which makes me excited for New Vegas.

Obsidian stated you can go through the game without killing anyone. Its tricky to do, but possible. Which makes me very happy.

And apparently you can kill everyone too! Keeps everyone happy.

So long as they don't put in another Little Lamplight-like town, I'll be happy.

Seriously Bethesda, there is no reason Little Lamplight should exist, unless the goal was to grief the players, and in that respect, you succeeded.

Dicks.

I'm shocked about the statistic that most people play good characters.

I've always had the most fun with the evil path, and its my general choice if its not completely horrifying. Though I do also feel guilt for doing it, there is a lot of fun to be head in pushing yourself to make choices like that which would be against your nature in real life.

Fallout 3 hit me a total of 6 times: Nuking Megaton, killing the Lincoln worshiping slaves, killing the disadvantaged ghouls, poisoning the water, destroying the citadel, and (the absolute worst thing in any game ever, I had trouble sleeping) selling the naive child to the slavers by convincing her we were going on an adventure.

JackRyan64:
This article is automatically win due to one Kinks reference.

It's my favorite part of the whole thing.

As for people playing good characters, I've heard from Peter Molyneux and the BioWare doctors that the anecdotal evidence is that most people tend to go for the good side in their games. It's certainly the case for most gamers I know.

The problem I have with most morality systems is that while the 'good' options tend to stick with heroic standards the 'evil' options are mostly juvenile dickishness that you'd expect from henchmen rather than a true villain.

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