The Game Stash: Virtual Virtues

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Mass Effect 1 made it easier to loot. Those barren rocks you landed on with a tiny replicate base in the middle of nowhere: once you slaughter everyone and everything in it, it is obvious nobody will ever come here again. Mass Effect 2 made that harder since you'd read datapads of the actions happening in real time as you progressed.

Also, the inventory system made gaining cash laughably easy. If you can sell every item you collect from the corpses, you make big bucks, and that was the key to making riches in Mass Effect 1. At a certain point, I didn't have to loot jack since I was swimmingly affluent.

Mass Effect 2 makes you have to grind out credits in any way possible, in such a way that it would easily take 20 people's "life savings," as you put it in your article, to buy armor upgrade #1 or whatnot. Being able to sell those resources would have been amazing in the same way, since you can always make money doing that kind of thing in such a large galaxy full of rocks.

Most importantly, if they had let me pull in my 1 million + credits from mass effect 1 saves, I would have been able to buy every item in the whole game without collecting a single credit...

Holy crap, Steve, judging from the size of people's posts, you seem to be attracting all of the Escapist's intellectuals. Bravo :D
But to me, the solution seems simple. Just attach positive or negative morality points to actions, but don't tell players when they gain these. Or give them a FUCKING METER, for that matter. Then, when the consequences of their actions come full circle, they suddenly see the err of their ways.
Take the chest-looting Mr. Butts (lol) was talking about, for example. People would instinctively loot everything in sight, unaware of the consequences of their actions. Suddenly, when the horns, evil aura, and other such shit starts showing up, the player is smacked by the cold reality of LIFE :o

Jaker the Baker:
Holy crap, Steve, judging from the size of people's posts, you seem to be attracting all of the Escapist's intellectuals. Bravo :D
But to me, the solution seems simple. Just attach positive or negative morality points to actions, but don't tell players when they gain these. Or give them a FUCKING METER, for that matter. Then, when the consequences of their actions come full circle, they suddenly see the err of their ways.
Take the chest-looting Mr. Butts (lol) was talking about, for example. People would instinctively loot everything in sight, unaware of the consequences of their actions. Suddenly, when the horns, evil aura, and other such shit starts showing up, the player is smacked by the cold reality of LIFE :o

If evil < 20
Then do nothing
If evil >20
Then grow horns, change skintone to red, print "BAM! YOU'RE EVIL, MOTHERFUCKER!"

Does that look right?

There was a game I once played that would not let you go around mindlessly butchering anyone... Well if you played the right class that is.

In the Quest for Glory games, at least the fifth one when you played as a paladin you got a negative paladin rank EVERYTIME you killed a human, no matter what.

This lead to some interesting game play, here you are the most powerful warrior in the game and you couldn't kill the brigands at your door.

Kill to many and your rank of paladin got stripped away.

Really? You all don't play Evil? I generally play a Lionhead, Bioware or Bethesda title at least 3 times. 1 all good, 1 all evil and one where I choose what I want at the time.

Someone else mentioned the Witcher earlier, but I'd like to give a slightly different perspective: (SPOILERS AHOY, although said spoilers can be played in the demo as well so yeah)

When you have to decide whether you want to let them burn the witch or escort her to safety at the end of chapter 1 (i.e. be a total asshat or a knight in shining armor), there is a definite DIFFICULTY difference between the two choices. In both cases, you are met with the Beast, but in one you only have useless Abigail to help you, whereas in the other you get the whole town to help. Despite having leveled properly, used alchemy to get me a bunch of potions, got myself a meteor sword etc etc, I still had to load that encounter a LOT of times before I somehow (through some fluke of the Group Style I think) managed to kill the Beast. After that, I still had to kill a bunch of villagers on top of it all! As a final stab, I was arrested on entering Vizima. Whereas in the 'evil' option, I breezed through the encounter in moments, and what more I would be allowed to enter the town no questions asked.

If I would have been forced to fight the Beast alone a couple of more times, I might just have decided to go with the evil way out just for the sake of being able to continue the game.

My point here is that generally there is no difference in difficulty between 'good' and 'evil', just a difference in dialogue and rewards usually. At least in Bethesda games, being 'evil' lets you steal lots of good loot early and make money, but when it comes to quests they're every bit as conservative as the rest.

What I'd like to see is an RPG where there is some general definition of 'good' and 'virtuos', which the player can either choose to follow or abandon (or do a bit of both), in which deviating from the path will generally make the game easier, and staying good would make the game harder. It'd be a morality tale, while simultaneously doing away with the silly difficulty selector. Say for instance the protagonist is a monk, sworn to nonviolence and a simple, ascetic lifestyle with no or few worldly possessions. S/he then sets out to rescue the world/monastery/kingdom etc, and is constantly bombadeered with the opportunities of life outside - magical weapons and armor, untold riches, hot sex scenes with naughty wenches, lots of opportunities to make a quick buck and so on. The Hard game is one where the monk remains pure and completes his/her incredibly hard task through perseverence and personal skill, and looks more or less the same at the end as at the beginning. The Medium game is where the monk makes some concessions to the difficult task at hand, gathers some weapons and maybe some spare cash, does bunch of shady jobs etc, all for the greater good. The Easy game is where the monk goes all-out RPG on the world, loots corpses and houses, steals and murders, gathers money on a pile, always picks the most lucrative option through a quest and so on, ending up at the end boss as a veritable demi-god.

Here we bump into the next problem, though: content. Since when is the content of RPGs so very much determined by the amount of murdering, looting and pillaging you do in them? Poor, pure monk, we shall never know thee...

dochmbi:

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.

Which follow the tedious dichotomy of good= hero with a martyr complex, bad = arsehole baby killer Shamus made the point about. With the notable exception of the Tenpenny Tower quest, where apparently killing a bloodthirsty ghoul & his posse is super bad but sending a bunch of snobs out to die in the wilderness is super good. With the exception of some dialogue trees, the slavers were the only thing in the game that gave you a reason to be evil beyond purely for the sake of it; & even their frustratingly limited mission selection boiled down to kidnap children because we're super evil badasses. The wasteland is an evil place, & the game expects you to be its savior, if for no other reason than because being the bad guy is boring.

Steve Butts:
Even those games that don't allow the player to steal outright must deal with the notion that it's okay to slaughter hundreds of human beings, just so long as they're bad. It seems that all that separates heroes from villains in most games is that the heroes are just killing the right people.

This is the same thing in real life though. Soldiers are the good guys because they are killing enemies of their respective countries just like what is happening in Iraq & Afghanistan. They are seen as heros because they are killing the right sort of people.

Morality Meters are kind of useless. They were nice for a while, but thanks to contradictions like this it's easy to see that they make no sense.

Thankfully, as posted before, "The Witcher" showed a way to get rid of it by being offered the choices and having to deal with the consequences without earning "20 evil points of evil"
Another Game that has a great alternative to this is Alpha Protocol, where every individual person that you can talk to has his own "reputation" meter that determines if they like you or not based on how and in wich way you talk to them. As such, you could either play one of the offered "roles" (like Bourne-like Professional or being Bond-like Suave) and make friends and enemies that way, or try to become buddies with everyone by talking to everyone like they want to be talked to (because after all you are a spy, no one expects you to be "yourself") or just do whatever you want and be like you want.
And also, like the Witcher, the decisions that you make have thier own concequences instead of an "overall concequence" based on your Karma.

As i said, morality systems are kind of stupid on thier own, but when you go beyond that, you get to much more varied ways to actually "role-play"

Schwerganoik:

If evil < 20
Then do nothing
If evil >20
Then grow horns, change skintone to red, print "BAM! YOU'RE EVIL, MOTHERFUCKER!"

Does that look right?

Well I each game will have its own consequences for being evil, Fable 1 just came to mind for me at that moment O.o

Wow - I never thought the day would come when an article on morality systems in RPGs would fail to mention (and fail to elicit any comment about) Ultima IV. I mean, the whole point of that game was to punish/reward you for your moral decisions (there was no big enemy to defeat) - and it was way more punishing than the more modern (Bethesda/Bioware) karma systems it spawned.

Conflict of mechanic and story is a problem when trying to tell a story in a game media, much the same as if you try to tell a story on screen from a book. They are different media so different rules apply. and a certain artistic license has to apply - in film a tank full of fuel might blow up when shot and the car will flip wildly - in reality this isnt going to happen but it captures a visual audience. In games the players must interact and play so you have to create a repeatable system to earn money. In reality this would be a job but jobs are boring! (well most)But looting is fun.

So the mechanics have to be 'fun' again harping back to 'it's a game'

Your still fighting that fact that games have to be 'played' therefore must employ logic systems to get to the story.

There is reason behind the looting mechanic in Mass Effect 2.

The problem they have is how does the character gain tech/weapons. They earn or buy it. How do we write that in? Well they are going to have to find work and do side jobs for extra pay? Hmm but we already have a massive game here. Wouldn't that create a rather boring repeative play function? and we have deadlines here this double our work load.... and it could kill the pacing of the story?

Well they could just 'find it' as they go through the story. What looting? Yeah sure. And thus it's born :P

Basically once again function and reality of scope win over the context in which it's set.

An example of this idea working in favour of the story to add depth is Silent Hill 2 where the walk into town is overly long and empty - this is create the sense of isolation and the thought of going back more of an effort than going on into the town. This was very risky as players dont want be long treks of nothing. It's dull! but it adds to the story and sets the scene for an epic game. But i beat more than 1 player didn't get it and jsut thought it was not needed. But this is how it should be done. Unfortunately these games are rare gems.

If the repeatable actions in a game like stealing are in conflict or written in is down to the skills of the writers but you come up with reasons and lists of things the player should do to earn that money. What you are doing is falling into the same trap as Peter Molyneux. Instead of creative off beat games he worked with when he set up Bullfrog. Now his work is like a child with crayons drawing wild dreams. Only to be brought back to reality with a massive kick to the testies by a programmer that says it's not possible with current technology. Designers call this the Bleeding Edge he's crossed the line of what should be cutting edge. And thats why every time fable comes out it's a watered whiskey not the double malt on ice it should be.

I agree that in an RPG the growth and character story is the function of the game. But producing that in a different light is the visual mechanics. I think the start (only the start) on fallout 3 is how the whole game should have been played. Your character grows from interactions and you don't see the system or character sheet of the avatar. So to find out you cant use a gun you'd have to try and use it. But us players like our numbers so we can abuse the system. If we know there is a cap to use the gun. We might grind our Agility or Strength up to use it, BUt if we cant see that number we might simply not do this as it's an unknown thing better. We understands how games work and that is our downfall as gamers to totally escape into them.

the moral systems of good and evil are much the same the logic system behind them is what drives it no matter how you write it. You have to take into account what the system is that the players will experience. The more options the more work the programmers have.

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.

In Fable 2, people will get upset if you break down their door and start looting. IIRC, they can even attack you (which will end poorly for them).

Being the Villain sux in most games. u either don't get the best loot or all the NPCs hate u. and there are never more Badguy NPCs then there are Goodguy NPCs to hang with. In most case it just pays to play the "good" guy.

there are never any towns devoted to villainy! and if they are they are WAY out of your way. It just doesn't pay to do crime in RPGs :(

If they made it just as appealing id go bad every time. Then i can easily justify all the corpse looting and killing! XD

RhombusHatesYou:
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.

I agree wit that...it hardly seems its really being moral in any respect, its, just so black and white

Really, life is alot more grey than it shows, and, the only game that really has showed me any kind of system where it works, even to the slightly is things like ME2...but, even that was sometime too black and white

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.

Really? I didn't know that. Colour me interested.

Jaredin:

I agree wit that...it hardly seems its really being moral in any respect, its, just so black and white

Really, life is alot more grey than it shows, and, the only game that really has showed me any kind of system where it works, even to the slightly is things like ME2...but, even that was sometime too black and white

You ever heard of Fuzzy logic? it's the system that would have to be employed to create a system capable of dealing with this. IE not on or Off (or Black and White) it has to be this way until the maths catches up to the thinking.

Below is a chart for the fuzzy logic behind moving a car. This is you would think would be a very easy thing. Now think how hard a non Black and White system would look like... it's too complex.

http://www.rischenterprizes.com/Fuzzy.jpg

As for the dickishness of evil i agree but thats down to poor writing. Honestly writers should talk to programmers more often. They are the dads that will take away your magic and replace it with reality.

And no i'm not a programmer, I'm an artist :D

Good article, you make some good points. RPGs really do need to figure out a way to get past looting and stealing, and I agree Bethesda seems to have closest to fixing that problem.. well at least, you can't easily sell stolen goods, and bad guys you loot are often monsters with alchemy ingredients.

I look forward to reading this column in the future.

EmeraldGreen:

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.

Really? I didn't know that. Colour me interested.

Has me extremely interested too. Bless Obsidian for having the chutzpah to try something different. Even if it usually doesn't work out well for them.

OT: I demand more articles from the Escapists new mustachioed editor supreme.

This is really one of the things I find most laughable about any game with inventories period. I recall trying to replay BioWare's Neverwinter Nights as a Paladin, and being the whole lawful good thing, not looting and robbing the academy in the prologue. Turns out you need that money to be able to accomplish anything in that game. So, moral choice system goes out the window, I do whatever I please, game gets uninteresting, and lives further down on my shelf.

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.

I completely agree. I'm tired of games being so uncreative that the only way they can think of to assess how you've progressed is by how many beings you've killed. I really wish people would come out with more Myst-style games.

This reminds me of Kotor 2, where there was actually an in-story explanation for why killing other characters made you stronger. After explaining it to you, the Jedi Master looks at you and asks, "Didn't you think it was odd, how you were taking strength from death?"

JEBWrench:

I demand more articles from the Escapists new mustachioed editor supreme.

Thanks. I am officially changing my title.

Computer RPGs have never been good at demonstrating a "believable" morality/ethical system, in large part because they tend to be morally simplistic (absolute good vs. absolute evil), even the non-fantasy games. In a more complex model of a believable setting (believable as opposed to realistic), a character would be affected by a variety of issues when making ethical decisions.

1. Personal ethics: What does the character believe to be right and wrong, and how committed is he to this ethical code?
2. Social ethics: What does society believe to be right and wrong, how committed is it to enforcing this code and what mechanisms are in place with which to enforce it?
3. Evidence of guilt: What do any of the other characters in the game know about the player characters actions? Did someone witness him killing all the bandits on the road and stealing their stuff? Did someone see him walk into that peasant's hut and ransack his meager belongings?

Shame, guilt, reputation, conviction (in both senses of the word) all would play a part in a complex, believable model. That being said, we're talking about a game -- if something does not have significant consequences to the play of the game, then it's really pretty pointless.

So, if our game has a guilt rating -- basically a measure of the character's personal sense ethics and how committed he is to it -- then there has to be some in-game consequence for the character violating his own ethical code. Perhaps self loathing makes him an asshole, so that he rubs everyone the wrong way; all the "friendly" dialog options are removed, or at least reduced. Perhaps he becomes more inclined to substance abuse, which affects his physical scores and skill levels. Whatever.

Likewise, a character may have a reputation, but only among those game characters who know his reputation. So, in one province, our character may be wanted on suspicion of murder, but having moved off to another province, where he's unknown, he does not have a bad reputation -- until a game character from that original province shows up and knows about the character's reputation.

See, it can get really complicated really quickly, and while I think this would be a great, fascinating game, I don't know if anyone else would care for it, or if it would even be technically possible to pull off.

Fun to think about, though.

L.

Spot on. Most games that have moral-choice-ish systems tend to ignore the actual game world when it comes to making decisions. And that can definitely take you out of the experience when people start praising you for killing monsters with the new fancy gear that you obtained by looting the dead corpses of civilians.

I've always thought that 'morality systems' cripple actual morals or choices. Take Mass Effect. With the genophage, the game presents you with one of the more complex problems of the galaxy, where both sides could be viewed as being right. Do you preemptively sterilize a race because simulations show they will attack the stability of the galaxy? Personally, I still can't decide whether or not the genophage should have happened. However, when it's time for Shepherd to express his opinion, without even thinking, I hit 'good' option, which is that the genophage should have happened. The game told me what the 'good' choice was and what the 'bad' choice was, and completely ruined the complexity of the decision. I hope that in the future, games will have tough moral choices, but there won't be a measure of how 'good' or 'bad' you are, and people won't try to be a 'good' or 'bad' character. Until that happens, morality in games is an illusion. You don't make the choice. The game's conceptions of what 'good' and 'bad' are make the choice for you.

I honestly don't understand people who want to do "evil" things in games. And I'm not talking about morally ambiguous things like looting already-dead bodies, the empty homes of dead people, or stealing a loaf of bread when you are starving. I'm talking about what another person pointed out is psychopathy: raping, torturing, killing innocent people or animals that have not done anything to you. People say that they play evil to see what its like or for a different experience. I can't possibly imagine why anyone would want to experience causing terror in a young girl as she is held against her will and forcibly violated.

I suppose that in some games the reason people feel free to do these things is because the action is vague. They don't have to actually perform the extreme action - its simply a choice they make from a menu. Maybe that makes it easier to pretend to be a psychopath. I guess my imagination is too good to allow me to go that route.

As for killing innocents, I suppose when you play a game where you have to kill so many things, for some people why you're killing might cease to be important. I personally hate quests where the reason for killing certain things is lame - so I definitely pay attention to why I'm killing. And I wish there was less killing no matter the reason. Not because I'm a prude, its just boring and I like to do other things in games.

Djinni:
I honestly don't understand people who want to do "evil" things in games. And I'm not talking about morally ambiguous things like looting already-dead bodies, the empty homes of dead people, or stealing a loaf of bread when you are starving. I'm talking about what another person pointed out is psychopathy: raping, torturing, killing innocent people or animals that have not done anything to you.

This is one of the most disturbing areas of gaming and one that's definitely suitable for a future column.

I still don't get the appeal of Postal, or the Columbine mods, or the airport level in Call of Duty. To me, it's just visceral exploitation hiding behind a thin veil of artistic expression or social relevance. The lack of sincerity becomes apparent when the same people who make high-minded claims that games are capital-A "Art" immediately fall back on the excuse, "It's just a game," whenever the appropriateness of the content or commentary is challenged.

Steve Butts:

JEBWrench:

I demand more articles from the Escapists new mustachioed editor supreme.

Thanks. I am officially changing my title.

You are quite welcome. As a proud member of the facial hair collective, the recognition of a truly epic 'stache is important.

Steve Butts:
The lack of sincerity becomes apparent when the same people who make high-minded claims that games are capital-A "Art" immediately fall back on the excuse, "It's just a game," whenever the appropriateness of the content or commentary is challenged.

Oddly enough, this is one of the reasons why I don't think gaming has yet reached the point of Art - because any attempt to challenge what's being expressed is more often than not shushed down with "It's just a game", rather than an opinionated counter-argument.

I think part of the problem might be clinging to old tropes as a necessity for gameplay.

I recall reading about Bioshock and I think it was Ken Levine who said (heavily paraphrased from memory); To make the good/evil choice meaningful, we gave you less Adam, but from a gameplay perspective we had to make it up to the people choosing good, otherwise we ran into a serious problem later along the line and it wasn't fun anymore.

If you want to include a morality system, cool. Now remove my need to steal money. Mass Effect has gameplay rules that say; You need money to get X. Not levels. Not negotiations. (Although those do play into it) Money.

So they have to make stealing consequence free, otherwise all your good actions go into the shitter.

Ditto any RPG game. You're the 'hero' yet the game insists that you need money to get what you want. Fine; now give me positive and negative ways to earn that money with the consequences-or find me a way to go without money.

Between the moustache and the name I just cannot take these articles seriously.

Smokescreen:

Ditto any RPG game. You're the 'hero' yet the game insists that you need money to get what you want. Fine; now give me positive and negative ways to earn that money with the consequences-or find me a way to go without money.

Arcanum handles that well, though not perfectly. There are actual ramifications for whichever way you decide to earn your money, such as being more prone to attacks from hitmen if you sell your story to the newspaper (which is neither on the good/evil spectrum, but it merits note).

Though there it still uses the good/evil meter, and you can still buy your way into the good status, it's expensive, and it's harder to be good than evil.

I believe the "moral choice system" is the biggest flaw in digital RPG's. Not simply because it only gives options of the most extreme, but because it doesn't accurately represent roleplaying. In a true RPG you are free to do or say whatever you want, there's no restrictions. Video game designers have to put in all this pre-generated text which forces options upon you and kinda' ruins the whole point of role playing. You're not getting to make the decisions, you're just given an option of already laid out decisions and consequences.

In Fallout 3, I never really have a need for money. People are willing to call me "Messiah", but I've stolen my good share of things. I've never played a Bioware game, so I can't compare, but I can say that Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (no morality) and Fable 2 (crappy morality) never need you to be bad to get money.

In Fallout and Oblivion, looting your dead enemies is expected because of the circumstances. If I kill a bandit, marauder, or raider, I'm not going to fight my inner moral self because this is the Capital Wasteland and the unforgiving wilderness of Cyrodiil.

Perhaps in our comfortable, civilized world, things like looting and stealing from the dead seem like moral injustice. However, if Oblivion or Fallout forced the gamer to eat and sleep (like a normal human being) you would loot without shame or you would die. Simple.

By the way, epic doom 'stache.

But what about going out of your way to kill an enemy who isn't presenting a threat to you or anyone else? And what about stealing from the living (and presumably decent) inhabitants of these worlds?

A thoughtful, well reasoned argument. The thing is, we like games because they aren't real life. Maybe there should not be consequences for bad actions in games - they aren't teaching tools for morality, they are RPGs where we write the story.

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