The Game Stash: Virtual Virtues

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While playing Red Dead Redemption, I had eagerly been scooping up bullets and various odds and ends from all of my gunned down victims. That is, up until I met Seth the crazed and (more than) slightly creepy graverobber. Rockstar actually managed to make me feel uncomfortable about stealing from the dead, and so I stopped doing it for the remainder of the game.

Totally agreed. It seems like in every single game, no matter what "alignment" I am trying to fit my character as, I always behave in the same fashion. Namely, that the wealth of the world is mine for the taking and that before the game ends, everything last gold coin, bottle cap, or piece of money will be in my posession. I am a rampaging looter in every single game I play where I have this opportunity, and because games don't seem to care that much about this, even my "good aligned" characters sit in a massive pile of in-game currency or wealth.

But, that's just how I am I guess. At least in games.

For me, this kinda thing is called *looks up tvtropes to make sure segregation is correctly spelled* story and gameplay segregation. What I do in the game as a completely cliché and obvious gaming device doesn't matter as long as what I do story-wise remains ok with the people it concerns. Although it's fun when in Kotor 2, Kreia calls you out on looting a dead body in the morgue.

The looting scene in ME2 did make me pause when I played the game. Made Shepard look like a huge hypocrite/dick. Granted, that's sort of the kind of character I was playing at the time, except against her crew, but still.

One moment I could go on about peaceful solutions, and another I could kick someone through their apartment window.

"I usually turn a blind eye to this kind of thing but Mass Effect 2 doesn't do a good enough job hiding the moral contradiction here. In fact, the game makes it explicit. It becomes openly laughable during this plague sequence when Shepard and his companions enter an apartment to find two looters standing over a dead body. "Stealing from the dead?" Shepard asks. "I don't like looters."

Wait a minute."

-Steve Butts

You have got to be kidding me. That is just insane.

There is one time I can remember a really good example of this kind of complicated evil vs. good choice in an RPG.

I always play through as good/heroic/paragon character first and then do the evil/dick/renegade on a subsequent play through.

In KOTOR there was the "Romeo & Juliet" couple with the warring families. The first time through I got them together and got the families to make nice for their sakes. The second play through I got to this mission and there is no way to start it without getting lightside points. Either you help a little or skip it. But if you do the first step to help a little it leads to a point where you can goad both families into destroying each other over it.

I remember this so clearly because of the doing a little good to do a greater evil aspect of it. One of the truly messed up and evil events in an RPG.

I wonder when this sort of thing started. Maybe it was back in the days of DnD when treasure chests were a simple symbol for "You want what's in here, trust me" and locked treasure chests screamed "What I have in here is so good, I DARE you try to open me".

I guess some gaming symbols are so obvious and ingrained that we don't realize how appalling some behavior is in real life. (Wouldn't be so bad if an RPG let you start up a "Support Your Legendary Hero" charity)

As someone who is recently gushing over Dragon Age, I can understand what you mean. I find the choices have a lot more depth than those of lets say Oblivion. Sometimes the "evil" choice is the only one you can accomplish, no matter what you wanted to do. Choices that actually influence how things play out. Instead of the world just being just one big bag of swag, sometimes breaking into peoples house in search of phat lewt will lead to them taking offence. I'll echo the previous sentiments that the morality bar may just have outlived it's time. The more depth and ambiguity that a game decides to add to the story just makes it more believable, and the characters more human, instead of cardboard cutouts that are painted with a black and white morality.

Looting itself is an interesting point. I think it would depend more on what character you are playing. My paladin might respect his opponent enough not to desecrate his corpse, but the rogue following him might decide that the recently deceased no longer need that Broadsword of Flaming Badassery +3. But, what about bandits or goblins? Bandits surely didn't come by their inventories honestly, and I hardly think people would object to you stealing from common goblins. That selfsame paladin might decide the situation is dire enough to take those potions off a fallen enemy.

Oh, and yes, I do like roleplaying. And Bioware. They go well together, for the most part.

I play good because I'm a social being and I like being a 'hero' in my games. That and the evil option doesn't open up any real game-play options in my experience. The game should 'reward' your choices with actual fun options.

Take for example Civilization IV. You can play nice and run a small but beautiful enlightened empire and the rewards are prosperous, large cities and buckets of trade turning into high technology and the goodies that come with it. At the other end you can be a genocidal, all conquering warlord with a massive army that crushes all and extorts developments out of cowering vassals. And the game rewards you with giving you control of a massive empire, interesting combat options the benefits of highly experienced units, and cities that pump out crack legions rather than incompetant noobs. This is why half my Civ games look like 'what Subotai did on his holidays' and the other half 'Ghandi's big day out'. Both styles of play are rewarding

What does KOTOR give the advanced Jedi or Sith? Discounts on casting spells. Whooee. Colour me unimpressed. Fallout 3? Here's a bonus companion (with the instincts of a depressed lemming). Oh my stars and garters, I'm sooo excited. It was more fun maxing Big Guns and taking Bloody Mess.

Gameplay rewards is where it's at. I won't even care if a disgruntled minion throws me down the bottlemless pit in the final cut scene if I get some 'Ultimate Powah!' options the good guys will never see even if they hit level 50.

D&D 3rd edition had this thingy called prestige classes. High powered options for PCs that really went down one path or another. Computer RPG designers would do well to look that up.

I always found the Grand Theft Auto games to have an amusing disconnection between the "story" player character and the "game" player character. While the story character was typically set up as a wronged man who is forced to commit acts of violence out of necessity, the game character casually runs over a dozen old ladies on his way to the store.

Generally I can overlook such concessions to gameplay (although I certainly notice them). My hope is that more games will offer more interesting choices, choices that aren't obvious good and evil, but simply different value judgements. The Mass Effect and Fallout series' are the best at this that I've played, but there's still so much room for more.

One hundred percent on the mark. Sometimes I would wonder why so and so is a hero. He's killed hundreds if not thousands of people, all while corpse robbing, home invasion, or just plain robbing. Meanwhile, the guy who robs to earn a quick buck is so evil. That's why when I play games, I try to give my characters personalities and then play the game as they would live it

Ah, sweet morality: the twisted and sickened sibling of utility.

The thing Mr. Butts (superb article, by the way) and most commentators seem to be chafing at is that it's possible to be a two-faced wretch in a video game without any consequences occurring. Hypocrisy is not only offered as a possible choice, in several instances, it's expected and required for progress.

Good people, let me enlighten you: That is how the world works.

Look at any politician and you'll will not see someone that can show a sparkling facade of virtue while at the same time cheating on his wife, plundering the wealth in his charge, and abusing the power he's been granted. Except when you do. Look at any religious authority and chances are you won't find someone who professes to want peace unto all while at the same time damning the unbeliever to an eternity in flame. Unless you do find that. These contradictions have manifested often enough that we have cliches and stereotypes aplenty for them: absolute power corrupting absolutely; people who talk out of both sides of their mouths; doing what you are told as opposed to mimicking what you see. And now that gaming has progressed to the point where morality is becoming an issue in role playing, you're complaining that it isn't complete enough or realistic enough to be relevant because every single solitary action you take doesn't have an appreciable equal and opposite reaction?

Folks, the games are doing a great job at showing us how things are and demonstrating that morality is not an easily measured quantity nor is it an absolute one. If I loot a corpse or decapitate someone and then search his corpse, the only real difference is that in one case I actively caused the situation and in the other, I reacted to it. Does my murder justify my theft? Does the fact that I did not murder justify the theft? The debate is still raging all across the world with a near infinite set of arguments yet here you are, expecting developers to hand you a ready-made solution instead of saying, "You're a grown up. You figure it out."

The reason this wasn't an issue years and years ago in gaming was because there was only one way to obtain resources and/or recognition: kill enemies. You make Grog slice open a lizard man, the body drops a fire mod for your attack. You slay the mighty dragon, the town is saved. You jump on the Goomba's head, you score one hundred points. Now we've progressed beyond that, to a place where scoring doesn't exist and you can use whatever you want to achieve your choice of possible goals ranging from the simplistic (find the macguffin) to the elaborate (take over the universe). You can modify anything about yourself and play any range of character with one stipulation: You are going to be judged on how true you are to your character. Most of the time. We'll let you know when. After the fact. When you can't do anything to change it.

Role playing indeed.

When you say that being considered a hero depends on killing the right people, unfortunately that's sort of how it works in real life. It all depends on perspectives.

This is why I was impressed at the moral choice system in Dragon Age Origins. It wasn't some universal scale of paragon or renegade, or of good and evil, it just depended on your companions' views of what you were doing, in some cases they'd be so disgusted they'd just leave or even attack you. What I'd like to see is this mechanic applied to the global game world so that each different npc has a similar mechanic based on your choices.

More complicated to do, sure, but worth it.

Another awesome editorial that raises a point I myself have thought about hopefully there's more to come.

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