Morality Matters

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I wonder if anyone knew that Metro 2033 had a morality system? There's not a single mention of it. Turns out, throughout the game there's things you can do - like helping a beggar out or a little street urchin - that will in fact cause you to get a different version of the ending. Pretty crazy. I didn't find out until after I beat the game and was looking at a guide, and I kind of went... huh?? What ending are they talking about?!

I actually think certain aspects of the morality system in Dragon Age 2 are well done. For example, while the general dialogue options are labeled as good and bad, whenever an actual moral choice comes up, they aren't labeled. Then when you make your choice,the game only tells you how your companions percieve your choice based on their personalities, not whether the game thinks your choice was moral or immoral.

I still think Fallout: New Vegas has the best moral system out of all the games I've played. The choices in that game are not black vs white and pretty much every single faction have their pros and cons.

The big question of course is deciding in the final outcome of New Vegas and who will rule it; The NCR, Caesar's Legion, Mr House or let the people live independently.

All of these 4 choices have very different outcomes based on who you side with and what will happen to the other major factions of the Mojave.

It's much better than Fallout 3 which was full of black and white choices and made the Brotherhood of Steel look like holy knights sent to save the people of the world.

I hate it, even though I can never force myself to ignore it, when games force you to equate morality with "what do I get from this?". For example, being good the whole game because you know you'll get Excalibur or whatever. This is not interesting, and it means the choices you make, even if you think you made them because you're a nice guy, may have had ulterior motives.

Maybe game designers are using this type of morality system as an allegory for the Western view of Heaven and Hell...you're not being nice because you're nice, you're doing it to kiss God's ass.

Which is why I love the fact my religion has no such things - I'm actually just a nice guy :D

rsvp42:

And I have to disagree with Yahtzee that morality systems block off content. That's looking at it the wrong way because there is basically no way for a moral choice system to overcome that. If choices are going to have meaning, then different things need to happen based on those choices. Inevitably something will have to lay unseen until a subsequent playthrough.

I can think of a way - make sure the games morality system is based on how you feel about the characters and story, rather than being based on the rewards behind the choices and the ending you get. Probably quite hard to do, but *insert saying expounding the values of not taking the easy way out here*.

rollerfox88:

rsvp42:

And I have to disagree with Yahtzee that morality systems block off content. That's looking at it the wrong way because there is basically no way for a moral choice system to overcome that. If choices are going to have meaning, then different things need to happen based on those choices. Inevitably something will have to lay unseen until a subsequent playthrough.

I can think of a way - make sure the games morality system is based on how you feel about the characters and story, rather than being based on the rewards behind the choices and the ending you get. Probably quite hard to do, but *insert saying expounding the values of not taking the easy way out here*.

Imma let myself finish, but...
thought of an example. That story that was on the Escapist today, about the (potential) lady who played through WOW until she had maxed her level without killing anything. Not killing anything was a moral choice on her part - she wanted her character to be a flower child, at peace with the universe etc. As far as I know, she will have had access to the same content (items, areas, level bonusses or whatever you get on WOW), and the actual WOW universe probably doesn't give a shit that she hadn't killed anything, but it made her feel better about her character and it's behaviour.

Possibly. I'm projecting quite hard there, but hopefully my point is clear.

I know this is going to sound old, but Deus Ex had the perfect morality system. There were no meters, no clearly marked decisions, nothing. Your actions ingame (such as killing enemies or knocking them unconscious) resulted in characters treating you differently. I'll never forget Sam withholding ammo when I went apeshit in that hotel. Made me rethink my actions. 'course, this breaks down a bit towards the end when you do in fact have different choices that are clearly marked, but all are gray. Benevolent dictator? Freedom through destruction? A facade of happiness and stability, yet all is being controlled by puppeteers?

While I'm on the subject, if you haven't played Deus Ex yet, get off ze interwebz, fire up steam, and download the motherfucker! Best $5 you'll spend, I can guarantee that.

Love the Chrono Trigger reference

Well for anyone who has ever taken a class on ethics, morality is not an inherant thing. For a game to work on a moral level, it has to have some absolutist standard of what good and evil are in that world. Irregardless of what the player might think of what's he's doing, that doesn't nessicarly make it right or wrong. A lot of people who are generally agreed upon to have been among the most evil men to ever exist (like say Hitler), actually believed they were doing the right thing. Your never going to have all people of any sort agree on any definition of good or evil usually, so for a game it's important to define how the game judges these things right from the beginning before you want to track something.

The potential in games for exploring alternative morality systems is staggering. In general people think that slavery is wrong, an outdated evil (though there are exceptions). Creating a game where say slavery was defined as a GOOD thing and building a world around a concept like that could be an interesting experience. Look at say John Norman's "Gor" novels, while much maligned they DO present a rather exotic system of alternative morality that can be fun to play around with as a concept. What's more, when you get past the shock value of how differant those values are from the ones you likely embrace in the real world, you'll probably find that some rather valid points about what's "fair" in a society are raised.

I think one of the problems with gaming though is that it's simply too squeamish of too many subjects to grow up properly. Sex, violence, and morality all share the distinction of being things the industry is afraid to deal with for fear of stepping on too many toes. With the current morality systems typically they have to present the most universally accepted, coke and pepsi, politically correct idea of good and evil that is liable to offend the least people possible, and I think that's a big part of the problem. The uncomfortable issue of evil is usually addressed by making it so ridiculous and over the top, that nobody can take it seriously. Never mind the whole issue that it's typically impossible to get anywhere within the morality system if you don't commit 100% one way or the other.

In short I think the whole issue exists not because of the amount of work involved, but simply due to a lack of guts within the gaming industry. Nobody wants to take the risks and criticism involved in moving the medium forward.

I'll also say that I think "good" is a long standing problem in moral systems in games. See in a game being evil has a lot of obvious rewards. It's easier, and killing and stealing give one access to money and loot. Being a good guy complicates things, and unless someone hands you a lot of extra money for being a nice guy periodically (which is kind of unrealistic when defending the downtrodden and such) you rarely see any benefit. Sometimes you'll see some kind of ultimate reward tied to being good, like some kind of penultimate holy sword or whatever, but increasingly I find that even when it comes to a long-term payoff, there are usually evil equivilents nowadays "to be fair".

It's an interesting conundrum, when your dealing with something that relies on tangible rewards. The lure of some kind of heaven just isn't as powerful in a video game as it is in real life, so it'snot like you can argue any kind of spiritual rewards involved.

This is a big issue, and one I think games need to address I think.

That said, I guess it's the way I'm wired, but I still prefer to try and be the good guy even when there are no overt rewards involved in doing so. That said, I think I'm in a relatively small minority which is in part why I think the good paths and factions oftentimes seem to be so stereotypical and neglected.

I think one of the best uses of a morality system has to be in the Shin Megami Tensei series.

The games themselves have a 2 axis system (Law/Chaos and Light/Dark), but there is only one axis the player character can move on: Law/Chaos. In all of the games both sides have their good and bad points and in order to get the "best" ending you have to make balanced choices and choose the neutral route.

Having a morality system should consist of two parts, The player, and the game world. For the game world it simply consist the worlds view of you, and how that view differs from one group to the next. As for the player, this is more about how emotional invested in the game that the game can make the player, and then have points were they have moral choices that mostly affects only them. (like in Fallout three when you have to turn on the water purifier, do you go, send Lion, or have one of your companions do it. the story will be the same, but how it happens is up to you.)

The problem is that in allot of the games with a morality system, there is not relay any morality. In Fable you get evil points for killing merchant, but get good points for killing monsters, so I had to keep killing merchants just to keep my evil rank up. And in it's 2nd, and 3'ed game you could easily change your G/E by just agusting your rent!?

But the most important part is getting emotionally invested in the game, and that commonly falls onto the supporting cast, which has a tendency of missing the mark. Fallout: NV missed this by having nearly all your companions have the same opinion, (which was that they hate CL) and that you can go through the game without even meeting them one time even removes that investment in them even more.

I have played games that I emotionality got into, and was really sad when I finished them, Grandia II, and Persona 4 were games that I was really into. they had characters that I was emotionally invested into, and it was almost like saying goodby to a friend when it was over. Something that tends to not happen in most games I play.

I agree, I've never felt invested in an NPC. I always do whatever benefits me the most, regardless of what side of the morality meter it's on.

The majority of morality systems are a total load of bull because they are a good 1 hour job which if positive unlock A and community hugs, if negative unlock B and community frowns (or in some cases bullets).

I think James has the main point where you need to actually make the person feel a link with the main characters... I'll use fallout as an example...

Most of the time I did not care what happened to individual characters because it was the option "Do I want caps, or +/-Karma and less/more caps". That was it... However, when it came down to companions it was a completely different matter.

As a thorough gamer I wanted to complete fallout with all options explored. So I created 1 game and then got to "the crossroads" where before I had been almost completely neutral. However before this I had recruited Boone as a companion. When I stared going pro-Legion I found that I'd have to kill him. I like Boone for 2 reasons, firstly the number of times he head shots enemies who are right in my face is amazing. Secondly he is a soldier who has had his life ruined, my family has a military background (please ad 1 & 2 together for yourselves).

I felt bad about killing him more than numerous of shells of human beings I have left in the Mojave otherwise.

Fallout is a good example of morality done... semi-well.

A mixed game is Mass Effect... it would be a good system... if it wasn't blatant which options to pick for the desired result AND in certain cases if killing one lot was better than killing another lot... One major positive is that Mass Effect allows you to have both good and bad at the same time meaning you can mix. This is an interesting aspect in itself. If you were to actually look at a lot of characters there are two key aspects to their personality. Good Or Bad. Then where they are on the scale of method, are they a peaceful person who will try non-violence to achieve something... or are they a means justify the ends type character. Lets face it Shepard is a good guy, your only given the choice "Shall I save the orphanage or shall I just blow it off of the face of the planet to save time fighting the people in it". To see a system where both of these aspects were combined would be very interesting.

Well this post went on longer than I expected >.>

Only time I've felt guilt through a game was in Read Dead: Redemption. In the coastal, bandit city not sure where it is. You can get an apartment across from a brothel. I thought it would be funny to re-enact The Silence of the Lambs. It wasn't, I couldn't play the game again for the rest of the week.

The best morality metre in a game goes to The Witcher. Why? No good or evil metre at all, only choices. And not abstract choices, but choices that actually come back to affect me. If I save this person, will they help me later? If I help these rebels, will they pay me back - but then, will the authorities dislike me for siding with a rebellion? Things actually mattered in that game, which is what separates it from a lot of 'morality metre' RPGs where the consequences of your actions happen off screen, after the end.

Moral Choice systems need to be just that, choices. The problem is that many games use quest rewards as incentive. There is a word for when the main drive of a person is based on the reward generated from a decision: its called a mercenary. For many games the focus of the choice is not on the decision but on the reward that the decision generates.

The biggest step forward would be not to give away the outcome of the decision. Compare the morality of Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock. Part of what made Bioshock interesting was that you had two different people giving you conflicting information about the little sisters. Atlas says that they are mutants that resemble people and should be harvested while Dr. Tenenbaum says that you should save them. Players have an actual choice about the little sisters and they aren't told explicitly that one is the "bad" option (granted the visuals of the little sisters as children made it kinda obvious). Compare that with Mass Effect where the game highlights the good option and the bad options so that you are less concerned with saving a colony than if the decision fills the correct meter. Players know right from the start of a conversation whether they will be good or evil regardless of the decisions presented to them. This removes all conflict from the decision because depending on your role of whether you are going to play as good or evil your decision is mapped out.

A player must face the unknown for their decision to have some meaning. Otherwise you are adding another stat bar that is no different than your strength, health or mana meters.

My problem with morality is the Good/Evil/Neutral axis. You're either a saint, the devil himself, or human. What if I just wanted to rob the Orphanage without burning it down? Or what if I saved the town, but sacrificed a few people to save a few hundred? There are no options for between Good-Neutral or Evil-Neutral.

TheBelgianGuy:
I thought The Witcher was very great with morality.

This is exactly what I was thinking. I'll always remember that game for its "morality system," which was really just more of a "decision system." There is no good or bad (at least apparently), it's just decisions with different consequences. A lot of them got me really thinking about which was the "right" decision to make (especially that first chapter, witch versus townsfolk) and I had to really think to justify my decision. Something that gets you thinking instead of just making arbitrary choices is good, in my book.

I'm not sure why the good/bad dichotomy is the current standard at all. Figure out what my main character does, and then figure out what the two extremes of that are.

An example would be a game where you play as an orator. Rather than SUPER AWESOME INSPIRING ORATOR vs TOTAL DICKASS JERK ORATOR, why not settle for philosopher vs rhetorician -- ie, the player that wins through logic, or the player that wins through working the crowd?

In a game like Devil May Cry, why not 'damage-dealer' vs 'stylist'?

Plop me in a matrix of decisions and let my choices push and pull me along the web. If you say 'this is good, this is evil' -- or even 'this is nice, this is mean'; 'this text is red, this text is blue' -- and ask me to choose, that ceases to be a moral decision. It's just a roleplaying choice. It stops engaging the player beyond the level of the screen and just says 'which prerecorded lines of dialogue would you like to hear'?

I very much get rather deeply involved with games when I play, and one quirk I've discovered is that I am very, very protective of friendly NPCs. When you either have civilians standing around or troops fighting alongside, I find myself genuinely saddened whenever I lose them, even to the point of killing myself, and retrying to keep them alive.

The first time I ever played Halo, it was co-op with my best friend. Common enough story, I believe. However, one thing sticks out beyond just the fact it's an awesome game.

When we landed on the ring, we got to the first lifepod spot, cleared the initial Covenant... And then my friend proceeded to mow down every last survivor to their yells, scooping up their ammo. Why? Because it was quicker, and we moved on.

I was traumatized. Then the Warthog came down and I soon got better.

However, when you are in the mindset of a hero attempting to protect others, it comes as a poignant loss whenever you fail to do so. Whenever they can die, painfully, and you can kill them and them move on, that still has an impact to me, hollow characters or not. Where 'friendly fire is not tolerated' and it punishes you even for mistakes, it's simply annoying, and empty.

This example has a point. When you, the player, are free to act, but the consequences are displayed inside the game, that has power. When the game itself talks to you, that is both arbitrary and distracting.

Morality meters are a phenomenally bad idea, on multiple levels. The most obvious, of course, is that you're, mechanically, largely restricted to being either 'far good' or 'far evil/ruthless', a simple binary choice, often with independent benefits. Then there's the metagame of 'I want points in A, so I'll do X,' which completely disconnects the player from the game. However, there's one worse.

Where there is a morality meter, there is only reward with going 'all the way' to one end of the spectrum. Which means the character is going to be 'selfless savior of all that lives' or 'destroyer of worlds and one who laughs at absurdity before blowing it all up' which leaves to mindsets to occupy. Both of which do happen to be interesting characters to be roleplaying, as the player. However, anything more complex, a character with contradictions and instabilities, is completely shunned. All grays disappear.

And of course, grays and rationalizations happen to be the realm of humanity. The binary choice between being Good and being Evil is, quite frankly, boring. The reasons why something applies, having reasons against, attempting to weigh between varying (including more than just two) viewpoints, each with valid reasons on every side, that is interesting. And realistic. And that draws people in and gets them thinking, and even conflicted. Something that's Good or Bad just 'because I say it is' is as hollow as a grave.

Morality systems happen to devolve things to 'press A for Good, press B for Bad.' Which is very, very unsatisfying, because player action, interactivity, is then negated.

Where actions are left to the player, where the person with the controller must actually accomplish something, which gives the player ownership over their actions, which makes moral dilemmas considerably more potent.

Deus Ex does accomplish this remarkably well, as people have already stated. Going through the opening mission, I first attempted sneaking through undetected. As I went through, I found myself facing a position where it was simply much more expedient to take people down. So I did. And then it became easier. At the end of the mission, the agent I talked to noted that I "killed a lot of people out there."

I quit the game.

Where consequences come back in the game, whether your actions influence an invisible reputation that alters how others treat you, or whether what choices you make alter the world in a noticeable way, then gaming turns toward art. The morality system has been and always will be the sausage-fisted blunt force way of handling it, because as tempting as it is to have player tendencies tracked and presented to them for their information, it will always devolve, because something as complex as human motivations simply cannot be represented as a gauge.

It has been done better in some instances. For one, Mass Effect's system works quite well, as its tracking of the usage of both dialogue approaches allows for a more complex characterization depending on the situation, even if the metagame still had me tending towards certain corners. It's a habit I have to actively try to break.

inFamous, for all its faults in this regard, did rely on using the player's actions influence Karma for the majority of the time, leaving the decision to the execution. Having to stick with the decision, questions running in your head as you act, makes it mean more.

Dragon Age 2 didn't have a scale, while having a very similar system to Mass Effect, and only lightly tracked approach tendency. However, it did intensely track what individual choices and had practically every little choice you made come back to you in some manner, which lent it a phenomenal sense of greater consequence. The lack of metagame scale meant I was freed, compared to Mass Effect, by simply allowing a rather complex character to form and play as that. Not to mention that the entire game revolves around one great big, beautifully gray moral conundrum or another. That ability to roleplay was the reason why, despite all its obvious faults, I couldn't pull myself away from the game.

And that's about all I've got to say about that.
(Until, of course, I read someone else's comment and simply must continue.)

Mark D. Stroyer:
snip

Yeah DA2 did a very interesting thing by turning the meta-game into specific issue-oriented scales with your party members -- Anders is now pissed because you made a choice he disagrees with ethically. The fact that it didn't shove this in your face ("THIS CHOICE WILL PISS ANDERS OFF") and that so many of the choices, like you said, came back with specific story results rather than an arbitrary point increase, really made me feel like I was taking meaningful action pushing and pulling the pieces of this big world.

I typically think of branching story paths as a better alternative to 'morality': They're pretty much the same thing, but calling it 'morality' makes it sound like there's an actual 'good' choice and an 'evil' choice.

Actually, that's wrong. Calling it a morality choice makes the developer think that way. Compare New Vegas, or an SMT game, to a game with a 'morality' system. In New Vegas, you pick one of three (four) ambiguously good and/or evil sides, and some share a general view of the world (that is, some groups intend on creating order by punishing those who disobey laws in the hopes of making the world a more peaceful place).

The big choices in the game have little to do with morality; while the concept of good vs. bad exists in the game, it exists seperately from the main plot. You can shoot this person, you can convince them to back off, or even redeem themselves, or you can steal all their stuff and then stick a grenade down their pants. The karma system doesn't seem to do all that much (perhaps I just missed it); the emphasis is instead placed on a reputation style, similar to an EverQuest example I saw somewhere recently (I seriously forgot, was it in the article or in one of the posts?).

As for SMT, you typically get to choose between the factions of Law, Chaos, and Neutral. Both Law and Chaos are filled with horrible people (Law people love genocide a bit too much; Chaos people prefer a more individual-based form of killing) and average, everyday people who just want to live. The Neutral group is less defined, since it consists largely of individuals who seek their own path, without regard for the other sides. Each side tends to have its own variation of the plot, meaning that while in one story you get all buddy-buddy with somebody, in the other you fight them to the death.

Perhaps it can be argued that these are subject to the same complaints that plague the morality system. Perhaps this little rant is flavoured with my personal reluctance to judge most actions as 'good' or 'evil' (except for sacrificing people for a bow or something; I always think that's bad). But this post is ending without a proper conclusion, so too bad.

Morality Meters? Pah! I think the realistic way to do choices(moral or not) is to consider all possible options in every situation that requires decision, much like real life. But that means more writing and monitoring of every single choice the game had. So the most cost-effective thing to have is just go the linear way, a la half-life! (Yea, Valve fanboy here!!!!)

EDIT:
Wait... I think... Yea, HL didn't really have much choices... Bah, screw dialogue! I want linearity!

EDIT2:

Ultimatecalibur:
I think one of the best uses of a morality system has to be in the Shin Megami Tensei series.

The games themselves have a 2 axis system (Law/Chaos and Light/Dark), but there is only one axis the player character can move on: Law/Chaos. In all of the games both sides have their good and bad points and in order to get the "best" ending you have to make balanced choices and choose the neutral route.

This, SMT doesn't hit you over the head with a moral system or force every dialogue branch to add to your stats, but it raises the question of what you believe and what you think is right. While it may be argued that the "Neutral" routes are the best, it's debatable in Nocturne, where your options are between reshaping the world as you see fit, returning it to normal, or leave it the way it is, for starters. All of which don't directly say whether they are good or bad, and it's up to the player depending on who's idea intrigues them the most. This can also be reinforced by seeing examples on all sides, after fighting your way through post apocalyptic tokyo, you may sympathize somewhat with the might makes right ways of the mantra, but that might change depending on how you see their treatment of the manikins.

All in all the game lets you decide for yourself without portraying any one decision as best overall, and other SMT games add this same idea, even with some bosses or overall messages favoring true ending paths.

I think the less it becomes a mechanic and the more it becomes a story telling tool, the better.

I think morality as a mechanic has sort of peaked. Audiences are getting tired of the good and evil axis, which always tends to end with a Bioshock 'You are Hitler or you are Mother Teresa' model, to paraphrase Yahtzee. Western RPG have come to be about choice and customization, and the more complex they get, the more gray we want the morality. We want third options, compromises, and all the things that make up real life. A +10 to bad guy points message is not a consequence. Having a potential ally flip you the bird when you need them because you pissed on his mother's ashes is a little closer to how things might really work.

Dragon Age 2, for all its faults, did introduce something clever in that. Someone in the thread did lift it up as an example of things being binary, but I did notice not as much. Typically you did have diplomatic, humorous, and direct responses on the wheel in the places you would expect. As you might imagine, people often didn't like the direct responses (People generally don't like being told off) BUT the major CHOICES were not framed in the same way. When a wheel came up to decide between Faction A, Faction B, and neither, it didn't mark these choices in any way, other than to let you know you're making a permanent choice. The style you've created up until then merely informed what that choice meant. (Example. If I was always humorous, then whichever side I picked would have a humorous reasoning. Same for Diplomatic and Direct).

This keeps the choices as morality neutral. The only number that go up and down are companion approval and that, of course, is tied into the companion. You can gain and lose from different people for the same decision, and you can gain or lose with the same person based entirely on how you go about that decision.

TLDR version: Fewer numbers, more consequences.

The state of morality in games at the moment gives me a massive headache. It just seems like there's more wrong being done with it than right. Especially in WRPG's. I find one of the worst offenders of morality systems to be the Mass Effect series. ME2 in particular.

When I play a WRPG, I wanna play through the game as myself making my own choices, rather than playing as an avatar that can choose from a variey of "good and bad" dialogue options. Yet I find myself playing through Mass Effect 2 simply clicking all the good options, because I wanna be the "good" guy rather than the "bad" guy. But I don't want either. I wanna be myself.

ME2 is far to calculated, basically breaking all options down in to "good", "bad", and "neutral". I can give three steps right now that would immediately improve the morality system however.

1) Mix up the dialogue tree. Basically, don't place the "good" option in the top right and the "bad" option in the bottom right all the time. Mix it up. Force to player to listen to the conversation, absorb the situation, and read through their options so they can determine what action they would like to take. And while we're at it, don't highlight the dialogue options either. I don't wanna know if I'm picking the Renegade or Paragon option, I wanna know that I'm just picking an option.

2) Morality isn't a game where you can keep score. I can understand why it's necessary for developers to break down what morality choices numerically outweigh another, but that doesn't mean that you should show the player.

3) Stop making morality so superficial. If you go all Paragon options, your scars heal up quite nicely. Go all Renegade however, and your face looks like a glowing checkerboard. A superficial morality system like this works best in games like the Fable series, but not in ME.

Fallout style angel/devil "morality" meters suck.

But one of the few things ME3 did right was the two bar one-way morality meter. You could advance as BOTH "wuss nice guy" and "jerkface" depending on your actions but you couldn't "lose" reputation. Deciding to do one didn't hurt your rating in the other. And your rating didn't change anything except for the content of that particular dialog. So it really was for role-playing purposes as none of the choices affected any munchkin tracked game statistics.

Another morality system that worked was Planescape: Tormenet. You had the 2 axis dnd meter but that only mattered for a couple of pieces of equipment. You also had non-obvious game effects resulting from your actions. IMO that is closer to the Chrono Trigger example you cited and is a much more subtle and immersive.

The granddaddy of morality systems is still unequaled: Ultima 4. The game tracked 8! morality axes with many decisions raised one axis while lowering another.

In response to James' mention of online/social games for moral choice: Is it the social aspect you were referring to? The way online games challenge us to interact with people and choose how we carry ourselves?

Also has anyone here on this week's Extra Consideration played Haven and Hearth? It's a free indie swedish game, very harsh death penalty (permanent character death with only your land claim and 25% of your xp salvaged to the new character) and I believe that REALLY illicits some moral choice in how people carry themselves. The gankers love to gank, but it is truly interesting how far people will go to protect and avenge each other in that game, perhaps beyond others I think.

I think the point that many game developers fail to consider is this:
If I were to go out today and steal a car, or kill someone- who would judge me to be evil? Not the physical world, but the people in it.
Morality in a game should be judged by the characters within the game rather than the game itself, because absolute morality doesn't exist in the real world so why put it in a virtual one?

All of the problems with morality systems could probably be solved with the addition of just five words. Instead of declaring a player Good or Evil, just say "The [NPC's] think that you are Good/Evil"
Problem solved, exactly the same system but now instead of being a ridiculous 1 dimensional system reflecting the morals of the game designer, it is an opinion of the characters of the world which the player is inhabiting. Doesn't that sound much better?

(Also, as K_Dub mentioned- Having you character change appearance purely as a result of their "Alignment" is utterly ridiculous. This idea in fact seems very religious to me. If the player gets notable bonuses or advantages for being more virtuous (Which seems to often be the case) then that totally removes the moral choice. The player will always go for the good choice no matter how they feel about the situation simply because it will make them more powerful. How many times have I heard someone say "No I won't do that because I'll lose my karma/honor/hero points" to which I reply- Is this an R[ole] P[laying] G[ame] or not?)

-Additional-
Have you noticed that you more often than not get a greater material reward for choosing the "good" path? I'm reminded of a mission in Red Dead Redemption (and every other game) where you must choose between paying some money or killing a man. I had spent a long time earning that money and thought it over for longer than most decisions. In the end I decided to sacrifice my money so that the man could live. A mans life is worth more than that I thought, but upon completing the mission I was completely reimbursed, thus rendering the entire decision pointless -I had never really sacrificed anything. Life doesn't work like that, what goes around doesn't always come around. I understand that games are reward based and players hate to lose their stuff, but if you offer the player a choice between two things, and then give them both, it nullifies the choice.

Sometimes being good should be it's own reward. If your game world is believable enough (Such as in RDR) and you can make the player empathize with your characters then they will be compelled towards the "good" choices simply by human compassion, and there's no need to bribe them.
-But ain't that just the hardest part of game design?

hmmm... morality huh? there are times i like it, but it really depends. what they really need to do with morality/affection/reputation is cut the automatic good/evil/right/wrong choice system and replace it with a "judge on intent" scale.

example. you do this action, and are confronted about it. you give your reasonings, and the person judges wether your deeds match their ideals or not.that seems like a better way, although there is probably a better way to implement it.

it would certainly help with the "it doesnt match my thoughts" problem, because even if the action could sway to black or white, being able to change intent may change how the npc judges the action.

also, a good system to have would be trusted-friendly-cautious-unfriendly-hostile, where the more your values line up, the more trust you have, but actions made with opposing intent would increasingly make them cautious around you, not an immediate up or down rep loss/gain

what was left...? meters, i'd put them in, but maybe have options to turn them off so people that don't like them can go without. meta gaming is a choice after all.
i saw one speak of morality functions being more important than genre... this probably would not work well. you could think of morality choices before genre, because its part of plot, but you need to have a firm grasp of what you want your game to do. a game that puts moral choice high above gameplay is a relationship sim. while ive occasionally enjoyed such games, not everyone does, and as stated, moral choice does fill a large portion of games that advertise morality.

First of all, I would like to say that I agree completely with everything everyone has said that praises the Witcher and Deus Ex. This is how morality and choice should be handled.

Anyway, I think there are 2 reasons why we have morality systems and they are both the fanbases fault (or at least developers trying to pander to it).

The first is that nowadays people are demanding more and more choice from their games. Its now not good enough for a game to have a simple A to B story and instead we must be able to make our own choices in how the game proceeds, even if this choice is an illusion. Unfortunately, the easiest way to do this is through black and white morality systems with some sort of reward for doing either. Personally, I'd much rather have a game devoid of choice but with a good story (hence my enjoyment of JRPGS)

The second is the desire to "Win". For a lot of people (and developers) morality systems are used as a measure of how well they are doing in the game and the inclusion of rewards for going all out one way or the other (either in items, dialogue choices or achievements) encourages this.

I thought DA: O was pretty cool on this front. There was no real, morality system, just your relationship to other characters. Of course, that only works is the characters are good and three dimensional so you care about them, which they were in DA:O. Damn you Morrigan, damn you.

I too was mortified when I was rightfully chastised for stealing an old man's lunch in Chrono Trigger, but does the fact that you behavior doesn't actually affect the course of the game matter? If you're acquitted, the minster cheats to get you sentenced to death anyway. The whole thing is only "flavor". Is that a weakness?

Ultimatecalibur:
I think one of the best uses of a morality system has to be in the Shin Megami Tensei series.

The games themselves have a 2 axis system (Law/Chaos and Light/Dark), but there is only one axis the player character can move on: Law/Chaos. In all of the games both sides have their good and bad points and in order to get the "best" ending you have to make balanced choices and choose the neutral route.

Dude, that's just a rip-off of D&D's system with one of the two axes removed.

And I always thought the basic moral premise (anti-extremism) was kind of shallow. But I haven't played any of the recent games, so maybe they got better at that.

Mikey looks like the lead singer from Madness.

Extra Consideration:
Extra Consideration: Morality Matters

Our panel welcomes a new member and turns its eye to the question of morality.

Read Full Article

Yahtzee nails it here with this quote:

Morality systems are something I've railed on a lot in the past. My problem is that their only purpose in a lot of games is to deny the player access to some of the game's content until they replay the entire thing from the start. And sometimes it doesn't even do that, and you have games where the good choice and the bad choice both have exactly the same effect, and then what's the point?

Yes. That. Exactly.

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