Morality Matters, Part 2

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Morality Matters, Part 2

Our panel delves even deeper into the topic of good and evil.

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I'm a bit disappointed by this. Not because the content is lacking or anything (I love Extra Consideration, keep up ze good work, etc and so forth), just because there are only two pages and not really a long discussion. I do agree with Yahtzee though, there should be a distinction between learned behavior and actual moral judgment. I'm not evil because I rummage through the belongings of peasants, I was merely taught to do so by every other bloody game :p

Am I the only one who seems to wonder where Bob was? :O

This is interesting ...

On the subject of Ezio and those minstrels, sure Ezio didn't kill civilians, but that doesn't stop me.
Being able to kill 3 civs before desynching is a resource to manage just like any other ... ...
A poisoned minstrel can be a very useful distraction.

Also, what's to stop me from just being a jerk?
A quick tap of high profile will bump the minstrel and make him drop his lute, which I find hilarious.
Pickpocketing beggars is also very funny.

However, Ezio's actions are also within the context of a computer simulation.
Desmond knows those minstrels aren't real, and if he runs off and comes back, new ones will spawn.
So the parallel is there for us video game players.
Is Desmond being immoral if he makes Ezio stab a minstrel, whom he knows isn't a real person (as evidenced by treating minstrels well or not having no impact on total synchronisation)?

My only thought on the matter:

The only real issue about moral systems is that most assume evils and goods are the same in all of our eyes. I know quite a few people who think approaching innocents and slaughtering them in public is perfectly reasonable in many circumstances. Whether I agree is irrelevant. If I made a game in which such actions are labeled "evil," it wouldn't line up with my point of view.

Further, the (hypothetical) goal of a moral system would be to create some sort of difference in the game. If the only change for being "evil" instead of "good" is that no one in the game likes you, nothing is really changing.

One thing I liked about Fallout was reputation. It didn't tell you whether you were "good" or "bad," but whether people thought you were "good" or "bad." This is about one's individual response to a player. Big, general descriptions of "good" and "evil" that automatically effect every damned corner of the earth assume we all play by the same rules.

In summary, I like systems of reasonable consequences and per-ncp/per-community reputation. But whether you are being "good" or "bad" shouldn't be what the game tells you. It should be what the player feels for himself. If your "moral" system isn't making the player think about what he's doing and why, all by himself, without holding his hand or trying to sway him one way or another, it's not doing it's (theoretical) job.

END OF LINE

To me epic mickey left you with highlighted good and bad choices, really if you will do the choice that gives more which is a balances between exploring and hunting as well as being good and bad.

But if you want a hard moral choice play backyard football: rookie rush

Its a deep story. It makes you feel for both sides but your forced to choose the socialy accepted group, instead of the lone kid who had to make short term freindships and accepting that he will never see them again after a year or so, and because of that he hides under ingnorant gloats to secretly keep people away so that he may never grow attached to them. His only companion is football in which he work himself to an obsession. Now you are tasked to destroy his dreams for your own selfish desires. You are a group of freinds who were there for da best and the worst. You even got your old rival helping you out since you burried the hatchet. But this kid is different. If You fall u have a net to catch your self, he doesn't, and he has all eyes on him. This isn't the unstoppable force meets the unmovable object. It's the unstoppable force vs the unstoppable force. These kids are the same person different conditions.

So you gonna win or loose the big game you've been working for?

I can only agree with Yahtzee about inFamous doing morality obnoxiously. I've ranted about how I feel that game poorly handled choices and morality so many times though that I don't want to do it again right now.

But yeah, I like this discussion of how to base morality in the game. You know, like how Silent Hill did it and then how Assassin's Creed or GTA IV did it, and so on. I wish there was more of that.

Also, what are you doing James? You hiding out by the craft services table eating all the cookies while the other guys chat? :p

slipbreed:
Am I the only one who seems to wonder where Bob was? :O

Does being glad he wasn't present count? I'm still not to keen on him after the last time he was there when he acted like I was some sort of self-centered scumbag because I thought tutorials should be skippable (not non-existent, but skippable so those who need them can have them and those who don't can just get to playing). I like being able to read these without having insults that don't even make any damn sense being sent my way.

I think the purpose morality meters really serve in games is not to attempt to offer up choice (there are plenty of games that give you choices without the meter) but to serve as a choice
*aggregator*. It can be really harsh when ONE THING that you do halfway through the game completely changes the outcome of said game. It can be interesting, for sure, and some games do this with great success. But some people don't like it when the game suddenly changes drastically because of one choice they made. It can also make little sense when you have, say, been fantastically good throughout the game but you do one bad thing and the authorities come down on you like a ton of bricks.

I think it's just a different approach to say "morality status A leads to consequence B" rather than "dialog choice A leads to consequence B" or "action A leads to consequence B". Having the morality aggregation system can lead to more depth. Or it can lead to ridiculously stupid levels of oversimplification. But both methods are choice/consequence oriented.

thethingthatlurks:
I'm a bit disappointed by this. Not because the content is lacking or anything (I love Extra Consideration, keep up ze good work, etc and so forth), just because there are only two pages and not really a long discussion.

Agreed. Seems a tad thin this week, but the topic was starting to run dry towards the end of the first part.
Hopefully a fresh subject will spark livelier debate next week.

I'm sure it takes a lot of effort to get contributors together, and to have a decent feed going on between them, but I still wish that this could be longer. Two pages (and especially these two pages) is wayyy too short. Especially when the contributors give all these interesting opinions and the dialogue is open and engaging (and funny at times!). It's always such a bummer to look in the corner and see only two pages when I know, as a reader, I'd want to read at least 3 or 4. Even if it means that this column has to be bi-weekly (which it was between this column and the last), that would be better than getting just so-so pieces.

"There aren't two sides to morality" --

I'm not sure how to interpret that. Is that a conservative statement? Unlikely it would seem from extra punctuation's videos. Perhaps then saying that morality is open to interpretation? I prefer that, but again I could be wrong.

When you get different cultures and one thinks cannibalism is sacred, or GW says God wants the US to win it becomes apparent to me that there is at least a bit of variation for 'good'.

As usual, James sounds the most intelligent :)
He's a good man to have on Extra Consideration. I feel like he keeps people thinking and honest. Would hate to read one without him there.

Cut of the gib has to be the weirdest saying I've ever seen.

slipbreed:
Am I the only one who seems to wonder where Bob was? :O

Making Game Overthinker 50.

RobfromtheGulag:
"There aren't two sides to morality" --

He's pretty much referring to how real life isn't 2 sides of morality either, at least not unless you apply Black and white logic to anything and that's a quick way to being... eccentric. Basically, the moral system shouldn't be centred on you being Jesus or Satan, since we can be goodish guys that have our dick moments or assholes that get a soft moment once in a while or something even more gray.

Problem with morality is that it doesn't really exist in nature so to speak. Humans decide what is moral and what isn't. Anything you do in a game will be amoral, because after all it is a game, an imaginary world. When you start adding it into a game for a better role playing experience, you better make sure you create a completely realistic system and let the player know that the game will (try to) react the same way people do in the real world. Otherwise you are creating something similar to morality, but not true mortality as we all know it.

Rewarding players for bad actions and even sometimes for good actions will not accurately depict what happens in the real world and that is when the morality system breaks down. Why developers try simulate real life rather than just creating a great game is beyond me.

Wiki quote and generally accepted definition of a 'game':
"A game is structured playing, usually undertaken for ENJOYMENT..."

This is probably why they reward you for being so evil, but that is not real morality, is it?

Tulks:

thethingthatlurks:
I'm a bit disappointed by this. Not because the content is lacking or anything (I love Extra Consideration, keep up ze good work, etc and so forth), just because there are only two pages and not really a long discussion.

Agreed. Seems a tad thin this week, but the topic was starting to run dry towards the end of the first part.
Hopefully a fresh subject will spark livelier debate next week.

Once again in agreement. If I could throw in my opinion on the matter. I disagree with giving moral choice in video games as the options are rarely representative of all the available options and both options are usually clearly good or clearly bad. Although an interactive medium you would have a hard time trying to argue that the player becomes an ethical agent (philosophy geek)through the players actions.

I do however think this is the best medium to portray moral ambiguities and decisions. I believe that a player should be forced to make all immoral actions and have them uniquely singled out. Although they can't explicitly be told they are immoral and the action some be as graphic as possible maybe with subtle changes to the button input etc. Another technique that could be used (done brilliantly in games like metal gear solid) is to make parallels on the ingame actions into real world events. I first learned about the hiroshima bomb through metal gear solid (probs too young to have played the game then shhh...) and learning about the reality of a subject like that made it feel like the civilians in game that would die were real people and this made octacons decisions all the more powerful.

If choice is involved though you should make the game far more immersive through the mechanics. For example oddworld abes exodus if you where resucing gold stars instead of mudokons there would be less incentive the go through the trouble (and i mean trouble its a hard game) of saving them. Although primitive to give them different pitched voices gave them a personality and you felt all the worse for dropping a grenade on them. However consider this how would you feel at the end of a game like that saving creatures if they died regardless that although you did the morally correct thing but they all died (or even worse if you only rescued a few they could escape but too many the guards would notice and slaughter the rest) Games shouldn't reward piety and in fact punishing it might make the point more explicit and stricking.

TOTAL RAMBLE BADLY STRUCTURED I KNOW SOZ.....

thethingthatlurks:
I'm a bit disappointed by this. Not because the content is lacking or anything (I love Extra Consideration, keep up ze good work, etc and so forth), just because there are only two pages and not really a long discussion. I do agree with Yahtzee though, there should be a distinction between learned behavior and actual moral judgment. I'm not evil because I rummage through the belongings of peasants, I was merely taught to do so by every other bloody game :p

I agree. This does feel rather lacking in its brevity and content. IT seems like all they did was just agree on a point and end it. Plus, it's been near two weeks since the last one and this is all that was discussed? I know they are busy people, but this still begs me to ask, the fuck?

OT: Um... agree with Yahtzee since he's really the only one who makes a point.

I feel they should also be discussing possible ways to implement their various points of view into actual gameplay. It's an interesting read for sure, but it really does sort of feel like a bunch of old men chortling over biscuits rather than ways to actually improve the medium of gaming. Definitely from the actual game designers.

Extra Consideration:
Extra Consideration: Morality Matters, Part 2

Our panel delves even deeper into the topic of good and evil.

Read Full Article

Slightly Off-Topic: This particular topic is so rich for debate that it's more than a little disappointing how little debate there has been. It's as though you guys are afraid to really dig in on this. Most of the discussion has been shortly-explained examples from games you've liked... but really not enough digging into what made them work. Also not enough digging into what makes others not work.

On-Topic:

Of all the comments in this discussion, I'm with Mr. Portnow. I get what Mr. Neumann was saying--that there can't be one golden path and then one (or several) less-fun paths--but his comment betrays the underlying polarization that plagues moral-choice systems.

As Neumann mentioned in the previous discussion, a developer has to consider what branching choices will do to resources and development time. That often means very "bottom line" thinking, and the bottom line is that all "choice" requires is two options. So that's usually all you get. (Though sometimes they throw in a meaningless "neutral" status, that basically just means you're missing out on the big rewards at both ends of the spectrum)

Morality is not a one-dimensional spectrum having only two extremes. In fact, creating a compelling moral choice system has nothing to do with extremes. That's not where the meaningful conflict takes place. The player should feel pulled in multiple directions, and the choice should sting a bit.

If the game is built on extremes, the only choice that matters is the first. That's when the player decides whether this will be a "good run," an "evil run," or maybe a "neutral run." Every choice after that is already made.

To really make a robust morality system, there are two angles to consider:

1. The character's methods: In general, this is the easiest to judge. Stealing is an evil act. Healing is a good act. Blah blah, boring boring. That's where many systems stop. Some will go a bit further and say that killing a bad guy is a good act, which shallows out the moral system quite a bit by ensuring everything stays between the two rigidly-fixed extremes of "universal good" and "universal evil."

2. The character's goals/allegiance: This is where the real meat of morality can be found. "Does the end justify the means?" is the classic moral dilemma. The best thing about that question is that the answer is different depending on who's watching. The majority may say, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few," but do we think the 'few' take kindly to being outweighed? If I steal to feed my starving children, I'm a hero to them... but I'm a villain to the children of the man from whom I stole. And both are simultaneously true.

Is it me or does Yahtzee always seem to dominate these conversations?

WouldYouKindly:
Is it me or does Yahtzee always seem to dominate these conversations?

Until they somehow get Jim Sterling from the "Jimquisition" involved, yes, Yahtzee does dominate these conversations quite well.

OT: The issue about morality in games is a very unique one, and a disappointing one, because I don't think I've played that far into any games that implement it.

Would it have made Heavy Rain better if a morality meter was involved somehow?

Abe's Oddysee did a great morality system, to save the muddokens that means you have to solve devastatingly hard puzzles, but you get the good (canon) ending. Ignore 60% of the game, you get the non canon but surprisingly more satisfying bad ending and then you play again bitch.

Also, weirdly, Shadow the Hedgehog. It's not very good at measuring morality (the game itself is a sinful pleasure of mine, so bad yet so wonderfully hilarious) but the result of "moral" actions resulted in genuine variety in the game, entire level paths were determined by it. I'd like to see a game make use of it that wasn't utterly horrible.

I think the two keys to this topic that were mentioned are

1) Learned game behaviour. I think a lot of games need to think about how to break gamers out of their rut at the start and make it more cohesive with the game world. If Chrono Trigger had kept up it's little gag it would soon anti-train people and make them think about their actions a little more. The other particularly egregious example of trained behaviour is where (as Yahtzee pointed out) people explore everything. It makes the main character seem like he's got ADHD and it can ruin story flow and tension. Sometimes in some games you should be really wanting to push ahead and achieve your goal instead of deliberately trying to slow the game to earn max points/prizes.

2)That most games end up falling into a good run/evil run. Which isn't morality at all, just partitioned game content, like Yahtzee said again. Either it should be more interactive (like in Star Wars games the dark side should suck you in, the more dark sides things you do, the easier and more tempting it is to carry on, but it will lead you ultimately to ruin and consequence.) Or it should be about the choices and forcing players to try to define their own morality. You'd probably need to remove a lot of the gameplay elements to do that. But it works (see One Chance)

It all makes sense, and James and Croshaws responses solidifies that Individualism IS the morality of a game, not good and evil. Good and Evil are too general to pin down while individualism gets a pair of pink fuzzy handcuffs to do the job right the first time. Probebly why I like AC more then Fable :P

For moral-choice systems that alter the character, I remember reading in some book somewhere (hurray for vagueness) that whenever a game ties a player's "moral" choices to the character's attributes, the player basically stops thinking morally ("what would be the right thing to do in this situation") and starts thinking statistically ("what would get me this neat new power that I want"), kind of defeating the whole purpose of having a morality meter in the first place.

Also, someone earlier mentioned the MGS morality, and I'd just like to chime in and say that MGS3's "Surprise! We were keeping track of how much of a murderous bastard you were while you played. Enjoy the consequences." is one of my more memorable gaming experiences.

Assuming there is two sides to morality is basically taking the Fable/inFAMOUS route. Morality should be sculpted around the player, with each choice being free of a blatant good/bad label. I recall a part in The Witcher (which I didn't get too far into...) where there's some kind of cannibal in the woods who helps you out before you discover his true identity. From that point, you can choose to either punish him for his crimes against humanity or look the other way because of his helpful nature. Choices like that are much less black and white, and certainly cause to player to weigh their priorities and scrutinize the situation more closely.

Has anyone else notice that James seems to be pushed aside almost all the time in these and ignored or is it just me?

when are they going to have lisa in in this

poor james, only got to say 10 words.

It's funny how James says the least in this article yet I agree with him the most.

Games should strive more to grey morality, not black and white. That's why I loved Fallout: New Vegas, because there were no clear cut "good guys" and "bad guys" when it came to the 4 main quest paths.

I actually would like to disagree with James just for the sake of being pedantic.

There are two sides to morality. There just needs to be more stuff in between the two and neutrality needs to be effectual.

"best rewards for players who are all the way good or all the way evil."

Good point, though an observation I've made about all these kind of games (Mass Effect being the first example to pop to mind) is that they are linear games, they have one ending with variations.

By giving you morality issues they are not changing the game for you, they are just giving you different ways of experiencing it, basically a pick your own Shepherd so the character type is reflective of the kind of character you want to 'see' in the game.

This isn't a bad thing, it isn't there to give you knots in the stomach about a bad decision you made, it is there so that the experience is catered towards the individual. Ultimately it helps you feel like you're playing a role or at least influencing the narrative, separate concept from plot, in a manner that suits your tastes.

Deus Ex the original commenting on whether or not you stunned the enemies or brutally butchered them was not made to change the outcome of the first mission or the story, just to immerse you in a way that you felt a part of the game, not just along for the ride.

I agree that given the subject matter, it was a bit disappointing to see so little debate, even if the debateurs were essentially in agreement. If they did agree about what games did it well or not, why not branch the talking into a general appreciation of where morality systems can benefit a game (which was mentioned briefly, and then ignored). Come on guys, you can do better than that?

For my own personal point of view, I do enjoy the added ability to steer my experience that these morality systems give. I don't so much mind that some are basically dividing the game into 2 runs, if only there is a marked difference to how the plot unfolds based on this. What I don't like is when either choice arrives at the same outcome, only by different words. Yes, I may need the macguffin, but circumstances should change based on the path chosen beyond me getting macguffin. For an easy example, maybe the difference lies in whether the macguffin holder remains alive after I get the macguffin.

I also detest the Stupid Evil choices that plague most of the Dark Side/Renegade/Closed Fist paths. Brutish behavior without consideration for even your personal benefit annoys me to no end. Dragon Age:Origins had a particular retarded version of this, in the choice to save Redcliffe or not. I'm trying to get the lord of the area to help me, yet I will not help even his main city? Nevermind the fact that I gain nothing by not helping except perhaps alienate this supposedly righteous man? (and from a gamer perspective, actually hurt myself by skipping out on the xp and loot) Bah.

ME tried to get it right by making the Renegade path about ends justifying means, and they have done better than most, yet they still slip into Stupid Evil territory sometimes. Can I have a cunning and intelligent "evil run", please? Maybe pepper the "good run" with a few "What the Hell, Hero?!" moments, to show that sometimes you shouldn't be a saint willing to see the best in everyone? Also, it wouldn't hurt to provide some benefits along the way to ultimate good or ultimate evil, to at least make the choice less clearcut. A simple neutral ending to the game that isn't an afterthought with no real closure of plot would be a start. Heck, let the neutral option be a path in its own right, not inferior to the other two or the opt-out option.

One of the better morality systems I've seen was in Fallout 2, where there is immense satisfaction in seeing the consequences of your actions, of which not all can be the rosy good kind at once, after the fact. If only they would have let me save The Hub and let it remain a festering sinkhole...

I always thought morality was justification for throwing acid into a woman's face, or not reporting child molesters because it would embarrass your church. In the end morality is a lie. The founders of the US stated "all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable right..." yet nearly all of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence made a living by exploiting slave labor and did not view woman as equals and denied them most rights beyond being the property of their fathers' or husbands'. I prefer asking the question "Is it fair?" as opposed to it being "Is it moral?" because fair can be quantitatively measured. A boxer fighting an opponent twice his size is inherently unfair but morally speaking "Little Mac" fighting Mike Tyson is not viewed as wrong because it was a game of skill.

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