Morality Matters, Part 2

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Why not just merge this with the podcast?

ANYWAY a good morality system should never assume the players motivations for their choice, only demonstrate their repercussions.

That is to say, there are no good morality systems.


Random thought: I was really annoyed by the original Black and White. Really interesting game, in some ways- an innovative use of AI, and some attempts to do something novel with the interface (even if not all of those ways entirely worked, especially in the heat of battle.) But morality-wise, I found myself wanting to appeal to some none-existant judge (doubly ironic, given that the game has you playing as a freaking god.) Giving food to an extortionist monster- food that could be going to your innocent, non-aggressive villagers- is the "good" option? Healing my creature over and over again when a bad guy is throwing those inherently naughty fireballs at him is the "good" option?

Good should not equal "pushover/martyr". There's putting others before yourself, and then there's just getting steamrollered by anyone who pushes.

theres nothing I dislike more than divine/collective morality applied to every NPC except me. That breaks all believability and I'd rather not find out if it's worth playing both sides.
Also points to ME for having morality affect character internally. If I had a say in this there would be different versions one for paragon and other renegade each with their own attitude rather than one schisophrenic clayman.

If we leave the consistency on the player completely, bothering with some numerical limitations to roleplay is just awful.

In the new Assassins Creed, I wanted to try to playthrough the game killing as little people as possible. Sneak through any possible fight and if I have to, use my fists to knock the guards out. This did not turn well and within the first five minutes of my Arkham Asylum operation I ended up having to murder twenty people so they would let me into a door. The problem about AC is that I sometimes don't feel like an assassin and more like a genocidal maniac. I don't feel like I'm commiting to the rebuilding of Rome when I'm murdering all of it's citizens. Point is I like having more stealth options plz.

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.

There's no clear "good guys". Given that the Legion goes on a rampant murder-frenzy the INSTANT that Caesar isn't there to restrain them, they're evil fucks all the way.


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.

There's no clear "good guys". Given that the Legion goes on a rampant murder-frenzy the INSTANT that Caesar isn't there to restrain them, they're evil fucks all the way.

Not necessarily, but I do see your point. Most likely once caesar dies for whatever reason most members of the Legion won't know what to do, some will go crazy, some might try to take over, some will leave and go back to living as tribals in Arizona.

Just remember that before Caesar came along Arizona was just a bunch of tribals all going to war constantly. But like I said I see your point. Although, the same can be said for independant New Vegas which would probably just cause pure chaos considering everyone can do whatever they want.

James just won the internet.


For stress relief involving the slaughter of innocent (and badly rendered) civilians, try Prototype. Where whips cut through police officers like a knife through butter..

When talking about Chrono Trigger, I just remembered similar moment in Squenix game -> in "Xenogears". (don't read more if you want to play this game sometime)
When I was in capital of Aveh I decided to visit a circus currently in town. I had fun there - there was no other reason for this establishment to be there. I had fun... and right after I left I met a person I (hero - Fei) "knew" - some guy from my village who is working outside and looks forward to see his family. Family I know maybe doesn't exist anymore- his wife can be dead and his child as well. And it is partially my (Fei's) fault! And you can't just tell him. And I just had fun. Did I deserve to have fun? I thought I did not.

Well, it's not exactly a morality choice, but it's interesting moment of moral situation (if not a dilemma)... Don't you think?

I like morality systems which aren't based around filling up a good/evil bar to gain advantages in a game. ME2 would lock out content if your Paragon or Renegade wasn't high enough, and it would SHOW you that you didn't have these skills by graying out the options.

This left me with a feeling that I as a player had "played the game wrong", not that "I made a wrong decision".
Also when they give me three choices A Good, a neutral and an evil PLUS a Blue or Red option, I will ALWAYS make the colored option because the game teaches me that those choices are "better choices".

Personally I liked the conversation system in Dragon Age 2. I get three distinct options (or more) they are all clearly labeled what they mean, but none are any "better" than the other.
The game lets me choose how my character would react to the situation, and not dictating my responses based on if I want Paragon or Renegade skill.

I got some of my Characters killed in DA2, and I really got a bit sad when that happened, because it happened based on what my choices were, not because my renegade skill was to low.

Morality systems work best when they don't reward you for staying good or evil, but reward your choices in each situation.

Well this was... surprisingly boring. I kinda expected more judging from the concept.

Personally, I like faction systems over black-white morality systems, but only if those factions all have their legitimate points and are neither black nor white themselves - but that's usually too much effort for your average game (given that the system would fit in the game).

A basic example with two sides: How do we use the money, do we put it into efforts to help the sick and poor or do we put it into high-tech scientific research that lets us grasp the stars? You can have split opinions on that one. Some might say we shouldn't even start thinking about "luxury projects" like that when there's still so much suffering in the world to prevent, some might say we need to think beyond these things that keep pulling us down and follow our dreams of the future or else we'll get stuck with a Sisyphus task and ideas and visions unexplored. There could can also be "neutral" options for splitting the budget either equally or slightly in favor of a certain side of the argument, or for just stop listening to all that crap and use your money selfishly.

Now consider the amount of programming/writing you'd have to do for each choice and I think you'll know why we don't see such scenarios more often. And it was just an argument with two sides to whom you're neutral with, things get more complicated with more sides and if you're already affiliated to one since the decision you make also has an impact on your "career" or at least standing with certain people.

Personally I'm sorta split about what impact morality choices should have on the game, whether they should have no impact (whatever you do, the story still follows its linear plot, letting you explore all options safely), little impact (story is still linear, but some cutscenes are different and you might get a different ending) or big impact (you can kill off crucial characters and turn around the plot in multiple ways with the only common thing of each playthrough being the beginning, and even that only if you don't have a Dragon-Age-1-like character background customization).
Maybe there's a place for all three of them and we can all start puking rainbows.

TL;DR Morality systems should never have "wrong" options unless it's something easy to fix like the option leading to certain death and you'll be prompted to try something else, like in "adventure books" that tell you to visit a different page for each choice, or many Visual Novels from Japan.


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.

I think you are spot on there.

The few cases where morality grows outside the simple gameplay mechanic of 'balancing good/evil bars' is when it stings a bit.

I think this happens most often when actions and decisions have a downside as well as an advantage. Being goody is probably more fun if there is a bit more of a struggle involved. Being evil may be more fun if it unlocks some cool stuff, as well as some negative consequences.

Anyone else think they should have just tagged this onto the end of the last Extra Consideration article?

I'm happy to see people are still talking in this thread, because I've been catching up on old articles and was afraid nobody would be commenting any more.

I think a lot of the article is on - asking players silently whether they're making a "good run" or "evil run" is a bad thing, and one that maybe Mass Effect is a little bit to blame for. But I get really caught up in roleplaying these games, trying to figure out what I would do in each case, and try not to let gameplay implications impact my decisions. (I got into the habit of pushing the "paragon" conversation option sometimes before I could read all the other options, though, so maybe Mass Effect isn't perfect. Which just excites me because of how much I love the game now... imagine it being even better!)

Anyway, one morality moment I wanted to mention, and it comes down to who's viewing your actions. In the original Bioshock, I remember being told by two different characters different things regarding the little sister: one said "devour!" the other said "save!". At that moment, I decided to listen to the doctor and save that girl. Later, I met a second little sister, and the doctor wasn't around, but Atlas was still whispering in my ear to devour her. I didn't know at that point what the little sisters were and what was really good/bad, so this time, in secret, I devoured her.

Eventually you figure out that the little sisters really "should" be saved - they're not creepy monster things, they were actually human beings once (and maybe still are). As soon as I figured that out I saved them all from then on. Of course, I got the bad ending because I devoured one or two. I always thought that was annoying, because I was penalized for something I didn't fully understand, and I wished the game had realized that I started doing the good thing as soon as I figured out what it was.

Any game that does draw attention to morality -- Infamous, for example, did it with particular obnoxiousness -- will just make the player consciously decide if they're doing a 'good run' or an 'evil run', and so they'll just make every choice without thinking. Which is wise, because the gameplay of Infamous (as well as games with morality gameplay like Mass Effect and Dante's Inferno) reserves its best rewards for players who are all the way good or all the way evil. And by default, that's all the average player cares about: what will benefit gameplay.

I don't like the idea of having to perfectly balance all possible player choices. Am I the only one who, say, when playing mass effect actually roleplays the game rather than just going 'standard issue renegade playthrough' and 'standard issue paragon'? Having to maintain such a perfect balance for players who like to play at maximum efficiency (personally I don't see the attraction) is pretty difficult as it is and will serve only to hold back what games can do in terms of a player driven story. Ruining morality mechanics and the consequences of player choice like this is like changing a film so it works even if people aren't paying attention to it.

I suppose what I'm saying is that I don't want games to start designing themselves for a min-maxing, follow-the-guide-to-get-the-'best'-ending approach. If a player wants to play that way, they'll do it however much it simplifies the plot.

And James schooled them both with but a single thought...

On the thoughts of morality it games, reading

has a great view of the different ranges handled in Dungeons & Dragons as far as alignment goes.

Lawful Good
Lawful Neutral
Lawful Evil
Neutral Good
Neutral Neutral
Neutral Evil
Chaotic Good
Chaotic Neutral
Chaotic Evil

Imagine a game with this many different possibilities as far as behavior goes. It isn't perfect but if you had two axis instead of just one, you could create a very convincing morality system that makes character customization and game-play much more interesting.

I always think it is a bad idea to attach game-play bonuses to morality. The fact that you have to be either extremely good or extremely evil to be the most powerful is absurd. You should be able to learn either move but one may effect your meters more than others.

You learn a Lightning Spell that tends to be more of a chaotic spell. If you use it, you have the chance to hit something that might not necessarily be your target. When this happens, your character grows more chaotic and maybe the spell will jump to more targets as you grow more chaotic.

Lets continue this a little more. Now if you are evil or neutral, you might just leave the bystanders laying there. If you are good, you might try to heal the wounded. So maybe the more good you are, the Lightning spell will then better avoid innocents because you are a good person, albeit a bit of a loose cannon. This can be shown with maybe the lightning changing to a golden color as oppose to maybe a darker blue.

^^This is just with one spell and would not be to tough to implement in a game. Adding that second dimension to morality, especially in games like Fallout or Fable where you get to control how the character acts, makes game-play way more interesting.

TLDR: You suck.

I am loving this guys.

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

Yes, he does it, because apparently Mikey has not much of value to say, and tends to be very strict about his control of the discussion (like here, when he said "Yeah, I think this topic is wrapped up" before James actually got to throw in his bit) - this was well heard in the podcast thing. I just don't think he's a very good person to have in these sort of endeavours - sorry. I hope I'll see some more of these with a Mikey who actually lets people speak their minds.

And we definitely need more James, I don't always agree with him, but I love how he thinks and presents his points.



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.

There's no clear "good guys". Given that the Legion goes on a rampant murder-frenzy the INSTANT that Caesar isn't there to restrain them, they're evil fucks all the way.

Not necessarily, but I do see your point. Most likely once caesar dies for whatever reason most members of the Legion won't know what to do, some will go crazy, some might try to take over, some will leave and go back to living as tribals in Arizona.

Just remember that before Caesar came along Arizona was just a bunch of tribals all going to war constantly. But like I said I see your point. Although, the same can be said for independant New Vegas which would probably just cause pure chaos considering everyone can do whatever they want.

Have you SEEN the endings for Legion victory, Caesar dead? Most everyong gets killed by the Legion. Vegas - most people slaughtered. Boomers - slain/enslaved to a man. Followers - exterminated. Goodsprings - mostly ignored, but that's only because it's small. The Kings - dead. Novac - suffers heavy losses. Primm - will most likely get wiped out. NOBODY AT ALL gets a good ending with the Legion, unless their endings are totally independent of which faction wins. They are evil, period.

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?

For future reference:

I think an objective morality system of good and evil is far too binary and usually ends up being so unrealistic that many people view it as another gameplay element to master, just as Yahtzee argues in the article.

However, I do think that you could use something like a morality system to develop character's personalities in RPGs. By performing hateful or loving actions, your character can gradually change his or her demeanor, appearance and tone accordingly, making them feel more like complex characters. The more of these qualities you have, the deeper characters can seem. Binary good and evil options force all actions into just two categories, which will inevitably make characters two dimensional because they are defined as taking a certain spot on a scale. The more qualities one measures characters by, the more (literal, if we continue the spatial metaphor) dimensions that character will have. It is possible that a character is both loving but also has flaws like lustfulness and greediness but you can't express that kind of complexity on a binary scale.

I wish they had brought up neutrality in games with a morality bar. Some games like Knights of the Old Republic 2 were telling you quite explicitly that both extremes were horrible and lead to the cesspit of a situation the galaxy was in, yet you were punished quite strictly for not choosing a side. That seems to be the major design flaw in those games, there is never real middle ground.

Just want to say that this thing has been awesome. Seeing the escapist's best come together for these discussions is like seeing your favorite super heroes come together for a giant crossover issue/series for the first time! :D

While it certainly has it's flaws, I find Alpha Protocol's morality system to be the best concept I've seen so far. Rather than that binary "good or evil" universal morality bar, your actions affect each character individually. Instead of the theft of character A's flower pot making character's B through Z think you're a complete jerk (whether or not they liked character A), interactions with different characters will either raise or lower your standing with them, and possibly a few other characters related to them. I find an ideal system would be having decisions of monumental weight affect more characters(in ways according to their side/faction/personnal morals/sexual preference/hair color/what-have-you), while smaller choices only affect those involved with the results and events of the choice.

Morality systems in RPGs need a serious revamp, IMO. Well, the black-white ME/KotOR works for some games, but when you want to get into something deeper and more honestly role-playing (As in an actual character, not Paragon/Renegade / Light/Dark, you need something a bit more complex. Being punished for not going completely to one side of a two-sided morality system really hurts true role-playing.

Keep on flamin' Mikey.
Keep on flamin'...

It was Ok, but not enough discussion. Just agreement...

Finally one of them got around to mentioning Mass Effect. In a casual, off-hand sort of way, of course. I mean they wouldn't want us to think that the ME games had been the whole reason for having the conversation in the first place. That would be soooo unoriginal and mainstream of them.

Am I the only one who played The Witcher? (I know Yahtzee did, but he said he didn't finish it because he honestly couldn't stand it, which I think is a shame but there you go.) The game has a morality system of sorts, but it's integrated into the allegiance system. Rather than choose between "good" and "evil" as such, you side with either the Order of the Flaming Rose, a templar-like group of lawful good but often rather bigoted and racist knights, or the Scoia'tael, a rebel group of elven and dwarven freedom-fighters-cum-terrorists struggling to fight for the rights of their oppressed people (you can also stay neutral and keep your hands to yourself). I was quite shocked when what I thought was a simple moral choice earlier in the game came back to haunt me later- I'd been asked by a smuggler to guard some of his goods overnight when a Scoia'tael party came up to me and told me they had come to pick up the supplies the smuggler had for them. I hadn't been told about this, so I had the choice to either let them take the supplies, which they said were food and medicine their people needed, or fight them. I sympethised with their plight and let them take the goods, but some time later in the game I was leaning on a drug dealer for information. I went to meet him in a bar, only to find out that a Scoia'tael commando group had broken in and murdered him in public as punishment for addicting some of their people to his drugs for profit. To make an example of him, they'd used the medieval equivalent of a terror weapon- a sort of arrow that functioned like a dum-dum round, useless against armour but capable of producing horrific results against an unarmoured civilian and my character commented that the weapons had undoubtably been in the supply shipment I'd let the Scoia'tael take ealier. It was then that I realised that although I'd though I'd made a "good" decision by letting the oppressed rebels take the supplies they desperately needed, I'd actually handed terror weapons over to terrorists. Not only did I fail the quest I'd been on as my contact was dead, that event shook me to my core.

On the other hand, the Order of the Flaming Rose are the kind of self-righteous, stuck up, bigoted authority figures I would normally avoid like the plague in these games. However, my first real contact with them in the game was through the character of Siegfried, a noble, polite, generous and really quite helpful templar who I took an immediate liking to. This led me to side with the order simply because I felt I owed him a favour for helping me with an early quest. He also told me more about the order which made it seem not so bad- they don't ask payment for their services from anyone and anybody is free to join them, even a social outcast like my character (although actually joining them is not an option in-game). The shades of grey in The Witcher make it the game which I think has the best morality system of any I've ever played.

I think the issue with most games that attempt "Morality" is that the decisions you are asked to make do not look anything like the moral decisions you make in everyday life. Not in the sense that game decisions are on a much larger scale than the everyday, but in the sense that they ask you to choose between right and wrong.

Assuming you are not a hard-core amoralist, you never have to choose between right or wrong in real life. You have to choose between actions or outcomes that appear good. Do I spend more time with my family, or more time working so that they can live in comfort? Is it my duty to fight for my country, or it it to not kill other humans? You never have to choose between buying a child a balloon, and punching her in the face.

Even if Neumann is right that morality is fun because both sides are fun, still: morality in games is engaging only if it resembles the moral choices that we are engaged in facing everyday.

The flash game "Loved" has the best moral choice system in it as far as I'm concerned, but I'm not sure if this is much related to the argument above.

the issue with morality, is that it is always the black and white morality. Good vs Evil isnt an interesting morality to play, its too common, and too easy. Red/Green is also rather dull, being either Communism vs Capitolism, or Nature vs Machine. what we need now, are moralities which we are not used to. perhaps a blue and orange morality where science is given free reign, but to allow applied technology to be used is seen as immoral.

The focus of player actions is important. For the most part, morality stands outside of gameplay, and therefore is largely ignored. You don't feel bad about Pac Man eating Ghosts, or Kirby eating his enemies, because this is the gameplay. It's not a moral decision - there is no morality involved.

Morality is really only important when it actually becomes part of the gameplay itself. Notice how all the better ways morality are handled are in games which also feature similar RPG elements about character development and choice? This is because that's what morality is - character development. It's also treated as no different than any other choice - being good or evil within a system is really no different than choosing between weapons and magic in RPG.

This is why the best stuff is reserved for extreme morality - just as extreme sword techniques are reserved for dedicating a lot of time and character development to extreme sword use. It's the same system and the same concept, and for the large part, if there wasn't an incentive to keep focused and get better, players would stop and focus elsewhere, because they've explored all the mechanics of that aspect of the game.

What is interesting is that morality is also most commonly applied outside of games, and ideas like common sense, narrative structure, nobility, and roleplaying can all provoke actions and moral choices that are not rationalised by game mechanics themselves. Take the Sims for example - there is no morality or objective to the Sims in any of the games, yet you look at the gameplay of Sims players, and they are routinely overlaying their own ideals and rules, their own sense of morality, on the game itself. For gamers who go in without ideas, these are boring - there's very few goals to actually go after that the game itself provides an incentive for. But for those players that already know what they want to play, the stories they want to tell, and so forth the Sims is perfect, because it's so open that it's letting them do just that.

All of this is keenly seen in The Sims Medieval, which is unfortunately a very badly designed game. It's tried to combine simulation and strategy, and ended up with the worst of both. This is because it features quite a few mechanical issues, as they've basically enforced everything that is normally provided outside of the game to become part of the core gameplay. It's not optional, or expected, but demanded - and the game penalises you for not bringing your own ideas to the game. There's no incentive for this - in fact, it's very counter-intuitive especially to strategy gamers that would be most likely to otherwise enjoy the limited simulation and more structured objective format. Yet, in discussions these issues are always solved by "roleplaying" and other "metagame" concepts that take place outside of the gameplay mechanics the game itself provides. It's like the Sims does Fable, where things are done for their own sake, rather than because there is any objective or incentive to do so.

This is where morality lies for the most part - Foucault-based power theory argues that we self-govern by imposing our own limits and our own rules based upon what we experience and what we expect. Games have, for the large part, been regarded as models for various aspects of reality - we only apply morality in games we believe to be about morality. Games that don't have morality are often focusing on other things - on other skills and abilities. Like all models, morality doesn't apply when you perform experiments in science, it doesn't apply when you solve an equation in mathematics, and so forth. This is because morality is a variable, and in all models, we reduce the variables to what is relevant. We then get to pick and choose what is relevant - and if morality IS relevant, we would have defined it as such. In games, if morality is not a defined variable, it is not expected to be relevant.

But in society, morality IS constantly relevant, because morality is a big part of a person's identity, since it defines (or is defined by) their perception and intent towards others. Being able to identify this is a very important social survival technique.

If you want to know morality through gaming, use a multi-player game, particularly split-screen or co-op gaming with scores and the option of friendly-fire. Someone who will attack their team mates for extra points or more rupees will most likely do this in real life too. This is not default behaviour because that is the game - that's an actual moral choice. It's backed up by the Theory of Altruism, which makes for some interesting gameplay, and great for letting you know which friends you want watching you back, and which you really don't.

James seriously put the icing on the cake on that one!

And THIS is yet another reason why I despise Fable 3
When you are good and pious, people cheer and shower you with gifts like you were some kind of Victorian-age Rock Star.
But if you are pure Evil, all they do is boo, hiss and/or scream like little children in your presence ...but nothing else.
Where has the humble silent groveling from Fable TLC gone I wonder? And where are the bribes Jasper mentioned?! >:(

Admittedly, all the constant annoyance does make it so much easier to slaughter them by the dozens in order to upgrade one weapon or another... but it's still very, very annoying.

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