Moral choice, karmic currency and assumptions of inevitable completion...

In short, I don't know how to feel about them. See, what makes moral arguments or conundrums in tv shows interesting is that assuming they're well thought out it illustrates the nature of morality of the world, how it conflicts with the protagonist and antagonist (or vice versa) and that you don't actually have a definitive sense of self-styled completion.

You're watching a piece of media that has an end, sure ... but you already come into it knowing that that end, and the lead up, will be the same regardless how often you watch it or how and where you watch it. It provides an actual moral argument that you can ponder about, debate with others, weigh up how you feel about it once you begin to scratch the surface.

Why I thought Starlight Glimmer was actually a good villain, and how and why her fight with Twilight was actually kind of a refreshing spin on the usual enemies they face. How dark it actually gets when you realize that Starlight is literally willing to erase herself as she is from reality just to prove a point and why it's akin to trying to talk down a suicide bomber after giving up all conventional means to stop them ... and it's actually kind of brutal and that she actually, in her twisted way, truly wanted to build a better world.

Stuff like this is comparable only in immediate likeness to old style 3D adventure games like the Tex Murphy series (pre-Overseer) trying to tell a narrative-focussed game ... but the relationship is different in games.

See in the old style adventure games, the endings were based exclusively on the choices you had made. Split up at pivotal points with illusive dialogue and actions that you may miss. This is further occulted by the fact that dialogue options only gave you a rough gyst of what you would actually say, though the blurb writing was pretty good enough to get a passing understanding of Tex's mannerisms and the likely response to your choice and how your choice would be represented.

So if you were willing, in The Pandora Directive (my favourite) ... you would have certain playstyles to reflect the ending you wanted to see ... and then the game just instructs you what happens post-case in a cinematic.

The problem is that unlike a tv show or movie where you break it down and analyze what the writers and animators/direction and producers were actually trying to convey, instead you get a strange democracy of input, but the voting is rigged and control of one's candidate of choice divorced from similar exploration of choice. Which is to be expected in movies or even real life, but in a game it feels jarring

Why exactly does Tex's choices to be a largely self-interested twat lead him to simply die? Why does Tex being somewhat a middling ground P.I. in terms of his private affairs lead to him being sullen, not breaking true ground with Chelsea, or running off to join the circus? Hope I'm not spoiling anything, but it's a 22 year old game ... and it's necessary to the point I'm making. So~ ... too bad, I guess?

By trying to be an interactive movie ... it kind of fails at both beyond it's an interesting story ... but a story does not a movie make.

A couple of misteps here and there should translate into the difference between running off to be a circus clown ... or hooking up for a holodate service because you blew your chance with Chelsea... And while you have to be aconcerted arsehole and twat, and insufferably self-interested to get the death scene, it's still a kind of polarizing set of endings. Of which there are like 6 of them... some make more sense than others... some are seemingly divorced from 'the canon' finishing.

Given the fact of its format, you are literally handed every meaningful moment of exchangeable dialogue you can make, its actions, its effects, and then delivered a rigged candidate outcome of merely the sum of those things that cannot have the same number of individual nuances as all those individual choices...

So this leads into an argument of 'karmic currency' that a game allows you to spend, and its inflation rate at purchasing its ending being much greater than the sum of total acquisitions over time. Is it possible to ever truly have a decent 3/4-level ending divergence over something like the trilogy of Mass Effect games?

Something that is actually show deep, or movie deep, given its only capacity to be moral choice driven is if it inevitably offers less individually nuanced endings than the number of its individual choices made over the game?

Can any game actually do it well while providing a lot of moral decisions that actually matter, while offering limited ending expressions of those choices ... all without seeming incredibly shallow and reinforcing bad writing upon even more limited input conclusions that might challenge even the best possible means to write and deliver them effectively?

How do you feel about your 'karmic currency' as I call it by the end of moral-choice ending narratives in games? Which games do you think does it well?

Firstly, ME trilogy's speech system was centred around Paragon and Renagade rewards. That's... Very limiting. Thank God ME:A did away with that. But then there felt like there was no consequences to conversations. Pillars of Eternity had took note of a bunch of different ways of intersection like being honest, aggressive, diplomatic etc.You can earn levels which unlocked different conversations later. So it was similar to ME trilogy but not able how good/ bad you were.

In Fallout NV, you had factional consequences for your actions but the silly part was, why couldn't you just bribe for reputation. There could even be people you can bribe and people you can't. In the Witcher 3, you have a quest with the Crones and Tree. The game tries to force this choice on you but there are so many solutions that the developer didn't think of. Vesemir or Lambert could help fight one while you kill another, Or you could warn the town and ask them to fight. Moral choices in games are badly done when they don't think about the world they live in. In Fallout 4, why can't you become the leader of the institute and lead them away from the conflict? The developer is desperate to make you choose between two hard choices. And they usually end up as a false choice, one that could easily been defeated if the developer wasn't so desperate. Ciri's fate is determined by whether your being too overprotective or not. Like Ciri can't think for herself (which I think most of the game was shown Ciri as. Most of her plans didn't involve Geralt.) What a way to ruin a good character. All becuase the developer wanted you to choose whether Ciri loves or dies. ME2 is another example. Your team won't fight hard becuase you aren't friends enough, just pure idoicy.

What the Witcher did right was provide someone like the Bloody Baron as a moral question of character. His ending though was either death or letting him keep his victim. WTAF. Also, should jail be a thing for him?

I'll stop. I'm really down on moral choices in games. They either lead to nothing or silliness.

I said this a long time ago on these forums but the main issue with morality choices is that morality is the basis of them. Whether something is good or bad is often determined by the outcome after your choice, most choices are not made with the idea of being an ass or a saint to someone. Even in the cases where someone caused something horrible to happen to someone, they didn't make that choice with that as their intent.

When I look at a choice in real life I'm looking at the pros and cons of the choices I can see. I pick my choice based on which I think will be the best one at the time whether morally or efficiently, I don't make my choices based on whether , as I said before, I want to be an ass or a saint.

Moral choices should be something saved for truly big events. You only ever really get into morality decisions when your choices are on a high scale like the fate of a city, an ideology, a country, a race, a world. It's THE BIG moment and the way most games go about their choices by making them ALL be about morality cheapens just how big a deal these kinds of true morality choices are.

Edit: Okay, here's an example of what I mean.

Most games with a morality choice, when giving the player the situation of an orphanage that's looking for donations will have you choose between giving all your money or burning the orphanage down. This is an extreme and unrealistic set of choices, this is not how people do things 99% of their life.

What this same scenario SHOULD do is give you an option to just leave, probably because you can't spare the money not because you're a selfish git, donate some money, or help out at the orphanage. You get an option to pass, an option to help in a noncommittal way, and an option to directly help out.

This isn't nearly as flashy as the angel and devil style choices, it's not nearly as obvious what you're going to get out of your choice, if anything at all, but it's far more realistic and, I would argue, far more impactful to have choices that have small impacts for different people and places rather than every choice being a percentage increase to the final cut scene having you be an extreme angel of good or an extreme demon of death.

I think simple moral choices in games are kind of fundamentally silly. It's like a puzzle where they're telling you the answer up front, and then advertising the fact that you can pick the wrong answer and still continue (they'll just punish for it later - maybe). It's not the least interesting choice possible, and clearly some people really just like playing as trolls for the lulz, but IMO it's a long way from being the most interesting choices available.

Maybe it should be less about what the game decides to is moral, but instead the different perceptions and opinions of the various characters in the world to your actions. A benevolent choice would win some people's hearts, but not all. Your choices being reflected through the prisms of conflicting philosophies would feel more natural and dynamic. No doubt much more work is required for any system like that however. Like the buddy system in fallout 4 had each different character respond to your actions according to their established personality, it was a morality system through the eyes of those who witnesses you, so it depends on how much you care for their particular opinion of you; I imagine that but on a grander, more complicated scale. The direction the story takes could depend on the actions of these others, so the player observes the responsibility of inspiration others have taken from them.

trunkage:

Mass effect does have a bucketload of problems. Everything from letting the Council fall 'being bad' even though it will cost ships to defend them and that the enemy is close to wiping out civilization as we know it and killing them anyways... so priority should be the enemy ship... but that's 'renegade' despite the fact that on some level the massive death toll has always been their fault and that by letting them 'die in battle' might actually be objectively good given they are clearly incapable of meeting the threat on the horizon... not to mention the number of innocent lives you could save, or may lower their jeopardizing, by not diverting your forces.

You know... all the people that are lacking a capital ship's armour to protect them...

Why isn't there a paragon option of assuming; "Well they might still be okay given their ship's armour. Unlike everyone else on the Citadel. They can weather the assault and get to life boats, surely? ... They can sit tight in the meantime while we dedicate resources to sabotage the enemy's designs before they slaughter us all..." Because that's what I would think if given command authority. Glad the game thinks I'm an arsehole for it by just making assumptions that the Council will just die when there's no evidence or that, and brazenly handwaving my supposed concerns of stopping the enemy at any cost. Thanks for the natural assumption of presupposed victory if I did divert my attentions away from the ship that is about to herald the death of the galaxy... thus justifying your bullshit ideas about morality, EA.

No... none of that nuance of a character in the moment making a judgment call without the benefit of an interdimensional god manipulating my actions to 'blue' or 'red'...

... Because actually addressing these questions might make a player feel uncomfortable, they literally ignore the costs of when you decide to divert forces to saving the Council... or the increased threat you put the galaxy under rather than focussing on the immediate danger...

Nothing in the future games of reporters saying how Commander Shepard prioritized a negligent Council responsible for a rogue agent that almost heralded the galaxy's doom at the expense of millions of innocent lives and jeopardizing the entire galaxy on their behalf. No nascent talks about whether Spectres are a good thing given they are willing to prioritize a knowingly corrupt dictatorship over the lives of common Citadel races body-politic...

Heaven forbid if a game should make you feel guilty about that, or whether common people actually celebrate as a hero if you decided to prioritize the destruction of the enemy's plans. Like how amazing would that scene had been? Aliens of all stripes, particularly their military personnel, giving you a thumbs up and shouting you a drink at the bar because you didn't prioritize the Council's safety over the success of the mission and safeguarding as many people as possible?

... Actually give the game nuance and made you feel like your choices mattered... Pfffh. No. Out the airlock with that idea...

Never brought up... The game actually penalizes you for it if you 'abandon' them to their fate. For no reason. Surely by saving more soldiers for the fight, that should come with some material rewards, even if the next Council looks at you a bit leery. I'm sorry... but if you're going to have an argument why Spectres exist as secret agents with licences to kill, surely it should be on the basis that they're promoting galactic civilization over simply protecting a corrupt political caste ...

I wouldn't have minded if the devs had a compelling narrative reason. Or a compelling argument. Actually taken the time to explain why saving the Council was a good idea... but I have a feeling that the game devs didn't have one because they spent half the game displaying their utter incompetence and the other half of the game being pointless to my efforts of saving the galaxy.

No... all the costs of flinging ships and personnel to protect the Ascension rather than doing your job are utterly ixnayed. Sugarcoated by the idea 'and you still won, therefore morally correct... and the additional loss of lives and materiel, or how much you jeopardized the galaxy, clearly has no bearings, thusly...' Of which requires an interdimensional god with the benefit of save files might be given the luxury of their 'moral character' ... but then again such karmic currency is still treated as effectual examples of morality.

And that's fucked up.

Why do people think these games are good, again? I mean they're fun, but they're not good.

Keep in mind, bullshit like this has gameplay ramifications and continues to alter your experience of the ongoing narrative regardless of how slight. So the game was still giving me 'renegade' points on their frankly broken narrative until the trilogy's end. And even they downplayed any importance of the Council's fall, anyways.

So if the devs are people who are fundamentally fucked in the head-bootlickers, and people who I wouldn't trust with an ounce of political power--AND they don't give a shit about their own garbage story ... why should I have to? Then keep in mind that the """writers""" of this god-awful story of fucked up values and blatant handwaving made the other two games in the ongoing storyline.

So yeah... when the chips of galactic civilization is on the table... the Council merits less defence than the Citadel itself. And while you can moralize 'yay or nay' (literally yay or nay as they treat it) ... the fact remains that secretly, in the back of your mind somewhere, you would hope Shep would prioritize you and your families and friends over an inept, racist, corrupt Council of unelected dictators.

In a movie ... the 'best' ending representing the 'best good' of the galaxy would be they lose their jobs. One way or another.

The big problem and dichotomy of Mass Effect's morality systems are they're broken in between games. To begin with there was already a karmic option it just told you at the start of a dialogue/action cue that gave you at least some interpretation of what Shep would do. Which is fucked up on its own, linking moral systems to physical attributes like charm .... because since when did human decency become literal currency? Like when, ever, in history or basic awareness of capitalism was this ever the case?

Since when is good charming? What fucked up metaphysics are they working with here? Apparently being popular and charming is a fill in for common decency. No room for an abrasive person who actually has a point when they scoff derisively at whatever empty platitudes of privileged fuckwits spout off about when they don't have to deal with the crushing weight of iniquity, violence, and injustice. And as fucking awful as Mass Effect is it's still a farcry better from ME2. Whereby the actions themselves are just button prompts without any definitive understanding of what exactly Shep will do. Without understanding what the other options are in advance to choose.

Which is somehow even worse than it is handled in ME1.

It is chronically fucked up when you consider that the reason why they handled it like quicktime events is to make it more 'cinematic' while forgetting that it's not a fucking movie. There is no definitive script. And why have my options been relegated to reflexively pushing a button without clarification of what that might entail?

As I was saying... karmic currency, not moral argumentation of actual choice.

Fallout: NV is honestly better, but not good on its own. I honestly think FO: NV is one of the few ways to do it... but at the sametime, it certainly doesn't flow well as a narrative 'cap' to an adventure.

Specter Von Baren:

Ehh, but even then this assumes the morality of game systems are done well to begin with. D&D is kind of garbage, and alignment systems particularly so... but that being said Planescape transformed the relationship to philosophical paradigms that, like the Multiverse itself, were constantly at war with eachother. That it mattered less some arbitrary binary alignment ... but rather the philosophical paradigms were what would get your character killed if they entered into a moral argument plotline.

The problems of moral choice in games is they neglect the idea of an overarching metaphysical state. If they wrote games where individual, self-contained narratives within a larger narrative of a metaphysically congruent moral theme then it wouldn't be so bad.

Like if the entire game is an argument to or fro of a Benthamite utilitarianism, where events and narratives within might confront the player with their own hypocritical thoughts... that would be better. You can actually make something 'show deep' ... and then you wouldn't have to worry about the 'karmic currency' feeling I tried to explain in my OP. But whether because of laziness or lack of writing ability, you don't get that. Which is problematic because stories shouldn't be an exercise of lazy scripting.

Pyrian:
I think simple moral choices in games are kind of fundamentally silly. It's like a puzzle where they're telling you the answer up front, and then advertising the fact that you can pick the wrong answer and still continue (they'll just punish for it later - maybe). It's not the least interesting choice possible, and clearly some people really just like playing as trolls for the lulz, but IMO it's a long way from being the most interesting choices available.

Maybe not fundamentally silly. Just fundamentally bad writing because game devs haven't learnt how to make a game seamlessly integrate moral argumentation. As per my feelings on ME2 in the first part of this reply... the game devs are actively pursuing 'cinematic' aspirations, all without the means to do so without ixnaying player interaction.

Xsjadoblayde:
Maybe it should be less about what the game decides to is moral, but instead the different perceptions and opinions of the various characters in the world to your actions. A benevolent choice would win some people's hearts, but not all. Your choices being reflected through the prisms of conflicting philosophies would feel more natural and dynamic. No doubt much more work is required for any system like that however. Like the buddy system in fallout 4 had each different character respond to your actions according to their established personality, it was a morality system through the eyes of those who witnesses you, so it depends on how much you care for their particular opinion of you; I imagine that but on a grander, more complicated scale. The direction the story takes could depend on the actions of these others, so the player observes the responsibility of inspiration others have taken from them.

You can infer and argue moral metrics so long as you get metaphysical congruence right. So in a way I think you're right in that it should be based on personal views, with an overaching congruent theme, with environmental 'background' stressors to the metaphysical congruence of player interaction as they explore moral dilemmas. Which might lead players down interesting hypocritical thoughts that actually challenge how they feel, and make the game 'show deep' or 'movie deep' through that conflict.

As awful, broken and circular logic-y Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, it at least detailed what she considered a 'complete argument' .... and game devs don't recognize this necessity to actual morality. Consistency of application, or its antithesis through faulty means to agency.

But how moral metrics in things like ME games is merely moral 'episodes' of incongruent dimensions, that are rounded up in a fundamentally stupid way. And that's not to say that games can't just be 'stupid fun' ... or hell, even movies. Star Wars is morally and intelkectually lacking in substance. Still fun.

But if you're going for 'stupid fun' then why bother with moral choice at all... or more criminally, capping off an adventure with a 'karmic currency purchase' of a specific moral ending?

Addendum_Forthcoming:
SNIP SNIP SNIP SNIP SNIP

I think the problem is that, even by my standards you're using too many big words. Imagine that I am an idiot and try to explain what it is you're saying with that in mind.

Specter Von Baren:

I think the problem is that, even by my standards you're using too many big words. Imagine that I am an idiot and try to explain what it is you're saying with that in mind.

Basically what I'm saying is that you should have layers within layers. I used the exmple of the Council's fall as an example... in that ME1 spends no amount of time outlying the broken relationship of the Council's power, how they consistently and incompetently refuse to accept the slaughter of people by one of their rogue agents, on racial grounds no less, solely on the basis of a Councilor of said rogue agent's body-politic membership is there ... but then penalizes you at the end of the game with consequences for simply letting the Ascension fall.

The problem is that because the morality is so fucking stupid they simply have tell you that the Acension and all hands will just automatically die if you do nothing ... and then on the flipside, downplay the massive loss of life and the possible jeopardizing of the galaxy by diverting your attentions.

They also have to ixnay any thought that maybe the Ascension will survive, or ... you know... has escape pods or something ... that the threat, if not dealt with, will destroy it anyways ... and that in a way, by choosing to divert your attentions away from the destruction of the Reaper you are acting no differently than the blatantly immoral actions of the Council ignoring the fact that one of their rogue agents is tearing innocent people apart and refusing to ground him until a tribunal.

So let's assume if the writers had any talent for a moment... what if they made all the mini missions and the larger overarching quest a narrative of how ultimately a massive galactic federation requires a utilitarian bent in order to safeguard its multitudes from the immorality of distant power brokers and custodians?

Where exactly does the morality fall of simply treating the Ascension as merely secondary to saving the galaxy? Maybe confront the player in ME2 with the victims or bad publicity if they chose to safeguard a corrupt political elite over the millions dying on the Citadel and the potential extermination of civilization across the galaxy? Imagine reporters talking over radios in the elevators discussing the virtues of the Spectre program if Shepard does prioritize the Ascension over the Reaper's destruction? Whether the Spectre program is merely a secret police to secure the safety of the powerful at the expense of the people?

On the flipside, imagine soldiers and civilians in ME2 who otherwise would have been dead in ME1 if youchose instead to prioritize the safety of the Ascension, championing your priority of destroying the Reaper ship? They shouted you drinks in the bar, C-Sec giving you quiet nods of approval as if a 'hidden nuance' of prioritizin the defence of the Citadel over a handful of inept, corrupt leaders? Even if the new Council had you on their shitlist and 'on paper' C-Sec officers are being ordered to monitor you closely, but in truth your relationship to C-Sec is better than ever?

What about the political fallout of reporters talking about Commander Shepard's after action report of how the Council was the reason of Saren's abilities to cause mass terror and attempted genocide and how they refused to rein him in until it was too late?

On the flipside, you could have a runnng narrative of the political situation going to hell in the light of these revelations....

Better, right?

Metaphysical congruence of morality. You should have a school of moral theory as an overarching narrative if you plan to have moral choice.

Imagine how effective that would have been if EA confronted people with these sorts of themes in ME2? Actually muddied the waters ... confronted you about your hypocrisy of being just like those Councilors who stood by doing nothing about the slaughter of innocent people ... and in the end recreating that immorality by prioritizing their security over millions more who are effectively dead or dying because of their failure to do something when they had the chance?

There could be player benefits to doing this as well. On the flipside, by saving the Ascension it allows the Council to cover things up concerning just how much they fucked over the galaxy ... the political situation is stabilized, a reduction of general political chaos ... which might mean cheaper goods, or greater access to military hardware given industry has been less impacted by an otherwise inevitable shitstorm of protest and civil disobedience ...

But at the same you have to live with that. Recognize that there are people that deserve to be brought to justice ... that you have millions of additional dead on your hands. The people responsible for that are still in power because you assisted them at the expense of the innocent and actively jeopardized the galaxy to do so.

That is better than whatever the god-awful fuckwittery they gave us...

Plus it actually gives the story, you know, nuance. Actually confronts players with consequence. Mindlessly clicking the 'paragon' option of diverting attentions to save the Ascension feels like the right thing on paper ... but then all the effects of that should be noted at least in a few cutscenes and elevator announcements in ME2...

Suddenly players might not feel so comfortable with that ... that, you know ... the 'renegade' option actually contributed the greatest good and actually corrected a moral failure with an obviously corrupt dictatorship and that it should have been gotten rid of years ago.

But ... you know ... that requires actual dilligence.

Confronting people with the hypocrisy of being angry that the Council did nothing about slaughtered innocents ... but on the flipside you just followed orders to protect the very same people at the expense of millions of other innocents and jeopardizing the security of the galaxy itself just like those Councilors doing fuck all about Saren and showing zero accountability for their incompetence before?

Nah ... Out an airlock with that type of self-awareness or revelation... You're a 'hero'.

How many people did they have working on these fucking games, again?

Addendum_Forthcoming:
*snip*

What's sad is that the paragon/renegade thing is SUPPOSED to be "Do things the 'right way' even at personal cost or lost time" versus "Do things the most effective way, and damn anyone who gets in the way", but it ultimately ended up being a "Good versus asshole" meter like 80% of the time.

...The 20% of the time that it wasn't like that, I pretty much went renegade. I let the ascension die with no regrets (the galaxy is at stake and every second counts, forget the council, they can be replaced!), for example.

Honestly...Choice moments are often handled VERY poorly in general. And I get it, it's hard to make choices that don't feel like "good guy versus asshole", and there are only limited resources to render all your consequences, I know, I've made branching choices in games...But we really need to do better as an industry on this topic. Our lack of skill here kills a lot of neat moments and role play potential.

 

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