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.
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.
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?