Monday, 8 March 2010

When did right and wrong become so black and white?

In my Mass Effect 2 review I mentioned how most games that implement a moral choice system seem to be incredibly black and white about it without so much as a single shade of gray. Do you save the drowning puppy or throw it into an even deeper pond, or just walk on by for the “neutral” option, I’m not quite sure how letting an innocent puppy die can in any way be considered neutral, assuming you’re not a character from an early GTA game and have the means the save him.

A prime example is inFamous, as much as I love this game, the choice system seemed tacked on and wasn’t even really needed, all it did was change how your powers upgraded and this would often make several of the powers useless whilst the other half remained viable in combat and if you played the opposite side they magically seemed to swap round and the previously shoddy powers where now pretty useful.

The problem is with inFamous is that the choices often don’t really pose that much of a choice and you would just choose the one you want depending on whether you are doing a good or evil playthrough, not what you would choose if presented with that situation in real life. Do you start a small riot and let innocents die just to save yourself the trouble of knocking out a few cops, or just go straight for the cops? The answer should be pretty obvious, really.

Bioware are known for the choice systems in their games and often they get it right but sometimes its feels more like a choice between humane and being well, a bit of a prick. Greet the new party member with open arms and a pat on the back, or accuse them of being a dirty alien in a xenophobic manner, even though in the previous scene you’re the one who convinced them to tag along, I’m sometimes not sure if my character is supposed to be a “renegade” or just someone with deeply rooted psychological issues. Additionally, no matter how paragon I’m trying to make my character appear if presented with the option to defenestrate someone, I will, though perhaps that’s saying more about me as a person and less about the game.

GTAIV kind of glossed over the choice systems, and this is a series it could really work in my opinion, do you kill everyone mercilessly in cold blood or just kill those that deserve to die? Sadly in the entire 20+ hours of GTAIV there are about 4 choices and all they seem to do is determine whether a character comes back in a short bonus mission that honestly isn’t really worth the trouble because by the time they do come back you’ll have enough money to buy a small island.

Another example for choice in games is the recently released Heavy Rain (expect the review in the near future), who ever said choice has to be good or evil? You make a choice completely unaware of the repercussions that will follow later in the game, there’s no right or wrong answer but it will often have a dramatic effect towards the end and this is how it should be; no clear correct way to go and you just choose what you personally would do in that situation, not which one nets you the points for your desired route, which at the end of the day seems to be what these moral choice systems are all about.

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” ~ Albert Einstein

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