Andrew Ryan sputtered before I embedded a 9-iron into his skull, killing him.
Okay, maybe not the best example as you don’t actually have a choice in the matter. How about some context? Morality in games. You know, like the Alignment system of Baulder’s Gate, or Karma from Fallout 3, and even Bioshock’s choice on what to do with Little Sisters. But all of these are just masks wearing Morality, hiding their true purpose.
Most of the time, you choose to be good or evil depending on one thing or another. In Knights of the Old Republic, did you want to be a healer or a badass who could zap your foes with lightning? In Infamous, well, same question. How about Fable? Did you want to have a happy town or a town full of NPCs that reacted in fear every so often. And in Jade Empire, did you want to…actually let’s not get into that yet. There’s a whole thing with Open Hand vs. Closed Fist I could go on about, but that’s more on, well, the philosophy of living life and the sort. Maybe another time. For now, my point is, the moral choices given to us are aesthetic or tactical. If you look at the real-world and the moral choices people have had to make, you’ll find a lot of those choices revolve around a big sense of uncertainty, usually because they don’t have a clear and solid system of beliefs. In gaming, there’s hardly room for any gray area and you’re left with choosing between being a saint or being the next reincarnation of Hitler.
Okay, now that those words are out of the way, we can get into why I have never been able to play an evil character.
Except in Guild Wars, because the humans are all complete jerks.
Ever since (if I think back properly) Fallout2, I have never been a bad guy. Ever. In every BioWare game I’ve played, you would find a save file that’s only been played an hour that has started down the path of evil, but was eventually abandoned for more good-guy playthroughs. Hell, even in Demon’s Souls I’ll never be able to get Mephistopheles to appear. I’m too nice a guy (except for this one time, after I got my second Dragon Bone Smasher and I went to town, as it were, on every NPC in the Nexus) and I’m okay with that. It probably speaks about my character, or rather, how immersed I find myself in the world to care more about how it’s inhabitants treat me than about powers or different bonuses.
Wait, there it is. The trade off for a not-too-great morality system. If you get into a game, a world, and find yourself attached to the characters more than to the perks, maybe you’ll have something. Maybe remove the tracking of it on a menu. Say you go murder an entire village. Rather than have a little bar say how many evil points you got, have the neighboring towns refuse to deal with a murdering jerk. But even then, the moral choices are more about if you want to have business in a town or not.
How can developer’s fix the system of absolute morality? A number of ways, in my very lazy opinion. First, of course, remove the absolutes. Remove the need to be absolutely good or absolutely evil to get certain powers. Make it about the character’s interactions with the world around them. Make the player care about the choices he or she makes and even then, make the reactions realistic. Gray areas, developers. Gray areas. Obviously you can’t simply up and make a new system based strictly on those sort of requirements. It probably wouldn’t work for most games, but what is certain is that the system needs an update and a little more thought than what has been given to it.
Stay lazy, would you kindly? I’m heading off to Neverwinter to be a nice guy.