Videogame Design Rant #2: Moral Choice Systems

Posted by S3xySeele on April 5, 2013, 10:44 p.m.

My first experience with a game that gave you moral choices was KOTOR, and I loved it. And actually, I still love it. But only because it's less about being "good" or "bad", but more about being a "Jedi" or "Sith". In just about every other game I've played that features this kind of system, it just feels contrived. Maybe it's the fact that the moral implications of your decisions in real life aren't always so obvious… In real life you're never pondering whether you want to be good and help somebody or if you just want to kill them instead.

One game with a crappy moral system that nonetheless presented a moral decision that I thought was neat was the first Mass Effect. Specifically, the scene when you had to choose to either save Kaiden or Ashley, letting the other die. This was interesting because there was no right or wrong answer, it was a lose-lose scenario. But even though I appreciated the moral grayness of it, it still felt quite forced. You were essentially presented with a prompt telling you to choose between "Save Kaiden, let Ashley die" or "Save Ashley, let Kaiden die". It didn't help that Kaiden and Ashley were both lifeless, generic characters from the beginning anyways. I had to use Google to remember what their names were, for crying out loud. I understand that in videogames, players like to know how their decisions will affect the game. But I that if videogames are to be taken seriously as an artform, they can't be afraid of possibly challenging the player. Let the player make a decision not knowing that it will kill off a character they liked, just so long as you give an explanation as to why the player's choice resulted in that.

Crimson Core, one of the games I'm working on, is mostly a straight JRPG. Not a lot of branching dialog, moral choices, etc. However, towards the beginning of the game, one of the three main characters (The Exile) will be faced with a decision which will set the character on one of two very different paths. It's a morally gray decision, much like the choice from Mass Effect I mentioned, but the choice's effects are not at all obvious to the player. The character is being accused of a crime which he quite honestly doesn't know whether he actually committed it or not, due to being extremely intoxicated at the time. The decision he's presented with is whether to plead guilty or to plead innocent. This choice does not affect the Guilty verdict that the Exile-to-be will receive, but it will nonetheless end up putting the character on two distinctly different paths. I don't necessarily want to spoil what these two paths are and how his decision to plead guilty or innocent causes his path to fork into two, so that's about all I can say about it.

Comments

JuurianChi 11 years, 2 months ago

Reminds me of the questions they present at the beginning of Kingdom Hearts.

Though I have yet to find any real game changing effect resulting from"those" questions.

MMOnologueguy 11 years, 2 months ago

KOTOR was a good game but the whole thing was incredibly contrived. You can make good decisions, evil decisions, or any combination thereof, and it can get to the point where your Jedi-type "good" party members are fighting alongside Space Hitler.

I only completed one game of Mass Effect, and it was only Mass Effect 2, so, correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I can tell the overall plot of the game just kind of moves along the same way no matter what kind of asshole or saint you are. Same with KOTOR. Fallout 3, too; you nuke a fucking city, and all your dad has to say is "Oh, cool, good for you" (I forget his exact words). They're all linear games with linear stories with occasional asides for when you feel like saving a burning orphanage or gunning down a litter of kittens, maybe with a different colored laser at the end if you're lucky.

I haven't finished New Vegas, and maybe I never will (it's been at least a year), but so far it's probably the only game that's ever done these things very well at all. It all just seems so natural now. Was anyone else even trying?

S3xySeele 11 years, 2 months ago

Quote:
Reminds me of the questions they present at the beginning of Kingdom Hearts.

Though I have yet to find any real game changing effect resulting from"those" questions.

Never played Kingdom Hearts, but a quick Google search tells me that it affects your stats. The effect of the choice in Crimson Core will run much deeper than that. Choosing to plead guilty results in a completely different experience than choosing to plead innocent.

Quote:
KOTOR was a good game but the whole thing was incredibly contrived. You can make good decisions, evil decisions, or any combination thereof, and it can get to the point where your Jedi-type "good" party members are fighting alongside Space Hitler.

Haha, yeah… that was pretty silly. But as ridiculous as it was, to me that just added to the game. It was funny. And however unintentionally, it didn't really feel out of place because the game was already cartoony and Star Wars-y anyway.

Quote:
I only completed one game of Mass Effect, and it was only Mass Effect 2, so, correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I can tell the overall plot of the game just kind of moves along the same way no matter what kind of asshole or saint you are. Same with KOTOR. Fallout 3, too; you nuke a fucking city, and all your dad has to say is "Oh, cool, good for you" (I forget his exact words). They're all linear games with linear stories with occasional asides for when you feel like saving a burning orphanage or gunning down a litter of kittens, maybe with a different colored laser at the end if you're lucky.

Yeah, pretty much. KOTOR and Fallout benefit from the fact that they're fairly comical, whereas Mass Effect is trying to be super serious.

JuurianChi 11 years, 2 months ago

Quote:
Yeah, pretty much. KOTOR and Fallout benefit from the fact that they're fairly comical, whereas Mass Effect is trying to be super serious.

I couldn't take the "seriousness" seriously because of the cheap dialog fillers containing words like "Bitch" and "fucking".

Couple that with the poor excuses for romantic interaction and you have yourself the very first ABC produced videogame.

FYI ABC=Shit

Ninji 11 years, 2 months ago

Yeah I think you pretty much explained it, but I'd like it better if your actions led up to the death or safety of such characters, and not a blatant decision, then I can't tell if the game wants my emotional response (which is hard to do with video game characters) or my logical response (most useful character lives).

It's basically like telling you to take the red pill or the blue pill without telling you what either entails.