Games these days make a big fuss about moral choices. back in the day, it was simple; the aliens/monsters were the bad guys, you were the good guy. Nowadays, with added realism and a more mature gaming audience, developers are heading into all sorts of unexplored territory.
But do games really give us meaningful moral choices, or is it just an illusion? Have games truly moved forward in terms of satisfying deeper emotions and making us look at ourselves in a new light?
Many years ago I had Turbo Esprit
by Durell Software
for the Spectrum. Ostensibly a car chase game, you had to chase down drug couriers in an open world city. However, like most people, I spent most of my time mowing down pedestrians and other road users, trying to get my penalty score as high as possible.
Catch the Drug car or mow down pedestrians? The choice is yours.....
Though I didn’t realise it, the game was giving me moral choices to make, surely one of the first games to do so. However, with no consequences to your actions, is it really a moral choice?
Skip forward to the current generation. I am currently playing Red Dead Redemption, which I love. Its clever fame and honour system was a real draw, as I like playing the good guy, and the prospect of a GTA style game in which i could do this really appeals. The first third of the game excels at moral choices, do you help the bandits or the stagecoach, do you help the crying woman or just walk away.
Do you assist or rob the stagecoach? Decisions, decisions ...
Once you get to Mexico, this illusion of morality gets suddenly destroyed however. Faced with two sets of missions, one for the government, one for the rebels, I was drawn to the noble rebels due to my dislike for the government character. It quickly became clear though, that I not only could play for both sides, but indeed had to in order to progress the story. Even worse, this doesn’t affect your relationship with either side, indeed it is virtually ignored.
Choices without consequences cannot be considered to be moral at all, and I think Rockstar
really missed a trick with this one.
are the masters of computer roleplaying games, building believable worlds and compelling characters. They have always included morality in their games, a hang over from the pen and paper RPGs that came before.
But what difference do your choices actually make in Mass Effect 2? Lines of dialogue, nothing more. The occasional difference in a cut scene. The whole game is completable in largely identical ways whichever choices you make, and in fact you are rewarded with making the extreme choices all the time, rather than allowing you to play a flawed hero. Admittedly there are side missions you cannot play without earning renegade points, but none of these have any effect on the main storyline.
What I would like to see is meaningful moral choices, ones you have to agonise over, or that seriously impact the rest of your game experience. Even better would be a game that gave you choices, but the consequences wouldn’t be apparent till later in the game, just like in real life. In this way games would really become an art form, allowing us to explore issues with the safety net of a save point. only when this happens will games have really grown up.