Reading the news at lunch today, I spotted what seemed to me like an interesting article in the Toronto Star, raising quite an amount of questions regarding moral choices in games:
Her husband notices you watching his tryst. He begs you not to tell his wife, and offers you cash to keep his secret. So, what do you do? More than that, what is the right thing to do in this situation? The “good” thing to do? Do you tell the wife, destroy the marriage, and leave just as broke as you were before? Or do you take the money in exchange for your silence? Is that right?
Yup, it’s a scene from Fable, and it’s a choice that indeed is to be taken in the game. What would a player do? What is the right choice? The wrong one? Sure, it’s “only a game”, yet it still calls at some sense of morality that everyone is supposed to have. People want less linear games, games in which we’d really be able to change the course of events through our own choices, and not by simply following the directions set by the developers; when they get it – or as close to it as technically possible – they’re faced with the fact that doing whatever they want necessarily implies that our choices can also be the wrong ones (not as in making them fail to solve game puzzles or quests – “wrong” as in “morally questionable”, sort of).
It’s interesting to think of all the premises without black-or-white answers that can stem from such kinds of games. KOTOR was already based on a similar system, where the player’s choices determine how NPCs will react to her character later on as well as certain events bound to happen. Although such kinds of games remain still pretty basic, all in all, compared to what a “real” freedom of action would be, I don’t see this trend as fading soon. Can’t always shoot and slash without ending up wanting “something more”, isn’t it?
Here’s also where my paranoid little self whispers that there’s another possibility, too. Making immoral choices out of curiosity, to see where the game will take us next, is it wrong in itself? Would it make players, in the long run, less able to make “good” choices – and would we be faced with another wave of “video games makes our children violent, and now they make them immoral too”? I may be extrapolating too far, of course. It’s just that given how fast some people are to jump at causes that may not necessarily be the real source, given how mediatized everything can quickly become… the probability isn’t a null one.
So far, I for sure won’t be one to complain about wide possibilities in games. I don’t play that often, but when I do, I like being given the choice to go good, neutral, evil and other variations by taking actions and decisions, and not only by checking a box or moving sliders on the character’s creation screen.