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Grey Matter: Morality in Games
Choice is not a new feature for video games. Games have always offered some degree of choice, whether it is what you name your character or how you choose to defeat a boss. But a more recent trend in gaming is the addition of choice which will drastically affect the way that you play. Games such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Deus Ex are some of the earliest games to really allow the player to make story affecting choices, and the idea has evolved throughout the years.
Choice in video games initially involved being “good” or “evil”; would you kill the helpless citizens or save them? Not much thought was involved, and the choices were usually arbitrarily made depending on the type of playthrough you had already planned to do. As games have developed however, these choices have become much more complex and inhabit a morally “grey” area rather than completely red or blue. Choices which are not obviously good or evil, and which will have consequences no matter your decision.This is the way that video games have evolved, and I think it is fantastic.
Personally I feel that the inclusion of these tough, impactful choices in video games is one of the ways that sets it apart from other mediums such as television or books. Being able to control your fate, trusting your gut instinct and getting the emotional experience that comes with making a weighty decision and facing the consequences is something that only video games are able to deliver. It makes the playthrough feel completely unique to you as a player, and can put some of yourself and your own moral character into the game.
Video games have embraced this feature lately, with many of the top games in the recent past such as Mass Effect and The Walking Dead featuring this prominently in their games. Successful integration of personal choices can result in some of the best games out there. There is something personal about crafting your own story in a game, and I know that I will never forget some of the more impactful decisions I have made in games.
While some video games do choice very right, of course there are games that do it very wrong. For example, take the newest PS4 exclusive, Infamous: Second Son. Personally, l loved the game, however I felt its biggest drawback was its morality system and illusion of choice. For a game which heavily emphasizes its inclusion of player choices and branching story paths, this is an example of a game which does not execute it well. Infamous: Second Son takes a step back when it comes to the development of morality and choices, and instead presents them as very clear cut good and evil choices, which are even appropriately and prominently coloured as red and blue. There is literally no thought involved, the choices are not impactful, and in some cases they do not even make a lot of sense. While the choice is great for adding replay value, it feels very lazy when compared to some other morality systems in games. If you’re going to do it, why not do it right?
No matter how it is included, giving players the choice of how you proceed is a great feature which adds uniqueness to each playthrough and invites players to come back for more. Whether you make your character good, evil, or something in-between, there’s something for everyone when it comes to the morality system in games. With some of the great examples of narrative storytelling involving impactful choices with a grey morality system, one can only hope that this will be a feature that grows in prominence in games in the future.
For more thoughts on morality and choices in gaming, click here.