It seems like every game released these days has a morality system that gives the player the choice of being either a good or a bad guy. While this system is handled well in many games, and gives the player greater control over the game world, it has rarely been implemented in a way that is fully satisfying. The problem lies in the fact that games many times developers do not take into account the fact that sometimes decisions can be deeper than simple good vs. bad. There is a gray area in real life that make decisions difficult, and this is something that mainstream games have yet to really explore.
Let’s talk about Fallout 3 and Mass Effect. Both of these games have a very well defined system of morality. Fallout gives you negative and positive karma based on how you interact in situations and with characters in the wasteland. Now, I will start out by saying that I love Fallout 3. It is one of my favorite games of all time, but I have a lot of issues with the way the morality system is handled. Of course when you decide to blow up the village of Megaton you should get evil points, that much is clear, but little things like deciding to kill the super mutants with tainted water at the end of the game are also labeled as evil. Decisions like this one should be labeled as a neither good, or evil. It should be up to the player to decide whether or not the decision is a good or bad thing to do.
The Mass Effect series attempts to change up the morality system by making good guy decisions called Paragon, and bad guy decisions labeled as Renegade. This is interesting because renegade decisions aren’t simply “bad” they’re more like mean. If you choose renegade choices then you are more of an asshole, if you choose paragon your more of like a nice guy. This only works up until a certain point though. There are decisions in the game that have you choose between which crew member lives and which dies. When you make these decisions you get renegade or paragon decisions based upon whom you choose to die. This should not be how it works. It is so frustrating to get “bad” points after you make a decision that you thought was the “right” one, the “good” one as it were.
In the end it seems as though the way choice based games should play out in the future is to explore how you feel about the choices in the game yourself. The game should base itself around the decisions you make. When you decide to kill someone who you think deserves to die, you shouldn’t be given any points based on how the game designers feel about this character, the game should work around the decisions that you’ve made throughout the entirety of the title. From there the game should respond to your decision and move forward accordingly. It shouldn’t make you good or evil, it should make you, you.