Whenever I step in to the boots of someone else in a role-playing game that asks for my moral input at various stages, I always try and deal with the conundrums how I imagine I would if I was there, only with less breaking down and crying in the corner. Then again, thankfully I don’t ever imagine I will have to choose whether to save my friends or a church full of people from getting murdered so I should be okay.
It does mean though that to some extent I usually only play one half of these decision pushing games. I always pick the nice path that tries for the best outcome. I never harvested little sisters, I set them free, I’ve helped spaceships out of trouble, instead of sadistically watching their demise, and I didn’t blow up Megaton, I shot the shady character in the face and defiled his corpse with bullets. As you can see, I’m the nice guy.
I want this to change, at least once. I want to see what it is like on the other side of the tracks, I want to steal sweets from children, I want to make old ladies hold doors open for me! With this in mind I tepidly went in to Mass Effect, which I picked up for the price of a pint during the Steam holiday sales.
I created my character as being the ruthless soldier, raised in the military who sent wave after wave of his own men to their deaths to get the job done. That sounded nice and hard man-ish. I then walked around and was rather brief and unpleasant with everyone before being sent down to a planet to shoot things.
That’s about as far as I am at the moment, or rather, as not far as I am, but I do intend to keep going through. I must admit though, I am fighting with myself over this a bit. Is walking around being mean and dismissive to everyone just being counter-productive?
I can understand it in games such as Black and White, where it is genuinely funny to become evil and raise a creature that devours villagers, throws trees at people for fun and demolishes their homes in a heavy shower of faecal matter. However, are morality systems in some games just tacked on to change the story and have very little affect on the simple gameplay mechanics?
I suppose it is a very difficult thing to balance when designing a game but I feel that good/bad pathways should do a bit more than just play a different cutscene when everything is over. I was a bit disappointed that Bioshock didn’t make more of its morality system. Whether you were nasty or nice, at the end of the day you still pretty much ended up with the same resources and just a different video conclusion. It would have been nice for a bit more impact, like possibly more animosity from the Big Daddies if you ran around, ripping the parasites out of the chests of the small girls they were assigned to protect?
In my opinion, moral decision making in games is still in its infancy and there are probably a lot of exciting things still to come. I will admit now that I am not the biggest RPG player in the world, so I might have overlooked things a bit, but harsher outcomes on your moral decisions would definitely be welcomed by me.
Alpha Protocol is looking quite promising in the way that you can choose whether to be a sleuth James Bond or an angry Jack Bauer type. Your play style and actions are meant to affect a lot on the way through, like the presence of guards in certain areas if you were caught doing something naughty on a previous level. I just hope it offers a bit more than the vanilla good and bad. Anyway, back to Mass Effect.