Morality in Games: Puritan or Satan

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Morality is subjective and each person has their own interpretation, but it plays an integral role in the direction of our lives. It’s complicated, to say the least.


There are games that claim they present the user with moral dilemmas, that they force you to make difficult decisions and that those decisions affect the world around you. And this is true. There are games that offer the player decisions wherein they must choose right or wrong, but the options are extreme, often blown out of proportion and incomplete.


In Bioshock, a game that takes place in an underwater dystopia, you must decide whether to save or the Little Sisters, girls that harvest a special chemical, or kill them to take the chemical for yourself from their corpses. Basically, you have the option of cleansing them, or brutally murdering them. There is no in between.


This is the case with almost all games that offer moral choices. After you make choices between the two extremes, the game keeps a tally of good decisions versus evil ones, and this determines the way certain events play out. In fact, in most of these games even let you see your progress on some sort of spectrum between good and evil.


This standard of gaming has existed essentially since games started offering players a moral choice, and it has not evolved along with the other aspects of the gaming world.


First of all, give players a harder decision. Good or evil are not always black and white in real life, and consequences usually extend well beyond moral decisions. Some decisions that seem good turn out wrong, and some things that seem wrong turn out well. Gaming scenarios should reflect this, giving you situations that really make you think about your actions.


Next, the bar has to go. Measuring morality in one dimension is not acceptable, because morality is multi-dimensional. People aren’t just good or evil. They have layers, and a multitude of complex reasons behind their decisions. Some bad decisions are made for good reasons, and a simple bar can’t accurately represent that.


Lastly, moral choices should not exist as a gimmick. They should be the mechanism around which the game is based, because if developers wanted to put power in the hands of the gamer, they would let them make their own moral judgments instead of only offering two choices.


Obviously it is impossible to supply the necessary amount of decisions to reflect a real moral dilemma, since the possibilities in real life are limitless and your world is contained on a disk. Contained in those millions of tiny ones and zeros, though, there should be more than just two choices.


For more in-depth coverage and discussion forum about the topic visit Cameron’s blog.


By Cameron Simek

Staff Writer