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TechnoGoth

How to introduce moral ambiguity into a game?

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Good and evil are really abstract terms and in reality there are many shades of grey between them. What I want to do is create a way through the story that the player will be faced with many question of morality and those will impact there overall morality. Theres an old saying that says the road to hell is paved with good intentions and that something I want to included. The charcter begins good and innocent, and there task is to stop something evil. But along the way the charcaters value will change depending on the actions of the player. For instance the charcter discovers an ancient weapon could be crucial in defeating the evil. But the parts of the weapon have become one with 5 innocent people. In order to retrive the weapon the player would have to kill those five innocnet souls would trying to stop a greater evil outway the value of those peoples lives. Those are the kinds of choices the player would have to make. I guess what I''m want is advice on how to not only intruduce moral ambiguity in to the game but also how to represent the impact of those choices. ----------------------------------------------------- Writer, Programer, Cook, I''m a Jack of all Trades Current Design project Chaos Factor Design Document

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Moral ambiguity is very difficult to write into a game, as you have to try to get the player to feel the pain and confusion of the characters involved. However, gaming seems to have put people into a more "lets see what happens if" stance. Because it isn''t actually happening to the player, there is a sense of detachment.

It would also help if the player could relate to the character. This is where many people believe Half-Life succeeded in its gameplay, Gordon Freeman was a regular person in the real world who was simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Contrast that with, for instance, most RPGs where the world is usually one of outlandish magic and abominable creatures. Theres nothing to relate to.

There is, however, the exception of certain aspects of the Final Fantasy series, where people were actually saddened by the deaths of certain characters. This shows the need for rich characters with histories that are well developed. People need to either be able to relate to the characters, or if they can''t, they need to believe in them. Thats the first step to a morally ambigious scenario.


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tough call...

i''d go with it, games that play with your emotions are fun.

however, most of the events should be random.
Replay value for games is very important, and not very many people who would play the game again would feel the same way they did before.

Maybe some interaction with other characters would help alleviate that, like asking questions - "What should we do, ? " and change what events the player will be able or need to do based on their answers.

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Well one way to represent it to the player would be something like ''the portrait of dorian grey'' where the person looks like the sum of their moral choices. I wouldn''t do this literally - too heavy-handed, but maybe with elemental colors, eg people who always make angry choices become more red elemental, people who always make cold-hearted choices become more yellow or black elemental, people who always make bleeding-heart choices become more blue elemental, etc.

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Moral ambiguity can be portrayed through use of character action or reaction. What can be done is that the clear moral dilemma is demonstrated (or exposited) actively or visually, and the reaction of the character is delayed (the scene where the emporer tries to tempt Luke Skywalker over to the dark side in "The Empire Strikes Back" is a great example of this) while not choosing one way or another to react while contemplating the choice.

Using the above example, by listening closely to the dialogue of the Emporer, every button the emporer can push: futility, hopelessness, resignation to one's fate, fait accompli, foregone conclusion, personal miscalculation, tragic loss, impending doom, and probably much more, are all articulated by the emporer while Luke watches seeminly powerlessly, while the fleet is being hammered and the team on the forest moon of Endor is in trouble, and seemingly unable to bring down the shield surrounding the Empire battle station.

It's actually very subtly written, as you listen, for the emporer simply says almost the same phrase over and over, just slightly rephrased, as the music in the background (and you should use this as well in your game, for music moves movies and can move games because of mood evocation) foreshadows deeper and deeper forlornness of Luke's dilemma.

It is not until he chooses to take up the light sabre is the moral ambiguity paced behind the action through line, but for several minutes of screen time, moral ambiguity was foremost in the dramatic dilemma, and everyone is one the edge of their seats during this entire time we are suspended, along with Luke in our character empathy, in the moral dilemma as well. For taking up the light sabre is contrary to every warning Yoda and Obi Wan has given Luke.

So, dilemma can be suspended by not showing the choice too quickly. At other times, that is not appropriate, but this is one technique you can use to display the ambiguity a character or avatar faces when making a choice in a moral dilemma ending the ambiguity. Once the decision is made one way or another, it will predicate many decisions subsequently like a line of dominoes, but by not knocking over that first one so rapidly as the player or audience might wish is the method to this technique and approach.

HTH,

Adventuredesign



[edited by - adventuredesign on October 9, 2003 1:20:08 AM]

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