Sign in to follow this  
CIJolly

Dealing with more complex moral decisions in games.

Recommended Posts

I really like the idea of giving the player choices in game. Most games that I've played seem to give the player choices in terms of gameplay options (sneaky, combat, how will I tool out my character, etc) or choices about who to side with and what direction the story will take. However, story choices seem to be almost exclusively good and evil, and most of the time it is good for good's sake and evil for evil's sake. In real life things are much more complicated than that. As in the abortion debate, the against side thinks the for side is wrong for "killing babies" and the for side thinks the against side is wrong for taking "taking away the woman's rights". Each side in a military conflict will think the other is "evil" or "bad". Pro GE campaigners point to the potential benefits, while dissenters point out the risks. Now is where my problem comes up: how do you present these more realistic and less arbitrary moral choices in a computer game? If you give the player more taxing moral choices, how do you then decide what the consequences of those actions will be? For example, the player could decide to release a GE anti-fertility virus on a pest species to humanely wipe them out. The possible consequences are either everything going well and the forest being saved, or the virus mutating and sterilising native species. Which one should the game use as the consequence of unleashing the virus? If I just go with my views, then the game becomes propaganda of a sort. Another example is the abortion debate. If the player is a doctor deciding whether or not to perform the operation. A conservative player might deny the woman the operation. This could lead to the baby being happily raised or adopted out, or the woman commiting suicide or attempting to abort the baby herself. Do you always show the happy ending? Always the sad ending? The ending that agrees with your own point of view? Perhaps make it quite clear what the outcomes and risks of any choices the player makes are, and see how that affects their decisions, letting them live with the consequences of their actions? Or imply that in most things the extreme opinions are devisive and often unhelpful, and that compromise and weighed judgements are the most helpful? The way that most games have gone so far is to make the villian obviously evil by doing things that are widely seen as bad (stealing, murder, slavery, trickery, etc), and either guide the player towards being a good guy, or let him be humourously evil. Or to choose between fictional sides in a conflict (sciences vs magic, for example). These are just a few of the problems I've run into while trying to write a game with more complex decisions in it. I'd love to hear about different ways to present moral choices to the player, or more interesting story decisions than good versus evil. [Edited by - CIJolly on June 9, 2006 7:38:02 PM]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Personally, i think you expose the greyness of the choice with a greyness of result. You release the plague, some good things happen, some horrible things happen. Take Oblivion. While not the type of deep moral decision you're talking about you can opt to become a vampire: you can no longer walk around during the day (easily), but you gain lots of power.

Practically speaking, the result is going to be dictated by story/campaign/game-style. How much time do you have to develop all the possible grey outcomes; do any but one outcome make sense to the story; etc...

-me

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
All stories, and thus all story-based games, are propaganda of a sort. It is impossible to objectively show the player the 'consequences of their actions' because in reality the consequences are semi-random (like your example of how permitting or denying abortion could turn out good or bad no matter which choice was made.)

So I would say, stories are inherently didactic. You can show somebody doing whatever you define as 'the right thing' and getting rewarded, or you can show somebody somebody doing whatever you define as 'the wrong thing' and getting punished, but if you just lay out all the choices without any moral evaluation, that's not a story.

Xenallure certainly attempts to present moral decisions to the player. 4 cultures are described; none is a utopia or a dystopia, each is good for some of its members to live in but makes the ones who don't fit suffer. 10 characters each have their own problems which the player can try to push in one direction or the other, but I as the writer have to decide what the results of the pushing will be, and I decided to give each character one good and one bad possible ending. The complexity comes in the player trying to balance his/her actions such that all characters get a good ending, because helping one often alienates another. That's certainly not the only way to do it, but that's the way I decided would be best for a single-player RPG.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You choose the ending that is most consistent with the world you've created, and the story you're trying to tell.

That is not necessarily a binary happy/sad decision, but as sunandshadow said, stories are inherently didactic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The other answer is to make the out come a coin flip. Take the abortion question, the players makes their choice and the get a positive outcome this time the next time the question comes up they may get a second positive answer or a negative answer. If they get a negative answer do they change their response the next time the question comes up?

Allow for either outcome to be awarded and possible based "points" on whether they stick to their beliefs or not or learn from their mistakes and not on the actual out come of the immediate decision. Award point for making the tough call and sticking to with it even if things don't always turn out as you thought it would.

As you said in real life they mother and child may go on to a happy life of misery and for most of the time it's not based on that single decision but a calculative effect of all previous decisions.


Not sure I made sense with that, if not I'll try again :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I think many moral issues don't even have an either good/bad outcome, that's why they're moral issues in the first place.
For example, say you speak with a sheep herder complaining that his sheep get killed by a pack of wolves that roams the neighbourhood. He, on behalf of all herders in this settlement, ask you to kill the wolves so their stock will survive until winter.
If you agree to do so, you will enrage all the druids in the neighbourhood, who love nature and thus the wolves. By not killing the pack, lots of the sheep in the village will not survive, and the villagers will probably starve. So, what do you choose?

By having your NPCs have contrasting opinions, you don't need to impose good/bad decisions on the player. Your NPCs will do that for you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this