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Wavinator

The Path to the Dark Side

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Games rarely let us play the badguy, and it occurs to me that the reason may be more than just tradition. Sure, there are games filled with killable objects that resemble people, hip anti-authoritarian activity, even a few that mimic torture. But does that really capture the pure essence of the dark side? It seems to me no. To give a player the option to be evil, you need two things: a moral context, and enforced variety. Those games that allow you to mow down a marching band or run over pedestrians over and over again end up being puerile because the world does not appropriately react and repetition makes the horrific comedic. What's missing, I think, is a world that responds with outrage and various forms of commensurate justice. Killing an entire town or gunning down the police force merits more than the loss of stats or equipment or temporarily upping the law level, and I think takes a game into territory where gameplay can't go. Or can it? Would you play a game where you knew that if you harmed certain people, you'd forever alter your relation to the world? If you poisoned the king, for instance, the kingdom would not stop hunting you, and poisoning other kings would be much harder. And what about less overt forms of evil? Would you play a role that allowed you to destroy true love, causing the hero to strangle his beloved, then commit suicide (Iago in Othello)? And as a player, if the path to the darkside became less overt and melodramatically villainous, say from (the somehow now socially acceptable) shooting of cops to seeing the blight, suffering and decay left in the wake of your criminal enterprises (weeping orphans huddled on doorsteps), how would you react? As a player, I think personally the more nuanced the world and my options, the more I'd be squeemish. As a designer, knowing the material bore my name, I might even be ashamed. Other than comical evil, or a world filled with ciphers (not drugs, "performance enhancements"), I'm not sure I know a way around this or if there even should be. Then again, I could be alone on this. Thoughts?

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I would really like to play a game that lets you between good and a "darker path" but emphasis on "darker path" and not over the top cartoonish super villain that if in a fantasy setting must have at lest one piece of armour made from bone or demon horn helmet and villainy should be more than killing things for no reason that didn't attack me for no reason first.

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In the real world, the dark side isn't wise as a strategy for personal gain. And speaking with pure opinion, it's not very fun in games. It's most often meant to be a shortcut through challenge and opposition to get the reward, where challenge and opposition are the very reasons that I play games. I believe that bringing the consequences of evil actions closer to reality will simply make it less attractive.

Evil fits best in less sophisticated fiction.

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Original post by Kest
Evil fits best in less sophisticated fiction.


Tolkien is less sophisticated fiction? As far as I remember from the Lord of the Rings, Sauron had no reason to do what he did, other than world domination. Most games that have evil in also state a similar 'reason'. However, I do agree that there needs to be a deeper reason than the PC being a psychotic sadist who, if in today's society, would probably be arrested and put into mental health care. After all, what's the point of playing as the good side if evil is so much easier? Good and Evil should really be equally challenging.

A good example of this, in my opinion, is Black & White. You could play as an evil dictator, but your villagers would face hard times due to your lack of care. On the other hand, your destructive powers were unrivalled if you chose the evil path because you could sacrifice many people to power your spells and not worry about missing out on villager happiness - they were already depressed and unhappy. In fact, about the only use for people in the evil ideam were as fuel, baby makers, and slaves. I loved playing as an evil god.

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Original post by Delphinus
Tolkien is less sophisticated fiction?

Well, yes. For an example, it's difficult to understand the motivation behind Sauron's army. Each soldier knows Sauron couldn't care less about their individual well-being or quality of life. Sauron can grow troops. After a soldier has fulfilled his purpose, he would most likely be killed or thrown away like a useless tool. If I was an orc, I would seriously consider switching sides.

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As far as I remember from the Lord of the Rings, Sauron had no reason to do what he did, other than world domination.

World domination is a great goal. It's evil as a strategy to obtain it that's flawed. If you really want to rule the world, you need to be slightly less evil about it. Otherwise, heroes, elves, and wizards will raise armies to destroy you. And unless you're immortal, you should be just as distrustful of your second in command as your most hated enemy, because evil leaves no room for trust.

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After all, what's the point of playing as the good side if evil is so much easier? Good and Evil should really be equally challenging.

What's the point of playing on the evil side if it's just as difficult as the good? Evil exists purely for the reason of cutting out the challenge. Otherwise, it's just psychotic and meaningless. Anything that can be obtained through evil can be obtained through tenacious fortitude. It's a shortcut, and one that doesn't pay much mind to future consequences. I suppose that means evil actually is equally challenging, in the long run. It's just not the kind of challenge that I enjoy.

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Thank you Kest. I was a little distracted by other things when I read your post, and that, combined with my mild love of Lord of the Rings, meant that I posted a little illogically. Thanks for breaking my delusions about Tolkien. (I'm not being sarcastic).

To write what I should have written before: a selfish or 'evil' motive does not necessarily lead to an 'evil' method. Only the lunatic is evil for the sake of evil (in real life), and the consequences are far from fun. Blood is a terrible thing to get on your hands; it tends to stain. More often, they have intentions which may or may not seem 'good' to society in general, but make complete sense to them. Let us take, for example, the character of Mithos Yggdrassil from Tales of Symphonia (if you haven't played it and want to, then spoilers abound). His sole purpose in the time period that the game takes place is to resurrect his dead sister; evil much? Who wouldn't want to bring back a lost sibling? (That's probably a totally illogical rhetorical question, as I'm sure that there's plenty of siblings who despise one another.) My point is, while the ultimate intention may be evil, the method may not be. I can think of countless a politician who have never committed a crime in their life; yet their motives often revolve around the securing of power or wealth. This is the precise opposite to Mithos Yggdrassil - their motives are evil, yet their methods are good.

Obviously we cannot tell what a player's motive is, but their motives can be entirely different to their means. The failure to recognise this except in the umbiquitous (especially in RPGs) antihero is a failure on behalf of the designers of that game.

To simplify my pompous waffle - the OP's idea is great, but we must remember that that motive doth not the method make.

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I think, overall, I would much rather play a villain based off of a story, book, movie, etc, because then I don't feel like I need to have reason to do the same things they do in the tale. I would also be evil in an MMORPG, since that would directly affect other players, and so I get the "reputation" that you talk about, amongst real players who can adapt.

But in a single player game, unless the AI is superb, the world won't ever reach the level of hating you properly. Sometimes they should hunt you or hate you more actively than they do, but sometimes some villagers may be programmed to be overzealous, when they shouldn't have any real reason beyond patriotism to hate the main character.

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Original post by Delphinus
More often, they have intentions which may or may not seem 'good' to society in general, but make complete sense to them.

Like a vampire? A vampire's motivation is simply survival, which is entirely free from evil with an objective perspective. It makes humans and vampires natural enemies, with plenty of motivation to suppress the opposing force on both sides, but there is no real evil involved.

Quote:
Let us take, for example, the character of Mithos Yggdrassil from Tales of Symphonia (if you haven't played it and want to, then spoilers abound). His sole purpose in the time period that the game takes place is to resurrect his dead sister; evil much? Who wouldn't want to bring back a lost sibling?

Resurrection of the dead isn't evil in itself, is it? Perhaps if he needed to sacrifice other innocent people to do it, it would become evil.

I actually didn't consider the simple fact that you could create fictional rules to promote some evil into making sense. For a common game example, what if the only way you could resurrect one of your fallen experienced warriors was to sacrifice other innocent lives? Sacrificing the lives may lead to trouble, but so does losing the experienced warrior.

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Originally posted by Wavinator
Games rarely let us play the badguy, and it occurs to me that the reason may be more than just tradition. Sure, there are games filled with killable objects that resemble people, hip anti-authoritarian activity, even a few that mimic torture. But does that really capture the pure essence of the dark side?


Well, I think that if you were to make evil more realistic, its fun would go out the window. I know that I myself would become sick (physically and emotionally) and stop playing if I were to find out that something I did for devious fun in the gameworld (such as mastering the challenge of stealing something, or killing someone you thought was annoying) started to have more realistic effects and repercussions.

I remember a game called Postal that allowed you to do just that, mow down a marching band for horror-comedy, but then as people actually started whimpering and begging for me not to kill them, I dropped what I was doing and uninstalled the game demo. I guess this is just personal thresholds, then again I could never stand watching most horror movies.

This could serve for educational purposes however, to frame evil as not so fun so to teach players about the impact of doing evil deeds in real life. I remember there was a case in the US about a guy who shot some policemen and when he was captured, he said that he learned all he knew from GTA. You could say that evil-doers would do evil regardless of what shows, games, or etc he watched/played in his daily life; however, I would say that if games could be that extra persuading force in deciding a person's decisions, then it should.

But then again, this would then make games all preachy rather than something you'd use to blow off some steam or stress at the end of the day. Sometimes it is just fun and entertaining to kill a bunch of virtual people without realistic consequences. But I believe that if you are going to do that, then make your game be about the killing of soldiers, monsters, or robots rather than civilians, because once you start placing the same effects of killing a soldier or monster on a civilian, then the game does not portray moral reality correctly especially if the game claims to be more realistic (or even if the game looks realistic), and may start causing some controversy.

So then I guess I do agree, that if a game wants to allow the player explore evil options in a game, then it should portray its consequences more realistically. Make it physically realistic (gameworld authorities making it more and more difficult, eventually impossible, for you to continue playing the game) as well as more emotionally realistic (reactions of the NPCs to whom you affected) so that it becomes more difficult to do evil deeds, if not completely impossible to continue playing the game after you've done a number of evil deeds. An example of this I would like to bring up Ultima Online's town guards - they have infinite health, instant-kill, and become summoned instantly if you start attacking innocent PCs or NPCs in town.

A game like GTA however, where the goal of the game is to be a criminal, as you keep killing innocents and gain wanted stars the authorities increase in their ways to stop you (eventually using choppers and tanks). What I think is missing from here is the reactions of the NPCs to whom their lives you have affected (the emotional parts). And like you said, this could definitely make players revise their strategies so that they would factor in both physical and emotional consequences of their actions, not just the physical parts. It would then be a lot more real. You might have a lot of Robin Hood-type playing styles emerge (you know, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor). You might have a lot more vigilantes emerge. When you factor in the emotional, it becomes more real, and less controversial.

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