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Oolala

Morality compatibility

28 posts in this topic

How important is it for the player to be easily able to relate to the morality of the characters in a game?  If you present players with a morality that is highly incompatible with their own morality, does it end up being intriguing or does it just make a player feel uncomfortable and alienated?  Is it important to couple a radically different morality with a character that the player can identify as being an 'other'?

 

Just to create a concrete example, say a game contains a culture in which it was viewed as entirely normal to, say discard children if the parents think they've messed them up, or something equally ridiculous from the perspective of our culture.  Like anytime before the kids 5th birthday, the parents can call a do-over.  The player could be walking around a grocery story, and a kid throws a tantrum, and the parent just rolls their eyes, stick them with a syringe, and throws them in the garbage, and everyone around just looks at it as perfectly acceptable and understandable.

 

I'm assuming that this would at the very least make the player uncomfortable in the immediate sense.  Can it be expected though that the player would make an attempt to acclimate to this different morality, or will they just be revolted?  Do most players have any interest in assuming a different morality, or do players mostly hope to take their existing personality & morality and project it onto a new world?  Would it make a difference if this culture was that of a race of weird looking bug-aliens instead of people, where a player would identify it as being an okay moral code for those gross things, but not for people?

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Morale is exactly like any other part of customization you might offer the player but morale is bit stronger factor than let's say sex, height or hair color. Relating to a pink haired dwarf of different sex (as indicated by WoW) is easier than imagining themselves as an animal torturer.

 

The safe way to go is to avoid moral decisions made by character if you aren't going to offer the player any choice. Other than that it's a matter of choosing your target audience. As we know people play all kinds of games today ranging from being assassins to building their drug dealing empire to helping your neighbor and saving the human race from an intergalactic threat. Killing is everyday in games but so is completing task and quests for reward in mere experience points.

 

I think if you are going to go towards twisted morale it is important to make it sort of the point of the game and not just something that pops up in the middle of immersion. Make your intentions clear from the start and you'll reach the audience that are prepared and will enjoy stepping into villain's shoes.

Edited by ShadowFlar3
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Part of the end of that answer indicates that the player will view themselves as a villian and be viewed by a villain by the game world.  That's part of the question though:  If the player does things that they view as villainous, does the player expect to be viewed as a villain by the characters of the game?  If the game characters don't view the player as a villain for doing things that the player internally identifies with as being morally wrong, how does the player interpret that?

 

To take your example, in the games where the player is playing an assassin or a drug dealer, the player is playing the roll of an evil character, or at least an amoral character.  Nobody who plays a game like this, for example grand theft auto, thinks that they're playing a good guy in a world where it moral to steal/murder/etc..  They understand they are playing the bad guy, which is half the appeal.

 

If instead the player is playing a "good" character, and actions that line up with their expectations of a "good" character are viewed as evil by the characters in the game, does the player interpret the people in the game as evil, or does the player view it as simply that the game has a different morality and thus the player who is attempting to play a "good" character must take actions that they may feel as foreign to their own morality to be viewed by the in game characters as having succeeded in being "good".

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It might be safe to leave out morality, but also pretty boring imho :)

 

A lot of people find it interesting and fun to try roles that they would never take in real life. Like assassin, terrorist, criminal or just generally crazy person. 

 

There will always be people who have trouble with it though, and some groups are pretty vocal if they feel targeted. If you would for example make a gay basher game, or for that matter a gay promotional game and release it in russia... That's another point, it's impossible to make everybody happy, so you shouldn't even try.

Define who you want to make happy first (your target demographic)

 

Killing kids might fall in that category, of things that many might have vocal opinions about, but I'm sure you could make it work with enough context, and preparing the player that this is a game where his/her morality will be challenged.

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Funny you mentioned GTA, since i think that game is *not* about morality but doing whatever the player feels like doing, while not being obstructed by morality or realism or whatever.

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I think it depends heavily on how it's presented, but overall I think it's not something that a game developer should bet all their money on. Morality is heavily ingrained in people, especially those who make an active attempt at showing it. Personally, I don't believe in morals, because most "moral values" I know about are vague and "true just because they say so". I prefer the causality of human ethics. And the idea that kids are discarded isn't just another moral flavor, it's a core human ethic and highly unscientific and irrational. All people are good for something. They don't need to be good for more than a select few things in order to deserve life, because we almost always put out more than we get in. Especially when looking at human beings as groups and societies, and going beyond the isolated individual.

 

If anyone would find this enjoyable, it would either be because of a highly exceptional, rare set of "moral" values or in spite of their otherwise common morals (because it's a computar game fantasy and not real life).

 

You also have the macro-evolutionary problem. If parents can just euthanize their kids everytime they throw a tantrum, then a number questions arise:

 

1. When did this change of morals occur?

2. How come society hasn't become extinct yet?

3. Would there be additional rules to this moral that tells you to only dispose your kid if society has enough kids to survive?

4. Would kids' tantrum be clearly known by the kids themselves as punishable by death?

5. Do parents only dispose kids within a certain age range? (as to prevent younger kids to be disposed for don't understand the consequence of tantrums)

6. How many kids do people have, and are pregnancies common enough to physically support this moral?

 

(and so forth)

Edited by Malabyte
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There is actually a science fiction novel where a human woman is turned into a member of an amphibian race which produce vast number of tadpoles and eat them as their main meat source, because they have a strict 1 parent - 1 child restriction on how many tadpoles are allowed to survive to grow up.  That was not the most squicky thing I've ever seen, not as gross as if the babies had been humanoid, but it certainly seemed tragic and rather gross.

 

On the other hand I played a fun little card game the other day called "Kittens in a Blender".  And even more recently, a game on congregate where the main activity is beating adorable monsters to death with a nailbat.  Couldn't even tell you how many people I murdered in Skyrim.  This kind of thing makes it a bit challenging for me personally to get into/stay in a game and really relax and have fun, but it's in the normal range of game content.

Edited by sunandshadow
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You also have the macro-evolutionary problem. If parents can just euthanize their kids everytime they throw a tantrum, then a number questions arise:

 

1. When did this change of morals occur?

2. How come society hasn't become extinct yet?

3. Would there be additional rules to this moral that tells you to only dispose your kid if society has enough kids to survive?

4. Would kids' tantrum be clearly known by the kids themselves as punishable by death?

5. Do parents only dispose kids within a certain age range? (as to prevent younger kids to be disposed for don't understand the consequence of tantrums)

6. How many kids do people have, and are pregnancies common enough to physically support this moral? 

The disposable kid thing was just an example of something I figured people could relate to as pretty absurd.  Just for the sake of interest though, I'm going to take a stab at addressing your concerns.

 

Lets say it's a modern society like ours.  It is statistically very probable that a kid is going to survive well into adult-hood.  It's also easy to biologically produce children, so easy so that it just sometimes happens by accident.  However it takes a rediculously huge resource investment to bring a kid into being a fully functional and contributing adult, and that cost increases the older the kid gets, until they become self sufficient [starting at school, which is logistically complex, on to buying the kid a first car, on to supporting them through college, etc].  If you identify an early sign that indicates to you that this kid is going to be a dud, such as evidence of temper problems or psychological problems or learning disabilities or whatever, or you just goofed them up because you were a new parent and made some big mistakes, then cut your loss before the as-yet-inexpensive lame kid becomes a super-expensive lame adult.  It's easy enough to pop another kid out.  It's super difficult however to put a kid through medical school.  Consider that your trial-kid to ready you for the real thing on the next go around.

 

I'm not supporting this view point by the way, and I don't think that people should just throw their kids in the trash if they suspect that they aren't on a sufficiently positive tragectory.    I just considered it an interesting thought experiment.

 

There is actually a science fiction novel where a human woman is turned into a member of an amphibian race which produce vast number of tadpoles and eat them as their main meat source, because they have a strict 1 parent - 1 child restriction on how many tadpoles are allowed to survive to grow up.  That was not the most squicky thing I've ever seen, not as gross as if the babies had been humanoid, but it certainly seemed tragic and rather gross.

This is actually a really interesting point, and kind of one of the topics I was hoping to expore.  It revolted you a bit in the story, but you identified it as something that you would find much more revolting if it were human instead of the amphibian race.  Why do you think this is?  How was this different for you?

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In-game morality (just like real world morality) is a generalization of good/bad decisions that are usually passed on second-hand. In the real world, it is considered morally right to help another person if it doesn't put yourself out too much. If it cost you a lot, then there is no overall social gain, just a transfer, and thus it's no longer reguarded as automatically the 'right' thing to do. Or again, a starving man can steal a loaf of bread from the grocery store and face very little penalty. But a girl who shoplifts for no other reason than she doesn't wanna pay for it is considered deviant, and in need of correction.

 

Such rules of behavior can exist in a video game, and we can rightly call them morals. For example, killing anything that moves is a moral: If you don't, then you will die; moral of the story? Kill anything that moves.

 

One difference that I see between IRL morals and In-Game morals is that real-world morals often have to do with behaviors that effect other people, while most games these days are solo affairs which offer little conception of survival of the group. But there are exceptions. I've seen people in League of Legends tank a tower hit to help a squishy ally get past it.

 

But that's not a behavior I've seen in Diablo 3 or Borderlands, even though they claim to be team oriented.

Edited by AngleWyrm
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Lets say it's a modern society like ours.  It is statistically very probable that a kid is going to survive well into adult-hood.  It's also easy to biologically produce children, so easy so that it just sometimes happens by accident.  However it takes a rediculously huge resource investment to bring a kid into being a fully functional and contributing adult, and that cost increases the older the kid gets, until they become self sufficient [starting at school, which is logistically complex, on to buying the kid a first car, on to supporting them through college, etc].  If you identify an early sign that indicates to you that this kid is going to be a dud, such as evidence of temper problems or psychological problems or learning disabilities or whatever, or you just goofed them up because you were a new parent and made some big mistakes, then cut your loss before the as-yet-inexpensive lame kid becomes a super-expensive lame adult.  It's easy enough to pop another kid out.  It's super difficult however to put a kid through medical school.  Consider that your trial-kid to ready you for the real thing on the next go around.

I don't thing this is all that accurate, economically. For pregnant females and involved partners there's quite a bit of investment before a child is even born, and a pregnancy takes most of a year to carry out then at least another year to recover from enough that the body is ready to start another pregnancy. There may also be a big cost for a man who wants a child to convince a woman to bear him one, whether by hiring a surrogate or romancing a mate. For women fertility basically ends at age 40, and for both men and women the older you are the more difficult it is to take care of a needy baby or an energetic child; people tend to accumulate medical conditions that can interfere with conception as they get older too. On the other hand, parents (in the US) have no legal responsibility to provide a car, tuition, or anything to a child over 18. In this hypothetical world a child as young as 14 or maybe even 12 might survive on its own, so the costs of 'producing' a child might be considered to end sooner than you are estimating.

Let's consider me - I love children, I'm 33, I'd really like to have 2 or 3 kids before I'm too old to do so. I'm single, but theoretically I could just find a sperm donor, even if that's not what I'd ideally like to do. I have type 2 diabetes, which automatically makes any pregnancy a high-risk pregnancy, but with good medical care it's not a big risk. But medical care is expensive, raising a baby as a single parent is even more expensive, and for years I've made the depressing choice to not attempt to have a child because I simply couldn't afford to take care of it. That's an ethical judgment based on my estimation of what the quality of life would be for the child and me if I had one in my current economic circumstances. There was also a magazine article in Time just recently explaining how many people are choosing to never have children, and one of the major reasons for making this choice is the extremely high costs of raising a child, which people are considering to be not worth the quality of life decrease from sacrificing that amount of money, as well as parenting time and effort.

So, even a young child represents a huge amount of sunk costs. And even if a parent decided they didn't want their child (and the other parent, or the parent's parents, didn't want it either), that child would likely be valuable to someone else, so the parent would be way farther ahead to try to sell the child. Even giving it away would be a free shot at grandchildren compared to killing it, which doesn't seem beneficial in any way.

There is actually a science fiction novel where a human woman is turned into a member of an amphibian race which produce vast number of tadpoles and eat them as their main meat source, because they have a strict 1 parent - 1 child restriction on how many tadpoles are allowed to survive to grow up.  That was not the most squicky thing I've ever seen, not as gross as if the babies had been humanoid, but it certainly seemed tragic and rather gross.

This is actually a really interesting point, and kind of one of the topics I was hoping to expore.  It revolted you a bit in the story, but you identified it as something that you would find much more revolting if it were human instead of the amphibian race.  Why do you think this is?  How was this different for you?

Well, humans have all sort of instincts about what's gross and what is boring and what's desirable. Many humans instinctively feel affectionate toward and protective of things that trigger our "baby" pattern recognition instincts, even if those objects are actually inanimate teddy bears or dolls, or babies of another species like kittens and puppies. We even favor cars which give the impression of having a facial expression we like. Similarly, breast and buttock shapes which trigger our "yummy" pattern recognition are effective even when these curved shapes are part of a peach or plum, or an abstract heart-shape.

Tadpoles on the other hand aren't cute, they don't trigger our "baby" pattern recognition. The repulsion is intellectual but not visceral. This is the same as the idea of eating whales or octopi - they are quite intelligent, I personally think it is tragic to eat intelligent animals, but they aren't cute so we have no visceral aversion to eating them. (Although octopi may trigger a different pattern recognition instinct which inhibits people from eating them, the one for "disgusting" animals such as spiders, worms, snakes, centipedes/milipedes, and various grubs and maggots.)
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It may depend how you hide it in the game.

 

Example -- Bioshock has the Little Sisters which the player has the choice to 'harvest'   them (kill them by tearing their guts out) , but the actual violence is covered up by a green cloud of mist and the sounds of violence are largely eliminated for the child murder going on  (yes its a sorta- mutant child with glowing eyes but since it can be 'saved' as an alternative and restored to being a 'cute' child...)

 

That was in a game from 2007 with a sequel in 2010

 

 

SO the realization of actually doing the deed is clouded and hasnt the impact of showing it in even partial detail - easy for the player to pretend its virtually the same as walking over a powerup.

 

 

------

 

So anyway, if there is a differing 'morality'  then it needs to be explained/reasoned why it exists  (your example of 'offing' children actually exists (and extensively advocated) in our own world with excuses as bad as being 'inconvenient' or 'unwanted' being sufficient reason to allow it  -- yes Friends  thats right here in River City ....)

 

And yes making the object of this  immoral morality  inhuman or dehumanized will help (at least to get you past the censors) -- why do you think mass slaughter of zombies/nazis/mutants/terrorists doesnt seem to generate much hubbub for  existing games ???

 

We might see it in more detail but now its some 'other' that we hardly relate to....

Edited by wodinoneeye
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Personally, I don't believe in morals, because most "moral values" I know about are vague and "true just because they say so".

Don't touch a hot stove.

YOU CAN'T TELL ME WAT TO DO!!!1!

* burns hand one or more times until the pain response prevents further hand-burning efforts *

 

Morals aren't a source of authority, they are a shortcut, a table-of-contents entry into an encyclopedia of experiences.

Morals are a form of optimizing behavior patterns to the environment in which we exist.

 

In the Frontier days of the 1800s, there was value in breeding large families; expansion to fill the Wild West. And the Industrious Man who earned his keep through hard work was a valuable asset at that time. So the Book of Mormon, which was written at that time reflects that specific set of values. But it's frozen in time, and thus a bit out of date.

 

The world of the 2000s is full of people, and so large families are no longer as valuable as they once were. So the morals of the day are fear of sexual intimacy, homosexuality, and anything else that slows breeding.

 

Just Say No To Drugs. Smoking is Evil.

Edited by AngleWyrm
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Morals are also the basis of alot of social conventions which  simplify things and increase efficiency (which our modern world really cant exist without)

 

People like predictability (something dating back to the first realization of tides/animal migrarions/season/agriculture) because if they can get some assurance they can predict things correctly, theyn they dont have to waste as much effort maintaining versatility (countermeasures against risks) and can concentrate on things which are to their advantage (ie- more food stockpiled with a reasonable assurance someone wont simply steal it)

 

Social conventions have most people play by a set of rules which people largely agree on (or if they dont agree at least they know how things will work)

 

Morality is used to justify many of those conventions.  

 

Lack of conventions ???   Anyone who thinks that anarchy is 'cool' is someone who has no understanding of what anarchy actually is and never really experience it themselves.

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Anyone who thinks that anarchy is 'cool' is someone who has no understanding of what anarchy actually is and never really experience it themselves.

Here's two characters I've met that cause calamity and disasters everywhere they go. There's no fixing them, only avoiding them:

  1. Rebel Without A Clue, says and does the opposite of everything he hears or is told to do, and claims this makes it appear as if he's being original and interesting.
  2. Mr. Unintended Consequences, doesn't believe in all that expertise and skill nonsense. Meddles with everything in sight until it breaks, then claims 'I didn't know that would happen.' Often seen muttering to himself 'Why didn't I think of that?'

Have you seen others?

Edited by AngleWyrm
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If you want to portray an incompatible morality, I can think of 2 ways to make your players accept it:

  1. Justify it: Show players what benefit your morality brings people. In games, this is most easily done by actually giving people rewards for doing the "right thing". As far as I can tell, games with a good/evil karma meter do this by their very nature. No one would willingly choose the evil route if all the useful powers were on the good one. I would caution you, however, that the player gets a different message if following your morality is rewarding in itself, compared to having quests that require you to do "moral" things. I'm not an experienced designer, so I can't tell you whether one of those is actually better than the other, or if it's a matter of delayed gratification or what, but they are definitely different.
  2. Incorporate it into your setting: It's very very hard to show a player a completely mundane world, change something drastic, and expect them not to bat an eye. To take your example, if your game took place in a setting where institutionalized child-killing was the only thing out of the ordinary, no one could help but think "this is very wrong, and stopping it must be a goal in this game". If, in addition, you chose not to call attention to it, and never even explained why it exists, the game would increasingly alienate the player, until they could no longer take your world seriously. (If you want to be the next Kafka, this could work.) The alternative is trying to justify or at least explain it (in the narrative, gameplay or both). On the other hand, if you made it clear that the world you've created is not ours, you might be more able to get away with something like this. If the species is non-human (and to downplay the cuteness factor, as sunandshadow pointed out, non-humanoid), and if the other, non-baby-killing scruples of this species also seem strange/wrong to us, you could at least keep the alien morals from ruining immersion.

The flip-side of this -- if you don't mind being polemical, or at least having black and white morality -- is that you could make one's morals completely unjustified, or make them seem like an awkward tumor on your world.

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Relating to a pink haired dwarf of different sex (as indicated by WoW) is easier than imagining themselves as an animal torturer.

 

Flinging birds to their death, for the express purpose of killing pigs. Very popular game.

 

My point is that the poster cannot imagine himself torturing animals, while sitting at a desk discussing issues in a forum. This is another personae, a person who has a moral set very similar to what is expected in real life modern society. The person playing Birds is not the same person. The person playing birds is quite comfortable working hard to get a high score by killing pigs in imaginative ways.

 

I think that we are much better at swapping between sets of morals than we are even conscious of.

Edited by AngleWyrm
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I think that we are much better at swapping between sets of morals than we are even conscious of.

Why can't being willing to kill cartoon birds and pigs in a video game be in the same set of morals as being unwilling to do the same to real birds and pigs?

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Because people know they are ultimately just changing a few bits inside a computer and thats more akin to "killing" a pawn while playing chess and totally different from torturing a real live creature?

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That's what I meant. The two are completely different things, so it seems perfectly consistent to say both "I would play Angry Birds" and "I would never torture animals."

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Because people know they are ultimately just changing a few bits inside a computer and thats more akin to "killing" a pawn while playing chess and totally different from torturing a real live creature?

 

"it's all just pretend anyway..." Porn is just pretend, isn't it?

 

But even if we restrict our examination to video games, there's still some significant peculiarities. If it's all pretend, and we can easily sort out the real from the fiction, why then do we have problems with slaughtering women and children in video games? Why do we have to de-humanize the enemy into zombies/aliens/robots? Why can't a player enact non-consensual sex or breeding? Or possibly the oddest one of all: Why is it ok to kill someone for their weapons, ammo and health packs, but cannibalism is not ok  -- killing them to eat their flesh for nourishment?

Edited by AngleWyrm
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You put all those as if they were hard rules, but you could probably make games where you include these. It would just be stupid because you would severely constrain your audience and normally people want as much audience as possible.

There is also not a single group of "we". There are some examples of such groups:

- Of those playing games I think the majority wants fun and finds being forced to watch or even do such things not fun even though they know its not real.

- Some other people playing games similarly would know its not real and thats why they use them to try out things they would never want to do in real.

- Of people not playing games I guess the silent majority is just not interested in them and doesnt speak out.

- But sure there are some vocal people wanting to protect children(or even all people) from having to see disgusting things and thats why movies, games get labeled with an appropriate age and people producing them surely try to not loose customers by including inappropriate stuff and then being restricted to selling to a smaller group or getting bad press.

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An interesting subject Oolala. 

 

It relates well to my recent experience playing Red Dead Redemption by Rockstar Studios. Its a great game by any account, but I found its pragmatic morality to be a little disturbing. The issue I came across was in the chapter of the game when you cross the border into Mexico in search of a former outlaw compatriot that in the past you had a falling out with for some undisclosed reason. Mexico at the time period in which the game is set, was mired in a civil war between the despotic government ruled by settler aristocracy and the downtrodden indigenous peasantry. The narrative is well written and the conflict is well fleshed out by the entertaining cutscenes. There was no ambiguity involved in knowing which side which you should sympathize with and which you should support.

 

The problem being is that part of the narrative is that the outlaw the player is supposed to track down and bring to justice maybe hiding with rebels and the main character which you play needs the assistance of government soldiers to track him down.  The player has no choice but  to follow the narrative and accept missions from government officials which involve killing rebels and destroying their homes, which are justifying purely by personal expedience. In order to pursue your personal goals you have to act contrary to your personal preference.  Even when in other narrative branches you're actually helping the rebels and meet NPCs which encourage you to identify with the rebels plight and sympathize with them on a personal level. Due to the narrative, the player has absolutely no choice. This really grates on me and reduces my enjoyment of the game. 

 

I don't know if anyone else has this problem playing.

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I haven't played RDR personally, but I believe that it's a GTA-style sandbox game (it is developed by Rockstar, after all). Do you think that you would have had as much of a problem if it were more strictly linear? Also, if it were less linear and gave you a more difficult but more ethical route, would you take it?

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- Of those playing games I think the majority wants fun and finds being forced to watch or even do such things not fun even though they know its not real.
 
In Borderlands 2, about half-way through the campaign, the player is given missions that make it clear that the player is nothing more than a crude hired murderer, and the chores that he performs are brutal and unnecessary. Here's the interesting part: Did you do them anyway?
 
The one moment I remember from Fallout 3 is deciding if everyone would be better off having a friend named 'Bob.' Being presented with that choice, and what it meant for the world around me, was quite fun.
 
In The Last Of Us, the player becomes accustomed to slaughter, and that path leads to some surprises along the way. Who did you kill? But unfortunately it's presented as not optional, and only after the fact do you learn more about those you've killed. Which kinda detracts from the interest level for me.
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Social mechanism example : In Medieval Europe (and probably many other places and times) when a person commited a sufficiently heineous crime (or pattern of crime) and wasnt caught&punished , they were declared 'Outlaw'  - someone who by their actions puts themselves outside of recognizing and following the common laws.   A critical aspectg is that by putting yourself outside the law, you also negate your implied protection by the same (system of) law.  An Outlaw could be killed by any man without penalty, and anyone who helped the outlaw was subject to severe penalties (thus depriving the 'outlaw' of the society the laws make possible).   A decent repercussion/loose punishment , particularly in a world where organized lawmen were  far between.

 

How do you implement a system like that in a game?   A whole lot of behaviors supporting that system need to be created, quite general and versatile for all the things a player might do if allowed to largely 'do what they want'.   Large parts of your simulated society would have to react 'appropriately'.  You can abstract it some and subset it within the parts/aspects  of society/ecosystem the game will simulate.   We have a game industry universe where so much (still)  has to be pre-canned/heavily choreographed, and the least little AI generality is touted as a major advance (ie- Half-life, a game generation ago) due to the combinatoric explosion of appropriate handling logic (to simulate 'morality' or social conventions)  for any kind of game complexity (even trivial human simulation).  Its no wonder the game industry is largely stuck and can give us few opportunities for real (cohesive) morality decisions in the games.

 

"Sorry you cant do that"  for the least divergance will be with us for quite a while yet. 

 

Of course the OP was asking about games having 'compatible' morality and the effects of not being compatible , but do we yet even have the ability to  handle anything more than a prefabricated (staged) 'act' (the player is allowed to do) and a corresponding completely choreographed response/reaction?

 

Meanwhile 'safe' (not subject to morality based repercussions) filler is served up to keep the player busy.

Edited by wodinoneeye
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