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RPGWatch Forums » Comments » News Comments » Puresophistry - Why a “Moral Choice” in Gaming Is Awful

Default Puresophistry - Why a “Moral Choice” in Gaming Is Awful

April 18th, 2013, 18:16
Originally Posted by blatantninja View Post
But do people really want to deal with the same stuff they deal with in real life? Games are an escape from our real lives. I enjoy having to make a decision in a game, but I generally don't like having to really agonize over it. I do enough of that in my normal life between family and work. The decisions in games shouldn't stress you out, IMO.
I like plausible and well written characters in my games and that usually involves gray area.
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April 18th, 2013, 19:05
I agree to most of you who don't like the article and I also think that his "solution" to bad implementation is really bad.

I love to make choice in RPGs and I think there are several ways to do it. And people have different preferences to what they like.

In Dragon Age 1 they had tons of choices. But it somewhat felt like it was too "set up". I remember the situation where you could chose to use black magic and sacrifice the mother who volunteered for that - or make the trip to the mages tower. The problem is, that in this moment you think about how this game handles choices and it's mostly a good and a bad choice. And as they will probably will not implement two branches for the "go to the mages"-decision it will probably be the good choice. But I tried to decide how >I< would decice in this very situation without thinking about game mechanics. And I chose to use black magic. Because the risk of failure due to the long way to the mages guild was too high.
I think the developers should make it more open, maybe even more branched out. The problem is that the more branched out it is, the more work is invested in stuff only few people will ever see.

But I also like the very different approach The Witcher 1 took. In this game you made several decisions. There often were gray but you did not see the impact immediatly. Instead, you saw the influence of your decisions like 5h later. So it is no more "shit, I need to reload because the other decision would have been better for the world". You have to think about the impact beforehand (though it was hardly possible to predict the outcome of the decisions).

A very bad job was done by Skyrim imho. But in there you had smaller decisions within quests. Skyrim however did not show you the options and was inconsistent.
If I take a quest in such an open game like "to steal something", I want to have the option to turn the questgiver in. However in skyrim some quests didn't offer this moral decision, so every time you wonder "if I take this quest, will I be able to do it, or will it be stuck in my quest journal forever?". Skyrim did also a very bad job to show your options. A very good example was when being recruited by the assasins guild. How should you know that in this very situation you are able to kill the questgiver as a solution for the quest while in every other part of the game these are invulnerable and it will get you killed? Imho that was really bad design at multiple occasions.

But however you implement it, it would be worst to not implement them at all. I hardly remember the story of Dragon Age, Witcher or Mass Effect 2. But what I remember very vividly are lots of the small decisions I made and this is the stuff I still talk about today.
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April 18th, 2013, 19:28
The first Mass Effect handled this well. There were a lot of choices between two (or three) things that all had good & bad aspects to them. And the results were also both good and bad. But you were allowed to make choices according to your own morality, and the results reflected the moral choice you made.

I think the results of choices should be somewhat predictable. If later in the game it is revealed that your good choice resulted in bad things. Well, it has shock value. But it's no more a moral choice that affected the story, it was more like a question of random luck.

A proper way to have these choices is to create a logical scenario where all avaliable options are considered, and you are left with:

Choose A), and this good and this bad thing happens.

Choose B), and this good and this bad thing happens.

Choose C), and this good and this bad things happens.

…The events in the game should then reflect your choice. The good and the bad thing happens, accordingly to your choice. No surprise results, because the dilute the meaning of your moral choice. If it's all gonna be just random luck, it was a waste of time to make the choice in the first place.

That doesn't mean there can't be any surprise consequences later on, but they have to naturally grow from the choice you made. You knew certain bad things were gonna happen, you just didn't know exactly what.

This kind of approach makes the moral choice meaningful, and satisfying.
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April 18th, 2013, 20:55
Originally Posted by txa1265 View Post
The thing we all realize is that branching is $$$ - no reason to assume that in a seriously branched games you could have towns or even worlds certain players would never see. And depending on how the dominant path runs, that could mean as much as several % of resources were spent developing something the vast majority of gamers never see - which is a real issue for project management (i.e. not just for the 'bean counters')
Definitively part of the issue but not only.

Developpers can barely deliver on a romance properly. Morality imposes a moral framework, not simply taking decisions as it pleases the player.

Very often, in order to fill in for the tremedous task of providing a contextual framework so that the morality set makes sense in the gaming universe, the developpers choose to substitute the PC's morality with the (supposed) player's moral set.

It removes the necessity of providing a contextual framework.

The PC's decisions are moral, not because the gameworld context point them as moral but because the player consider them as the moral things to do.

Hence developpers do not design a world which has its own morality. It imports the morality they think players have.

Much cheaper, much less complex and a total illusion.
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April 18th, 2013, 20:59
Originally Posted by Nameless one View Post
I like plausible and well written characters in my games and that usually involves gray area.
Agreed. There does need to be SOME gray area I think.

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April 18th, 2013, 21:46
Dragon age orgins had some intresting moral choises. The best example is in my opinion the whole Orzammar situation. Who should be the next king?

-First option is Harrowmont who seems like a wise and noble character, much like your typical grandfather figure. He radiates charisma and seems quite friendly towards your party. He openly upholds sacred dwarven traditions which seems like a good thing at first. And if you played the dwarven noble storyline you have knowledge that he was a close friend&supporter of your father, the murdered king.

Sadly he isn't much of king material. Under his reign Orzammar will isolate itself further from the rest of the world. He will never fully win assembly's support. Thus he ends up making bunch of poor compromises with bickering noble houses. Bhalen's rebellion also continues strong throughout his reign. Harrowmont turns out to be quite a conservative too and under his reign castless people truly suffer as many discriminating laws are passed.

-Then we have Bhalen who is truly a prick and ruthless person. If you played the dwarven noble storyline, you'll have a personal reason to hate Bhalen.

Yet the guy has decent ideas how to change the society for the better. Like removing castes and improving the life of castless people. He has plans to expand the orzammar's influence and make contact with other dwarven settlements. He doesn't hold grudge against surface dwarves or other races. He think's that everyone should have the chance to become successfull if he or she has such capability. At the end of day choosing him to be the next king is quite beneficial to dwarven race.

I admit that the first time I chose Harrowmont, but as I was watching the epilogue I realized how wrong I was. I solely based my decision on the first impression I had about harrowmont. If I had truly looked around, I'd have seen signs of Harrowmont's failure beforehand.
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April 18th, 2013, 21:50
I prefer games that simply implement realistic and plausible choices. That means they should never WANT to preach morality - as indeed morality is a subjective concept that will ALWAYS differ from person to person.

They should create a scenario that would carry out based on your choices in as plausible a fashion as possible.

Don't ever worry about giving players an advantage by doing something - good or bad. Just as long as it's plausible and doesn't entirely break the game.

In fact, I'd argue that if the player got a BIG advantage out of doing something really unpleasant - it would have the potential to be much more disturbing than a smaller advantage.

The player would then have to come to terms with being so pleased after such an act.
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April 18th, 2013, 22:51
Granted, most (moral) choices in games that I have encountered were badly done. I remember throwing literally my copy of DA:O into a corner after facing the choice of drinking that poison to become a warder, or …well… drinking that poison to become a warder. Never looked back.
If developers decided to simply withhold choices if they felt they could not do them well enough, there will never be better choices in games, as failure is required for progress.
I like my choices murky, final and prone to come back and bite you in the ass further down the road. Of course I'll hate them, too, but if done well, I'll hate my choices but not the game.
Nothing alienates me more in a story, immersion-based game than gamey-ness. I don't want any transparency regarding the consequences beyond what is available to me within the game's narrative in order to "optimize" my choice. I have chess for that, dammit!
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April 18th, 2013, 23:28
Originally Posted by Moorkh View Post
I remember throwing literally my copy of DA:O into a corner after facing the choice of drinking that poison to become a warder, or …well… drinking that poison to become a warder. Never looked back.
Yeah, I remember in Fallout New Vegas - in the opening to return the chip to Benny or attempt escape (and get shot). Never looked back. Apparently I missed out on a great 200hr game, but with fake choices like that, I'm not interested.

I remember in Neverwinter Nights being given the choice to cure the plague or not (could not proceed the game). Uninstalled 4 minutes into Act 1, never looked back.

Or that awful choice in Mass Effect on whether I wanted to join Cerberus. Again, nothing. Uninstalled with no regrets.
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April 18th, 2013, 23:42
Most examples mentioned here didn't bother me too much, but that Cerberus thing really frustrated me. Wow that was bad. ME2 has some really good stuff in the middle, but a few scenes almost ruin the whole game.
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April 18th, 2013, 23:49
Originally Posted by Gaxkang View Post
Yeah, I remember in Fallout New Vegas - in the opening to return the chip to Benny or attempt escape (and get shot). Never looked back. Apparently I missed out on a great 200hr game, but with fake choices like that, I'm not interested.

I remember in Neverwinter Nights being given the choice to cure the plague or not (could not proceed the game). Uninstalled 4 minutes into Act 1, never looked back.

Or that awful choice in Mass Effect on whether I wanted to join Cerberus. Again, nothing. Uninstalled with no regrets.
What *do* you play? You're eliminating a lot of games.
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April 19th, 2013, 01:58
Great article IMO. I can't stand "moral choices" in games and I don't see why others think they're to be striven for in design. The articles points out hte very flaws about how they get implemented. When I play games I approach them as a puzzle to be solved.

Consequences for your actions is something entirely different.

Developer of The Wizard's Grave Android game. Discussion Thread:
http://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22520
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April 19th, 2013, 02:37
I think stark moral choice are great if they're appropriate to the game. They fit better in the Star Wars universe with its bisected world. It could be treated with better motivation for the Dark side than just 'fun to be evil', but it's still a binary question of "do you want to go this way or go that way?". Ultima IV is also the right place to do it. The game is essentially a morality play and I like and appreciate its mechanical charm just as I might appreciate the straightforwardness of enlightenment thinking with its clockwork precision, symmetrical gardens, well-timed baroque music, classic physical mechanics, and, well, focus on virtue.
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April 19th, 2013, 03:01
U4 is a unique example. The Gypsy Character Class system was good because it does affect the rest of the game (until you become Avatar - the ubermensch), however there was no way to play Evilavatar. It was a choice whether to be moral as opposed amoral which is pretty much how everyone played D&D back then. How many parties were you in that had paladins, thieves, and assassins? Stealing the blind woman's reagents had consequences - so you didn't do it.

The system's only only downfall is that it was a "work salvation". But the game wasn't a dilemma at all - the goal was to have the player aspire to the 8 virtues and the only dilemma was the temptation of playing like you did all previous games.

Developer of The Wizard's Grave Android game. Discussion Thread:
http://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22520
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April 19th, 2013, 04:51
So essentially his only argument against moral choices is, that they can be implemented badly? But isn't that the risk with EVERY game system?

I find this one of THE most absurd (and dangerous) ideas I have read in 30 years being a gamer now. Ever since I played Ultima (the RPG series) I knew that moral choices and moral dilemmas the THE most important element, at least in RPGs, but in every game where the gamer is player a character of sorts and through and sort of story.

The man simply mistakes computer games with books. A computer game is per se an internactive medium, so interaction is implied and not passive consumption. If I am supposed to interact, isn't it logical, that I want consequences from my doings? That means, choices? If whatever I do makes no difference, why even play a computer game and not watch a movie or read a book?

Sorry, but this article is by far the biggest nonsense I had read in a long time. Let's hope it quickly passes where it belongs: into oblivion.
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April 19th, 2013, 07:13
I wonder if maybe subtlety isn't part of the problem as well. Its sort of like the first games to feature facial expression on 3D characters. The expressions were all highly exaggerated so you would notice them.

It almost seems a little condescending… "Hey we put all this time and effort into this thing, but we're worried you philistines won't notice, so we're gonna beat you about the head and face so you realize how awesome this is."
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April 19th, 2013, 20:48
I don't see why a choice in a game should be "recognisable as a moral choice". Choices you make in real life sure as hell aren't labeled as moral choices. If you are a moral person, you will likely follow your moral code and make whatever choice is right for you in any situation that tickles your moral sense. If you aren't so concerned about being moral all the time, you would make whatever choice would be most beneficial to you (or alternatively most entertaining, if you don't give a crap).

I just want choices. Choices that would make sense in the situation. I liked choices the way they were implementet in The Witcher games. From what I remember (anyway), I felt like I was doing just that, making choices (and facing the consequences), and not being tested on my moral.

Sometimes there is a dicky, I mean morally dubious, way of solving a problem, other times there would just be different ways of solving a situation. I want to be free to make whatever choice I want. To qoute a line from that article snippet:

"The result is either unrealistic choices, that are often laughably exaggerated, or similar ones where it’s not evident which is correct" (my emphasis).

Sure, some times social norms would dictate that one choice is the correct one to make, and choosing the other would make people see you as an ass, but hey, if I want to be an asshole, I want that to be a viable option.

I'm just rambling here. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't get all this talk about "moral choices", or why one should make such a big deal about putting you in a situation in which you can't possibly miss the fact that you have a "moral choice" in front of you. I would much rather want such situations to arise when I am facing a choice that awakens my own moral code, but I guess that would get a bit difficult to implement in a game. Or not necessarily, NPCs would obviously react to my choices whatever way they are programmed to do. Sometimes my moral may be in conflict with that of others. I may make I choice that I feel good about, while others may disagree. If the NPC's disagree, thats okay if any choice is viable.

I just don't want a game to start preaching, and punish me for making certain choices, typically by locking out content, or keeping me from progressing in a game. I don't want there to be a choice I'm supposed to make - a correct choice - in order to progress (I don't want to be forced to follow the moral code of the developers). It removes the whole point of choices. If I want to be an asshole, that's my business.

That got long. Sorry about that.
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