The fabled Wheel of Morality – becoming more and more prevalent in recent years – is a staple of the choose your story scenario where you, the player, must become a paragon of righteousness or a renegade of destruction. An interesting feature, but it is one I’ve become bored with recently, as I will mention as I plunge into the never grey waters of gaming morality.
The underlying usage out of the morality system in games is how the world reacts to you when you show up on their doorstep, how your party members react to you, how willing they are to go with you and who you get to romance, as well as occasional cosmetic changes. What it is meant to do is give us a wider choice of how to play the game, and test the limits of what the developers think we will do morally and ethically – what it ends up doing is giving you one of two choices. One is to be the hero, save the world, get the boy/girl and feel all warm and tingly – the other is to make the ten to however long hours wasted by usurping the big bad and going through with the evil plan that we were meant to stop.
Call me old-fashioned, but surely the point of playing the hero is to…well, not blow up half the world? Occasionally games, such as the Mass Effect series, show how the morality system can work with having a protagonist that, while you would hope dies alone and unloved because they’re more abrasive than acid, still did save you, your family and your collective rears as well as one who is more or less Lawful Good and would never spill the blood of an innocent. The story feels wasted if, for all our effort in preventing the calamity, we end up egging it on with a foam finger and some popcorn.
The fun of doing evil and cruel things is rather non-existent when the game doesn’t seem to care that you’re doing it, pushing you to do more like a big kid you want to impress at that moment, but after you do the act, you wonder what the whole point of it all was. The glee that comes from riding around in a tank and shooting random people in Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row is that the game shows you there is something that will happen if you decide to cause havoc – making it feel all that sweeter when you escape and fight your way out and makes the bitterness that much more significant when we lose against the bravest police forces in gaming. Some games take it a stage further, and punish you unfairly – like Oblivion, and to a lesser extent, Skyrim – by throwing magnetised guards on you when you do something as simple as stabbing a chicken!
There is never the chance to play an anti-hero a la Deadpool – you are either the orphan saving protagonist, or puppy kicking evil person. It’s a nice feature that needs revamped to prevent the collective groans of the blue/red meter that keep track of your actions. Would a better way not be to have set pieces during the story that dramatically change the story and landscape depending on what you do? Games such as Fable, Mass Effect – games that allow you to shape a truly original character sometimes let it gel, however some games – such as all of GTA4’s choices barring the last one, Oblivion’s Ninja Guards – make you question it’s purpose. Grey is a lovely colour! Stories do not need to be in black and white.