The ability to make moral choices has been one feature that has been getting more and more popular in video games, especially RPGs, today. Games like Fallout, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Alpha Protocol ally rely on the moral choices made by the player throughout the game. While many gamers love this feature, it’s one that I absolutely hate. In my opinion, having to make moral choices makes the game less fun overall. Here are the three biggest reasons why:
1) The first reason moral choices in games suck is because you end up missing stuff. Many games, for example, have the story unfold based on the choices you have made. Thus you miss out on seeing parts of the story that could have taken place had you made different choices. Interactions with NPCs can change based on how you act and some games even lock or unlock certain quests based on your alignment (i.e. evil or good only quests).
One great example of missing something based on your choices is how you completed “The Replicated Man” quest in Fallout 3. If you decide to help the android Harkness, you get one of the most powerful weapons in the game called A3-21’s Plasma Rifle. If you help Dr. Zimmer on the other hand, you get the Wired Reflexes perk. Once you make your choice, you can never get the other reward (unless you use a glitch that allows you to obtain both) so you’re missing out on something in the game. That kind of sucks.
Furthermore, you don’t really know what you’re going to be rewarded with based on your decision until after you make it. It doesn’t tell you the reward beforehand. This forced me to go online and look up the consequences of this choice so that I could make sure I got the better reward. After all, I didn’t want to miss one of the best guns in the game! But doesn’t this kind of defeat the whole purpose of having a moral choice to begin with?
2) Another reason I hate moral choices in games is because the consequences of your actions are often blown way out of proportion. When playing through a game that has moral choices to make, I try to always be the good guy. Going back to Fallout 3 as an example, I had played through the game making all the obviously good choices. That is, until I stumbled across a manual that I needed to gain a few stats. My only option was to steal it. I figured that I had enough good karma to offset swiping one little book. What’s the worst that could happen? He yells and tells me how disappointed he is in the “Hero of the Wastes?” Imagine my surprise when the entire town pulled out their weapons and proceeded to gun me down! C’mon, that wouldn’t happen just because I stole some book. Why didn’t all the hundreds of people I helped in the past mitigate this one “evil” action?
While moral choices seem to give the illusion of a more realistic world, it actually does the opposite by showing the limitations of the game you’re playing. My only option was to steal that book. Why couldn’t I offer the guy some caps for it? The answer is because he wasn’t designated as a shop owner in the game. Why couldn’t I ask him if I could read it and then give it back? The answer is because in the game, books are destroyed after reading them for some strange reason. The point is that I would have had a lot more options in real life than just stealing it. The ridiculousness of the alignment system took me out of the game world and made me very aware that I was only playing a video game.
3) The third reason I do not like moral choices in video games is because there’s no explaining your actions. Good and evil aren’t as black and white in real life as games often make the choices out to be. For example, in the “Tenpenny Tower” quest of Fallout 3, a bunch of ghouls wanted to live inside the tower. The problem was that it was already inhabited by humans who wouldn’t let them in. The ghouls told me repeatedly they had plans to kill every person inside the tower once they got inside. Likewise, the humans just wanted the ghouls to be eliminated so they did not have to constantly worry about the threat of an impending attack. The two sides were at war basically.
After failing to find a diplomatic solution to the problem, I was forced to kill the ghouls in order to save the people. According to the game, this was an evil action because the people in the tower were “bad guys.” Now this doesn’t make sense. The ghouls were going to MURDER everybody inside! As a good guy, it was my duty to prevent this from happening. Not to mention, it was the ghouls who attacked me when I told them I would stop them. How then is this an “evil” action? In fact, at one point they said they were going to cut off the humans’ faces or something really sinister like that. To make matters even more silly, Three Dog reported on this incident and referred to me as one of the worst guys in all of the Wastes. This was strange considering all the other good things I had previously done. None of that mattered anymore because the game isn’t smart enough to consider ALL of your actions. Three Dog’s insulting dialogue was triggered because of the way I completed that quest. Nothing else was factored in.
Sometimes games do try to muddle the lines between a good and a bad choice but this only stresses me out as a gamer. As I mentioned above, I always try to go through a game as a good guy. I don’t want to make bad choices so oftentimes when the choice isn’t clear, I will have to look up the consequences of each choice online so I know which path to take. This ultimately negates the whole point of including the feature in the game at all and makes extra work for me as I have to spend time to look up the information online.
In conclusion, moral choices in video games end up making the game less fun because they highlight the limitations of the game’s alignment system. Players also end up missing out on important parts of the game. It could be argued that multiple playthroughs would solve this problem and enable you to experience everything the game has to offer by changing the choices you made the first time. While true, I’m the type of gamer that likes to pretend I am the main character and the events of the game actually happened. If the Lone Wanderer helped Harkness in “The Replicated Man” then that means he did not help Dr. Zimmer. Another playthrough would ruin this “history” that I had created within the game world.