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Thread: The Problem With Morality Systems - Editorial

  1. #1
    RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff InstaTrent's Avatar
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    The Problem With Morality Systems - Editorial

    We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us. Morality is a challenging subject to tackle in any medium, but are RPGs dropping the ball?

    Editorial
    "To tell you the truth, I like drinking tea and eating fresh vegetables, but that doesn't fit with my super-cool attitude. I guess I have to accept this about myself."

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    A Witness to Destruction Moderator DarkRPGMaster's Avatar
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    The one point you made that I feel really needs to be fixed is the whole "grayzone equals less stuff" part of the systems in place. Why not make it so the greyzone has access to both rewards of the system, albeit at a much lower level? For example, say for KOTOR, they really should have made it so you could use both some of the light side powers and the dark side powers. Sure you'd never be able to use the full power of both, but just knowing you had access to both trees, albeit at lesser power, would be really awesome. In other words, make the middle ground the morality gauge's version of a Red Mage, giving access to both types of skills, but not all of them.
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    If you thought Fable 3's system was off, try being a completely evil and horrible person, BUT play the real-estate market by taxing the hell out of everyone and then moving all the money to the castle's vault so you can then afford to cover war expenses. Suddenly you become a saint even though you got that money by being a jerk. That made me laugh.

    Anyway, the real problem with morality systems is they're essentially the same game: you play the good guy doing good things, but you may also choose to be a bad guy and play as a jerk, yet you still follow the good guy's path. You may get a bad ending or some amusing dialogue, but ultimately it's the same game. Rarely does being evil truly affect the game (unique powers and evil characters in KotoR 2 is a sart). You could play a game about being an evil dude, but those games tend to be big jokes and rarely see any actual evil done. Not surprising really. Publishers have said bad guys and evil stories don't focus test well, so we probably won't be seeing more games like that. I'm sure there are games out there where you do play truly evil dudes (probably on PC), but I haven't played one.

    Trent's other point, about what the developer feels is moral versus our own morals...I don't want to think about that. That sounds like a big headache and is totally relative. I'd rather focus on how being evil affects actual gameplay.

    Why not make it so the greyzone has access to both rewards of the system, albeit at a much lower level? For example, say for KOTOR, they really should have made it so you could use both some of the light side powers and the dark side powers. Sure you'd never be able to use the full power of both, but just knowing you had access to both trees, albeit at lesser power, would be really awesome.
    You CAN use both sides in KotoR. They just cost more Force Points if they oppose your alignment. You can't use alignment locked powers though.
    Last edited by TG Barighm; 05-27-2013 at 03:41 PM.

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    The Original Playa... Adremmelech's Avatar
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    I had always hoped that Mass Effect 3 would allow you to play virtually two different games, a good side and a bad side. I wanted the bad side to involve Shepard siding with Cerberus and have you play as a Cerberus agent following a Cerberus-heavy storyline as you battled a new Shepard on the way to the end of the game. I was pretty disappointed that that never happened.

    Doesn't Fallout 3 lock out certain questlines for playing the evil role?

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    Dread News Editor RPGamer Staff Fowl Sorcerous's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adremmelech View Post
    Doesn't Fallout 3 lock out certain questlines for playing the evil role?
    That would mean more work, so the opposite, evil dudes do the exact same thing until you reach the dialogue box at the end then choose the baby-eating option. you're thinking of New Vegas; except half the time it just breaks.

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    Member retrodragon's Avatar
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    Yeah I think the Mass Effect system is still probably the best we've seen so far though. I actually enjoyed punking annoying NPC's and going renegade on them, but then being nice and paragon to the ones I liked. Of course, later on your options are locked out based on your previous investments in the two categories, so it's still a flawed system. But isn't a flawed morality system better than none at all? It certainly keeps the dialogue interesting. I think morality systems have been a positive addition to gameplay, but they still haven't figured out how to move beyond the illusion of choice and consequences to the real thing.
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    Member Jitawa's Avatar
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    Bioware in particular seems to have "illusion of choice" more often than choice. Morality is little more than an advancement mechanic as opposed to a choice.

    I think rather than "morality", a game should focus on being "reactive" to player choices. Worry less about rewarding me or making me feel guilty. Try to make the consequences appropriate to the action. I think they should work on that before even trying to make morality a large factor. At least, that would make for better RPGs I believe.

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    A Serious Man Drav's Avatar
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    One of the many things that made Troika and Obsidian's RPGs superior to other RPGs on the market was that they were early adopters of influence and reputation systems; they kept track of what all NPCs thought of your choices, rather than just what God thought. Morality systems still make sense in a setting with some kind of established Omnipotent One, but there's a reason why Obsidian pretty much ditched Karma altogether in Fallout.

    It's probably worth noting though that morality systems, when they made their debut in Ultima IV, were actually a heck of a lot more interesting than most of what came after. Ultima IV had 8 "Virtue" meters, each influenced by their own set of rules (eg whether you gave money to beggars, whether you ran from combat etc.). Unfortunately Ultima V dumbed it down to just one karma stat, and that's what most RPGs have used ever since.

    Of course this isn't really just a problem with morality systems; almost all "systems" in modern RPGs could be, and have been, a lot more interesting than they are, and have since been Xboxified. NPC schedules, day/night and magic cycles, spell reagents, camping rules, hunger/endurance mechanics, weapon degradation, morale, location-based health damage etc. etc. etc. None of these are nearly as pertinent to role-playing as a robust morality/reputation system, but you get the idea.
    Last edited by Drav; 05-28-2013 at 07:52 AM.

  9. #9
    almost all "systems" in modern RPGs could be, and have been, a lot more interesting than they are, and have since been Xboxified.
    Let's keep the PC elitism under control, k? Oversimplification and appeasing casuals is universal and hardly the fault of any one gaming population.
    Last edited by TG Barighm; 05-28-2013 at 12:14 PM.

  10. #10
    I really like playing the bad guy, but the only game where it was executed really awesome was the Demon Path of Soul Nomad and the World Eaters.

    In most other games it's like TG said, you usually follow the same story path anyway.

    I also agree with the problem that games usually reward for going "pure" in one path but a good middle way is punished.

  11. #11
    I really like playing the bad guy, but the only game where it was executed really awesome was the Demon Path of Soul Nomad and the World Eaters.
    Huh. Suddenly I have something to look forward to when I get back to playing it.

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    You probably won't like it as much as me, because there's not much choices you can make other than "evil", but it's cool that the demon path is completely different from the normal one. And it's really cool that you are really evil.

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    The Original Playa... Adremmelech's Avatar
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    Even though Infamous had a good/evil system and the story didn't change all that much when you chose to stick to a path, playing Evil Cole was much more satisfying than playing Good Cole. I think it had something to do with taking your frustration out on the public and not being penalized all that much for it. It was a great stress reliever.

  14. #14
    Prototype was fairly similar. This was also a great stress reliever.

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    Regnus Obscura King Jowy XXII's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jitawa View Post
    I think rather than "morality", a game should focus on being "reactive" to player choices. Worry less about rewarding me or making me feel guilty. Try to make the consequences appropriate to the action. I think they should work on that before even trying to make morality a large factor. At least, that would make for better RPGs I believe.
    I couldn't agree more. I worry, though, that this has not happened not because it has not been attempted, but that most writers for video games are simply incapable of the nuance that such a system would require. We were promised something similar, after all, with Mass Effect; by the end of that series, it proved to be too big of a bite to swallow for them, so it was dumbed down to meet their skillset.

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    I'm sure the writers are more than capable, but you're forgetting they're essentially grunts in the massive chain of command that is gaming development. With so many people above them-directors, executives, marketers-it would be a miracle for any story or game concept to get through the entire process unaltered.

  17. #17
    My biggest problem with the morality systems in games, which was touched on, is that the developer's idea of morality is often not the same as mine. Where I make a decision I feel best fits my moral judgement as being "good", has been deemed by the developers as being "evil" or "renegade" or whatever. That really takes me out of the game and the world it is trying to portray when it feels like the developer is trying to push an agenda on me (be it through a morality system, or through the story, or through a really odd soapbox speech through the character voices in the credits like Eternal Sonata that had nothing to do with the game's story, which ruined an otherwise great game). I'd rather NOT have a moral system in my game if it tries to tell me that the right decision is somehow wrong. And not to bring this into the bigger discussion, but that exact issue is due to what some of us see as a moral degradation in our culture in general.

  18. #18
    Member lolwhoops's Avatar
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    I thought releasing a monster that has tried to destroy humans before from captivity was the renegade choice, but turns out saving it's life is more paragon. So it isn't bad that I wanted this thing to grow up and eat some people?
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    is not declawed RPGamer Staff Ocelot's Avatar
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    I generally prefer choice systems in RPGs to be one of the following:

    1. Moral choices are role-playing choices that are clearly labeled, allowing the player to decide what kind of character s/he wants to portray. Works best if various moral philosophies are well-defined, such as with the D&D alignment system. This has never been done completely to my satisfaction, since in most games we've seen like this, evil-aligned characters get shoehorned into acting out of character sooner or later.

    2. The player is given plenty of storyline choices, but they are unfettered from moral judgment. The Witcher and particularly The Witcher 2 are excellent examples of this kind of system. The early Fallout games and Planescape: Torment do it well, also. This allows players to make whatever choice they believe is right without worrying that the developers will dole out punishment for an "evil" act. Of course, in The Witcher, Bad Stuff(tm) often happens no matter what Geralt does, but at least he is ultimately the master of his own destiny. Bad Stuff(tm) often happens in real life no matter what you decide, too.

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