Moral Choice Systems, Some Examples of

I’m still having trouble finding any sort of authority I can fall back on for a definition of a “moral choice system”, and I’m not being helped by the fact that different games call them by different names, so how about a few examples? This way we can all be on the same page about what I’m railing against.

Just to expand a little on what I said in my first post, I group together under the heading of “moral choice system” any system in a video game that tracks the main character’s moral behavior (almost invariably in the form of a very obvious choice between several clear options), quantifies it, and ties it to some sort of consequence for the player character. The consequences are generally

  • changes in the character’s statistics, such as what powers are available to them
  • changes in the character’s appearance
  • changes to the world around the character, such as interactions with non-player characters or changes to the narrative or environment

Games employing such a system include

  • Knights of the Old Republic (“alignment” along one spectrum of light-dark)
  • Infamous (“karma”)
  • Fallout (“karma/reputation”)
  • Fable (“alignment” along two spectrums of good-evil and pure-corrupt)

In Knights of the Old Republic, for instance, players are given one scale of alignment scaling from good to evil (or “light” to “to dark”).

The character’s statistics screen in Knights of the Old Republic. The alignment meter (currently neutral) is to the left of the character’s portrait.

As players go through the game, they are presented with scenarios with several options they could take, usually one that will give light side points, one that is neutral, and one that gives dark side points. The results of these choices will send the player up or down the light-dark spectrum, resulting in different powers and changed appearances although, oddly, the ending is decided solely by end-game choices as opposed to the player’s behavior throughout the game, which can be just a bit inconsistent.

A scenario in which the player’s options range from helping someone out to threatening him for money.

The player chooses option #3. Dark side points obtained! It’s worth noting that the game doesn’t seem to give dark side points for looting the dead, breaking and entering, burglary, or terrifying a households’s residents–just for the choices made in scenarios very obviously set up for determining the player’s alignment.

In addition to the moral choice systems directly tied to a character’s statistics, I’m also going to be talking a bit about games that implement moral choices differently, such as by punishing or rewarding players for their behaviour. For example, in Bioshock there’s only one choice that occurs repeatedly through the game. If the player makes the wrong choice, a bad ending will result, and the choice also affects the resources available to the player instead of changes in the player character’s statistics.

In general, I’m hoping to use these and other examples in order to discuss the various ways morality and choices in video games are used and the advantages and disadvantages of the concepts and implementation involved in creating and using these systems.

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