Since I finally received my first PS3 (yes, I know I’m late to the party), I’ve been delving into the world of inFAMOUS. And one thing this game has taught me is that being the hero is hard!
Moral choices in video games is hardly a new concept. I remember making those sort of choices way back when I first played The Pandora Directive in 1996. That game allowed one to be snarky or nice and was one of the first games I remember playing that had multiple endings based on the choices you made in-game.
Bioware followed suit with Knights of the Old Republic in 2003. But Bioware upped the ante from previous similar games. In their games, the choices you make are sometimes really hard ones. Do you kill one person to save another? Or do you let the other die to save the first? Do you go light side or dark side? Will you be the hero or the villain?
And this is where things get antsy. Because I have found in playing such games that the easiest choices usually lie in being the villain. Of course, it means that your character ends up unliked throughout the game’s universe, but those choices rarely come with serious consequences (well, sometimes they do, but you’re evil – you don’t care!). More often than not, being evil is much easier than choosing the high road.
Let’s look back at inFAMOUS, shall we? In inFAMOUS, you are given choices where you can do the good thing or the evil thing. And the good thing usually means putting yourself in harm’s way. For example, certain tasks require you to destroy these tanks attached to water towers that are poisoning the city’s water supply. You can choose to blow the tank up from a distance, therefore poisoning innocent people in its path. Or you can choose to zap the tank up close with your powers and take the brunt of the poison yourself.
See how hard that is? In another inFAMOUS example, towards the end of the game, people have been poisoned and are going crazy. You can smack them out of the way with your lightning powers or you can allow them to continue to beat you up and take your health. Zapping them is obviously the easiest route.
But in being harder, the good moral choices often feel best when playing these games. Maybe it’s because they make the game even more challenging. Another game that is a prime example of this is Dishonored. I played through the game twice, each time making different moral choices. The first time, I killed all in my path – because it was easier to slice someone’s throat than sneak around them.
In my second playthrough of Dishonored, I went for zero kills. This playthrough took me almost three times as long because it requires a great deal of thought and patience. A lot of stealth is required and you have to constantly be looking ahead for potential hiding spots. It also didn’t hurt to have sleep darts, but once you ran out, you had to be creative. Being good in Dishonored was infinitely more difficult than being the bad guy. But at the end of the game, earning that achievement (and positive ending) made it worth it.
I will admit that because of these challenges, I often choose the high road in gaming. In all three Mass Effect games, I played the good guy, even when given the hard choices (although I will admit that the first death choice was made with entirely selfish reasons in mind – but there was no way I would let that handsome Kaidan die). Making such choices often makes things more difficult. For example, not threatening people in the game to do my will meant I had to persuade them instead. And persuasion is much harder than pointing your gun at them.
In the end, making moral choices in gaming is a lot like in real life. Sometimes it really is harder to be a good person – it’s rarely appreciated and not often rewarded. But, in the end, deep down, we know it’s the right thing to do.