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 Valve says no:

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Certain games, such as BioShock and inFamous, boast their ability to present moral choices to their players, but Valve's Chet Faliszek believes that there's no such thing as morality in video games:


"There's never a real moral choice you're ever making in a game, because you're never going to have to live with that choice,"
Faliszek told Destructoid.


"We do things in our game to get you to behave better, to make you play together, to have this interaction in a game, but I don't think those are moral choices. I don't think games allow you to make moral choices. Games allow you to be evil, to do bad things. In Grand Theft Auto, I'm going around running people over, and guess what, I'm not doing that in real life.


"So, in the context of games having moral choices, that's a weird thing to me. I don't think they have real moral choices when I think of that. They have something else, like strategic choices, choices inside their world, but to me a moral choice is something that would live outside of a game. I don't see that."


Which is a coherent argument, though if a player can be truly embedded in a game world and can relate to its characters, surely gamers can be presented with choices that have a similar weight to moral decisions in the real world, even if the consequences aren't actually real?
 

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I disagree to a point. I think Fallout 3 had some choices with baggage. Certain people and places could be erased and it would change your gameplay to a degree and if you were like me that's over a hundred hours you had to live with the outcome of said choices. They also gave you choices that changed nothing about the game other than how you emotionally deal with a situation. I think Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic did well too.


I'm a huge fan of moral choices in games. It's a whole new layer to the experience I hope sticks around. I agree though that to a degree morality in games is an illusion. The same can be said about morality in real life.


When I play games like say Fallout, I actually do try and make the honest decisions I would in real life. I don't "play a good guy" or bad. I weigh the options and make calls the best I can, for better or worse.
 

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I think the problem is that it's very easy to do moral choices in gaming badly. Most games try to direct people through almost all of their available content, since that's the most effective use of the company's development time from a financial perspective, and because designers generally want people to experience everything they created. This leads to stuff like Infamous, where the good and evil paths are almost exactly the same, but with a slightly different power set. People also have a tendency to overlook the grey area between good and evil, providing no benefit or uniqueness to walking that sort of path. In Infamous you'd be outright handicapped if you didn't swing all the way to one end of the moral compass or the other (actually, I'm not sure if the game even lets you stay in the middle for long).


To have moral choices have real impact, it's true that you have to have consequences that you live with. That means lots of optional game content, because you have to be able to close off large chunks of it. It also means that in-game characters need to respond more realistically to the subset of your behavior that they're aware of, and that still hasn't been done effectively, IMO. (Facade tried, but didn't really get there.)


- Jer
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by jhaines /forum/post/16925946


Most games try to direct people through almost all of their available content, since that's the most effective use of the company's development time from a financial perspective, and because designers generally want people to experience everything they created.

I think the bigger issue is storytelling. If the game's storyline comes to a conclusion, if the designers have an ending they've scripted, the game has to force the player toward that ending. Doing so removes the player's ability to make significant choices. The player can choose to use varying amounts of stealth, to play a "no kill" game or not, but short of dying/losing, the player can't do anything that would result in a radically different ending.


I agree that designers want players to experience everything they've created, but I don't think that's the big obstacle. The designers could script many different endings and build a game as a "choose your own adventure" book -- people would replay the game to experience the different paths -- but it's hard to come up with a bunch of different storylines without having most of them feel like the player has lost. (Although it sounds like Heavy Rain is going to try something like this.)

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It also means that in-game characters need to respond more realistically to the subset of your behavior that they're aware of, and that still hasn't been done effectively, IMO.

I agree, and I think that without a serious improvement in AI, game characters simply cannot respond realistically. If AI becomes good enough, you could have a type of emergent gameplay like that offered by Civilization or The Sims, but the appeal will be very different from that of plotted games like Bioshock.
 

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I've always thought so-called "moral choices" in games were bogus. They're never actually moral choices. They're simply gameplay choices that either affect the storyline or affect the gameplay payoff.


For example, in Fallout 3, the story branches differently. For many players this means creating the desire to replay the game seeing the different story branches (whether they actually do so is another question). That's not morality, that's story branching--like in a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.


Or take the perennial example of moral choices Bioshock. Harvest or don't harvest. Each comes with its own tangible payoff in items/gameplay (with a very small story branch in the end). That decision isn't being made according to morality, but according to gameplay decisions.


Moreover, the moral choices in most games are usually no more than "good" or "bad." That's not genuine morality; that's absolutism. The game designers assume that we all agree what constitutes "good" and "bad" behavior, so your choices are either to behave morally or immorally. For example, it's never presented as a morally viable option to harvest little sisters. The game makes it very clear that you're behaving in an immoral way, not according to an alternate morality. That's no moral choice. The "moral" thing to do is to save them. That's not morality. That's behaving either in line with or against the designers' morality, not your own.


Anyhow, this is a long way of saying that genuine moral decisions rarely exist in games. Even in sandbox games where you can choose to go on a rampage against the citizenry is still more about gameplay and experimentation and just having fun than it is about real morality.


For me, the only time I've felt myself in a moral conundrum was when debating whether or not to purchase Resident Evil 5 because of its rather sloppy and obvious racism. I opted not to. That's an actual moral choice, but it isn't one that takes place via an in-game avatar.
 

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The real problem is that there are no real life ramifications to 'moral' decisions in videogaming. Even in situations where you are to choise the good vs evil decsions, you can always go pack and replay the chapter and play the other decision. RPG's offer the most opportunity to do so, and in some situations, the only way to change your decision is to remake a character. But then again, it is a videogame and you are offered the opportunity to play again. The only real life ramification is time lost in rebuilding the character.


The only way to have a moral impact would be to have some sort of real life ramifications to decisions in made in videogames. That likely will not happen anytime soon, but you never know. (just imagine credit rating bureau adjusting your Fica score based on decisons made in videogaming, good morals = better fica, bad morals = low fica, or if you intentionally get into accidents/race aggresively/cheat during racing sims = higher auto insurance premiums etc).
 

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It's not whether or not your actions have real life consequences that make it a morality choice. Doing something in order to gain a reward or not doing something to avoid being punished has nothing to do with your morals.


In order to offer moral choices a game simply has to get you involved enough in it's story and characters that choosing one path or another feels "bad" or wrong. It happens sometimes but of course it really depends on the individual playing.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Slacker George /forum/post/16926684


It's not whether or not your actions have real life consequences that make it a morality choice. Doing something in order to gain a reward or not doing something to avoid being punished has nothing to do with your morals.


In order to offer moral choices a game simply has to get you involved enough in it's story and characters that choosing one path or another feels "bad" or wrong. It happens sometimes but of course it really depends on the individual playing.

Agreed. Morality is based upon personal opinion of right and wrong despite consiquences. Just so happens most people formulate those opinions based on the consiquences of those actions, but not everyone is like that.
 

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Games are games. When you can choose option one, see the outcome, reload and choose option two, it has little in common with real life.


Games aren't supposed to emulate real life, they are supposed to be games.


-Suntan
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by confidenceman /forum/post/16926446


I've always thought so-called "moral choices" in games were bogus. They're never actually moral choices. They're simply gameplay choices that either affect the storyline or affect the gameplay payoff.


For example, in Fallout 3, the story branches differently. For many players this means creating the desire to replay the game seeing the different story branches (whether they actually do so is another question). That's not morality, that's story branching--like in a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.

I have to say life is a choose your own adventure novel though. (and one most of us would replay if possible at times) Moral choices will change the way your life plays out in subtle and sometimes gigantic ways. There's always multiple paths on each side as well. This is the nature of choice. I can choose to kill or not kill someone in real life for any reason. My morality is the sum of many different things like religion, upbringing, relationships, heartbreaks, deaths, shows watched as a child, etc etc.


End result: If I kill this person in real life a set of events will be open on the right and if I do not kill them a set opens on the left. Morality is that extra factor I bring into the mix that helps me make that decision.


Games are emulations of life. In a game you can make morality choices then do the opposite on another play through. You can also die and kill at a whim. That's what makes them fun. So I feel these games present you options where you can use your own morality to make the call or just do whatever you feel with no rules.


I guess it all depends on if you want to take your actions seriously or not. If you want to play along with the game then I believe you can make moral or immoral choices pretty well in emulation. I enjoy it anyway.

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Or take the perennial example of moral choices Bioshock. Harvest or don't harvest. Each comes with its own tangible payoff in items/gameplay (with a very small story branch in the end). That decision isn't being made according to morality, but according to gameplay decisions.

You are alone in a horrific and abandoned city full of evil things that want to kill you. You can murder little girls and get more powerful faster out of your own fear or you can be strong and allow them to live taking a slightly harder road. If this world was REAL then I believe that would be a moral choice.


It's not a lot different than real world events. Like the group that gets lost in the arctic and have to decide if they are going to brave it together or kill and eat one another to have an edge at survival. Life can quickly become "gameplay" in times like those I would think.

Quote:
Moreover, the moral choices in most games are usually no more than "good" or "bad." That's not genuine morality; that's absolutism. The game designers assume that we all agree what constitutes "good" and "bad" behavior, so your choices are either to behave morally or immorally. For example, it's never presented as a morally viable option to harvest little sisters. The game makes it very clear that you're behaving in an immoral way, not according to an alternate morality. That's no moral choice. The "moral" thing to do is to save them. That's not morality. That's behaving either in line with or against the designers' morality, not your own.

I totally agree. As someone who ends up neutral in most all games that allow it, I hate stark black and white options. Again I have to site Fallout as an example that supports the gray area.

Quote:
Originally Posted by 257Tony /forum/post/0


Depends on how "into" the game you are. I remember feeling like a sh1tty low life scumbag after forcing a certain Wookie to kill a certain Twilek in KOTOR

Yes! Perfect example!


Obviously games are make believe and won't punish you at the end of the day but that does not mean you can't play along with them and still make the same decisions you would in real life.


Good thread. Lots of interesting talk here.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cynn /forum/post/16928463


I

Obviously games are make believe and won't punish you at the end of the day but that does not mean you can't play along with them and still make the same decisions you would in real life.

Yes, make believe and play along. These are games. You can "pretend" to take them as seriously as you want, but ultimately you are still just pretending. After you finally put the game pad down and go make yourself supper, the decisions you made playing the game no longer have any real effect on you until you go back and turn the game back on.


-Suntan
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Suntan /forum/post/16930437


Yes, make believe and play along. These are games. You can "pretend" to take them as seriously as you want, but ultimately you are still just pretending. After you finally put the game pad down and go make yourself supper, the decisions you made playing the game no longer have any real effect on you until you go back and turn the game back on.

Exactly. Until we can feel our actions having (what feel like) real consequences, "moral choices" are really just choices (like what to have for dinner).


Now that we're all thinking through this, I've managed to think of a few cases where I did feel moral qualms in a game. I think it's much more likely that a scripted action will have a greater moral and emotional resonance. In-game choices always feel too simplistic or contrived to have any real effect on me. For example, in Portal:
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show) Spoiler  
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show) I felt terrible when I had to incinerate my companion cube. I kept replaying that section looking for some alternate solution so that I didn't have to "kill" that piece of metal. It was a brilliantly written (and scripted) action that showed how much you can get attached to a fake thing (a metal cube) and to a simulated action (a video game). It was a brilliant moment in a brilliant game.



So I suppose it can happen, but it's pretty rare. But, again, those moments don't make me feel like I actually did anything "wrong" because as Suntan says, I can just turn off the machine and walk away. I never feel like it was "me" who had to make that decision; it was my avatar.


Even in a supremely complex decision-making game like Fallout 3, I always feel like I have to be true to my character, not to myself. The decisions I make are part of my character's morality, not my own.
 

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The important thing is that it feels like a moral choice, even if it's just for a moment. That illusion is what video games are all about (well most of them); Making you feel like you're racing a car, killing nazis, saving the world, etc.
Quote:
Originally Posted by confidenceman /forum/post/16930659


Now that we're all thinking through this, I've managed to think of a few cases where I did feel moral qualms in a game. I think it's much more likely that a scripted action will have a greater moral and emotional resonance. In-game choices always feel too simplistic or contrived to have any real effect on me. For example, in Portal:
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show) Spoiler  
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show) I felt terrible when I had to incinerate my companion cube. I kept replaying that section looking for some alternate solution so that I didn't have to "kill" that piece of metal. It was a brilliantly written (and scripted) action that showed how much you can get attached to a fake thing (a metal cube) and to a simulated action (a video game). It was a brilliant moment in a brilliant game.

That's a good example, can't believe I forgot about that. Although personally I think I found it more humorous than dramatic.


Quote:
Originally Posted by confidenceman /forum/post/16930659


Even in a supremely complex decision-making game like Fallout 3, I always feel like I have to be true to my character, not to myself. The decisions I make are part of my character's morality, not my own.

This is pretty interesting to me. I guess I'm not much of a true role-player but I always seem to end up playing these kind of games as myself. On the other hand, in a game with a clearly defined protaganist with a voice of his own I sometimes find myself making the decisions I think that character might make.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Slacker George /forum/post/16930991


This is pretty interesting to me. I guess I'm not much of a true role-player but I always seem to end up playing these kind of games as myself. On the other hand, in a game with a clearly defined protaganist with a voice of his own I sometimes find myself making the decisions I think that character might make.

Never really thought about this that much, but I don't think of myself as much of a "true role-player" either. But usually I feel like a game is designed to encourage you to play a certain way, even in more "open-ended" games like RPGs and sandbox titles.


It doesn't feel out of character for CJ (in San Andreas) to mow down a bunch of cops and citizens. You can stay true to his morality without having to worry about your own. And in RPGs, I almost always start playing and then at about 10 hours in have to restart because I realize the character I've begun playing doesn't really fit the fiction very well. That also gives me a chance to get a better feel for the ins and outs of the stat-building mechanic and whatnot. This doesn't apply to JRPGs, though, since those tend to be less about "choices" and more about fighting and stat-building mechanics.


You can almost always tell which way a game wants you to play and which way it doesn't. For example, in the old Baldur's Gate games (on PC), it always felt like I had to fight against the game in order to be evil. Same with Bioshock. Same with all the Bioware games post-KOTOR. That was one (among many) things that annoyed me about Mass Effect: Shepard is lame. And if you don't play the character according to the fiction, the story doesn't make any sense.


Also, your comment made me realize that I almost never play as myself in RPGs. I rarely do what I think I would do. Instead, I always try to do what I think my character would do within the context of the fiction of the game world. I guess that's what "immersion" is all about.


As frustrating as the low level cap is in Fallout 3, Bethesda are masters of giving you many different possible character/story arcs. Even if all the decisions you make don't feel like they have any moral weight, they always feel like they're reflections of your chosen character and that there are real options.
 

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I usually just pick the choice that the walkthrough says will give you the best ending...


Hard to get too emotionally conflicted in the middle of a piece of entertainment that someone has specifically scripted to tell a story.


Usually, you feel more emotion from the FMV in a game because those scenes are developed to better convey the emotions that the publisher is trying to make you feel... Just like a movie.


Name me one game I can play where the individual choices I make don't ultimately lead me to the same ending (or couple of endings) that are any different than the ones that have already been reviewed by any number of IGN affiliate websites.


They're entertainment.


-Suntan
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Suntan /forum/post/16932110


Name me one game I can play where the individual choices I make don't ultimately lead me to the same ending (or couple of endings) that are any different than the ones that have already been reviewed by any number of IGN affiliate websites.

But that assumes that we play games (and make choices in games) just to get to the ending. Generally speaking, the games with the most possible choices rarely have an absolute ending (RPGs and sandbox games).


Even in very linear games with only one possible ending, that doesn't change the fact that there are many different possible ways to get to the ending. Not to mention that the vast majority of gamers never finish the games they play. So I don't think a game's ending is a very good measure of the degree of freedom/choice.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by confidenceman /forum/post/16932409


So I don't think a game's ending is a very good measure of the degree of freedom/choice.

I'm not talking about giving gamers freedom of choice. I am talking about the subject of morality.


Whether you *choose* to go down one of four or five different storyline plots to get to the end (or you *choose* to stop playing half way through) you are still just following a scripted path that a storyteller has mapped out in advance. One that gets put on hold everytime you turn off the console. Little different than those storybooks that let you choose how the story unfolds by picking which page you turn to next.


Take for example the old game Elder Scrolls 3 Morrowwind (one of the last ones I ever played on a PC.) At the time it was hailed for being truly expansive and giving a player the option to just explore and create a person how ever they wanted without even needing to follow the main storyline, a milestone for its time. But you still felt like you were just completing tasks to unlock the next set of conversation dialogs with npc's and upping your rank at whatever guild you felt like joining. And ultimately, if you did want to finish the game, you still had to kill the same bad guy no matter what you did to get to the end.


-Suntan
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by confidenceman /forum/post/0


Also, your comment made me realize that I almost never play as myself in RPGs. I rarely do what I think I would do. Instead, I always try to do what I think my character would do within the context of the fiction of the game world. I guess that's what "immersion" is all about.

It can certainly go both ways I think. Probably part of the reason you have trouble caring about choices is because you are making them in relation to what you think another person would do as opposed to making them as "yourself"?


Bethesda and Bioware games are some of the few I can actually get into as myself. If the character is too "strong" or has no real freedom of action or customization then It's a whole other thing. Games like GTA, JRPGs, etc fall under this.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Suntan /forum/post/0


Yes, make believe and play along. These are games. You can "pretend" to take them as seriously as you want, but ultimately you are still just pretending. After you finally put the game pad down and go make yourself supper, the decisions you made playing the game no longer have any real effect on you until you go back and turn the game back on.

Well yeah... I'm not sure I get the point of this. Obviously games are pretend. Just as there's no game that's going to kill you if you die, there's not going to be one that will physically punish you in real life for some moral choice either.


It's a virtual environment that's outlining a situation you are free to act on based on your own moral compass or in any other way you want to. Anything that happens in these environments is going to be simulated including your choices.


I'm pretty sure no one here thinks otherwise. What is it you are trying to say?
 
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