Morality Tales – BioWare Versus The Issues

By John Walker on August 26th, 2008 at 11:03 am.

'And so should we kill the children to save the planet?'

I’ve been playing lots of Mass Effect recently, because as a leading games critic it’s essential I stay ahead of the curve and keep my finger on the pulse. A mere nine months after buying it on 360 and then never playing it, and then blagging a PC version only three months after its second release, I’m on the case.

It would probably be controversial to say that BioWare‘s three most recent RPGs, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect, are all exactly the same game in a different setting. Because Mass Effect’s setting is quite similar to KotOR’s. But what’s rather fortunate is that they change the combat style in each, so there’s always something unique to complain about on a forum. What’s also important to note is that they’re all three flipping ace, and I love them. They just… they just tend to do this one really silly thing.

Resolve political debates with light sabres.

One thing I really want to do is go and sit down with Dr and Dr BioWare, and be having a regular chat, probably asking questions about Dragon Age or something journalistic like that, and then suddenly in the middle of it all I’d shout, “MY SISTER WANTS TO GET AN ABORTION! WHAT SHOULD SHE DO?”

When they look scared and ask what I’m talking about, I’d only offer them the very slightest pieces of information about the situation, probably saying that the unborn baby might have some sort of horrible disability and she doesn’t want it to be born to suffer, but her husband is currently away at sea and unreachable (because it’s happening in the past or in space or somewhere where radio signals don’t work) and won’t be able to have his say. I’d only give them two possible answers, and their stuttering, unprepared response would decide the fate of this unfortunate foetus. And then I’d ask them about how the Sonic license first caught their attention.

The world's slowest map.

I’m not sure, but I don’t know if RPGs are quite the place to try and resolve the most controversial and devisive subjects of our day. Well no, that’s not true at all. They could be, but perhaps in a setting slightly more dignifiied than as a result of overhearing a conversation on a street, and then immediately being given life or death decisions to make for complete strangers.

It just happened to me in Mass Effect. I’m back in Space City One (I don’t pay much attention to names – if you ask me, I’ll tell you what all the companion characters are called in my head) and trundling about the confusing bridges, popping in to see people who need to know about the contents of crates on distant planets, and I pass an arguing couple. Being a paragon of virtue (seriously, you should see my Paragon status. I haven’t quite matched my immediately being a glowy angel like in KoTOR, but my goodness-o-meter is almost full) I of course stop and ask them what’s up. Oddly they don’t tell me to fuck off, but rather immediately adopt me into their family and confidence, and explain the skeletal nature of their dilemma. They’re brother and sister-in-law, and her kid might have some illness. But she’s heard on the news that the treatment for it is potentially dangerous, and doesn’t want to risk losing her child treating him for a disease he might not have. Her husband just died, and the brother says she’s acting out of grief, and that she should just take the treatment.

'Please, make all our important life decisions, INSTANTLY!'

So we’ve got ourselves a cipher for the MMR debate. You find out the stats, and the chances of having the illness are reasonably high, and the chances of the treatment causing problems are 1 in 300. But she’s heard this news story, and she says what if her kid is the 1 in 300? DECIDE THE CHILD’S FATE!

So, as anyone with a modicum of scientific reason knows, there’s no evidence that the MMR vaccine causes harm. Utterly none. But that’s hard to keep relevant when you’re a mother of a baby, and you have to make this decision without any expertise of your own about whether the evidence is correct and there’s definitely no chance of your kid getting autism… Good grief, this suddenly got a bit heavy. Which would somewhat be my point. This is a completely inappropriate subject to appear in this jokey, silly post. And it’s far too big of a subject to decide on the bridge of a scifi game for a couple of strangers, before I carry on looking for that last bloody Keeper to scan that I cannot find anywhere despite combing the entire place three times.

HK47's approach to situations is a lot simpler.

I really love that BioWare include these tough choices, but I wish they’d include them in a slightly more dignified way. I wish they’d be part of a larger story, a continued struggle of conscience where decisions are made based on multiple conversations, varying expert and inexpert opinion, and a wealth of emotional and emotive situations. I want to be forced to contend my scientific reason against the irrational emotions of those in the throws of a situation. I want to wrestle with the toughest subjects, with data and passion from people on all sides trying to sway me to their way of thinking. I think, in these fleshed out circumstances, an RPG could be the most remarkable place for getting to grips with matters like abortion and euthanasia. I think because they’re the sorts of subjects it’s completely pointless to talk about in the pub, because it inevitably descends into people entrenching themselves in their currently held position and then hurling stones at the other side, that the RPG would be a space in which the emphasis of thought and consideration would be squarely on you.

Bizarrely, I told the bridge couple that it was her child, and her choice, and as a consequence he had the emotional breakthrough of recognising his motivations were not as pure as he had claimed, but rather because he wanted to hold onto this last piece of his brother. But that’s not what I think! I would have gone through the statistics of the situation with her, had her talk with doctors, and encouraged her to go with the scientific odds. But I was given two choices and one cop-out. Side with her, side with him, or leave them to it. Really, I think the right answer in that situation should have been to leave them to it, but dammit I’m playing a videogame and I’m going to see what the consequences of my choosing would be. I’m interested that I went against type and chose her. But that was because the situation was so peculiarly binary that I was really deciding: who has a right to make a choice about a baby, the mother or the uncle. Well, the mother then. That I want to clobber people who ignore science and risk their children’s health because of reading idiots misreporting facts in newspapers was suddenly irrelevant. And more, that I think that wasn’t challenged by the situation. In the end, the encounter oddly cheapened a serious topic.

No reason for this pic, other than its tranquility.

It is great that BioWare aspire beyond most other developers when creating their games, and I love that the worlds are rich enough to have space for recognising universal subjects. Occasionally it works – the woman who had transfered her love for her dead husband onto her missing droid in KotOR was especially splendid, but mostly because it played out as a quest, rather than a conversation, and the situation was remarkably complex. You could force the droid to stay with her, leaving her in a perpetually futile relationship and the droid trapped against what he knew was best for his master, but her apparently happy. You could free the droid, and in doing so force her to face her grief, potentially destroying her. You could even kill the droid, and then go back to her and tell her it was still alive and she should keep looking for it. Muah ha ha! But it was a droid, and unique to a science fiction world, and it gave you space to discuss and explore the subject. It wasn’t a morally ambiguous situation on which you’re forced to flick a giant fate-deciding switch before you can quicksave, which unfortunately is the more typical.

I can’t wait for Dragon Age. But I do rather fear I’ll be wandering through some remote village, searching for the missing mystic rune of Grogglefanaar, when a local baker’s wife will ask me to decide whether she should allow her sickly husband to die against her doctor’s wishes.

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150 Comments »

  1. ImperialCreed says:

    So what do you call your companions in your head?

    Also, interesting little piece. It’s great to see games trying to grapple with something a bit more highbrow, but even the best of ‘em often make an absolute balls of it. I’m going back to the Citadel to find the couple you’re talking about. I’ve missed them on two playthroughs.

    Edit: Come to think of it, a lot of the side quests have the same outcomes – go with one side, or the other, or cop out. Now you’ve pointed it out it all seems a little too transparent for my liking.

  2. John Walker says:

    Giant Fat Slug Guy, Lizard-Head Guy, Sexy Blue Girl, Facemask Girl, Mr Full-of-himself Guy and Hateful Racist Fundamentalist Girl.

  3. ImperialCreed says:

    Haha, I ended up calling Hateful Racist Fundamentalist Girl something like Lazy Eyes when I was describing the character to my girlfriend. There’s something about her facial animation that’s slightly off…

    Nice to know I wasnt the only one who found Sexy Blue Girl sexy.

  4. Rook says:

    This sounds like typical Bioware. There’s an obviously good answer, and an obviously bad answer. Bioware don’t ever seem to be able to offer the players a choice that they can’t figure out which side of the coin it’ll land on and the never make the right choice work out the wrong way and I think their games suffer for it. Obsidian are way ahead of Bioware in this camp, and I think CD Project did a good job on the Witcher too.

  5. _Nocturnal says:

    They are located near Barla Von, the shady guy with connections to the Shadow Broker.

    Interestingly, I chose the same thing as John, for the same reasons.

  6. James G says:

    What I really want is a Bioware RPG that allows me to storm the offices of a certain newspaper (that may or may not rhyme with Daily Heil) and forcibly infect them all with Measles, Mumps and Rubella (at the same time) and ask them whether they think the very real symptoms they are suffering are preferable to their fictitious constructs. I’m too nice to do something like that in real life, but I’d quite happily pick up a few Renegade points to achieve the fictional equivalent. (I was especially spitting with rage recently when I noticed that said newspaper contained an article now attacking the various parents who were, against all scientific evidence, failing to administer the MMR vaccine to their children. What they failed to mention was where these ‘ignorant’ parents could possibly have got their misinformation from.)

  7. Schadenfreude says:

    Hateful Racist Fundamentalist Girl has the same name as Bruce Campbell’s character in the Evil Dead trilogy which leads me to believe that Bioware originaly wanted to include a time-travelling one-handed chainsaw-weilding zombie slayer but found out after they recorded everyone else’s V.O. that they couldn’t get the rights.

    Or am I reading into it too much?

  8. ImperialCreed says:

    Schaden: You make a thoroughly plausable case.

  9. Myros says:

    The quest you listed and the ‘right to life’ one where you get to decide wether to turn off a life support system for the husband of a crazy spacer woman – both seemed a little odd to me, like Bioware were trying too hard to be relavent (to 21st century earth perceptions). Or as you said, not putting these elements into an ongoing and meaningful context just cheapens the real moral dilemas.

    Oh and the MMR shots can cause “harm” just not the kind of serious harm that some media and net sources have been freeking out about. ;p

  10. PetitPiteux says:

    >”I’m not sure, but I don’t know if RPGs are quite the place to try and resolve the most controversial and devisive subjects of our day.”

    Super Columbine Massacre RPG! anyone?

  11. Psychopomp says:

    That’s *SEXY* Facemask Girl to you!

  12. Jacob W says:

    So what games offer more sophisticated choices than Demon Hitler/Baby Jesus? Things that come to mind:

    Jade Empire claims to be not about a good/evil dichotomy but rather a more nuanced yin/yang thing, but that’s basically a huge lie.

    The Witcher has a uniformly grim and amoral system that I found refreshing.

    The Fallout series often had more than the usual binary choice, especially if you count the ever-popular Kill Everyone Involved.

    I’m sure I’m missing some. Any suggestions?

  13. Schadenfreude says:

    There’s Bloodlines. The Heather thing in particular.

  14. Heliocentric says:

    i’d like the option to punch them both in the face. I find that solves most of the issues.

    Imagine those 2 people were party members and the effects of that one choice would resonate through the whole game now say you have a dozen of these for each of a half dozen characters, thats about 2^72 possible outcomes assuming all these choices are binary.

  15. suchchoices says:

    Fallout (2?) had those great bits where you’d walk into a shop and the street kids either side of the door would pillage your pockets and run gleefully back to their keeper with the only decent weapon you had. Oh, what to do, what to do. Lovely way to drop an implicit moral decision into the lap of the unsuspecting player.

  16. mrmud says:

    I do recall Mass Effect having several choices that were representing either Kant based or ethics or Utilitarianism. A choice that isnt so much about good versus evil but about different ways of percieving good (good for the individual or good for the whole)

  17. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    It would probably be controversial to say that BioWare’s three most recent RPGs, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect, are all exactly the same game in a different setting.

    Probably not, unless we’re talking to those scurrying Bioware fanboys. Actually, the similarities in approach and design also stretch back to Neverwinter Nights as well, and many of those moral issues are a throwback to the Baldur’s Gate era as well. They found a formula that works for their target audience and whammo, copy & paste.

  18. CakeAddict says:

    I found mass effect great to play, but KotOR is still my favoriet bioware game.
    Problably because it’s star wars (yay jedi’s) but I also found the choices and ways to approach a problem better done then in Mass Effect.
    … To bad that they are making a mmorpg out of it..

  19. suchchoices says:

    re: Heliocentric

    Sadly, for games that tout “over 200 endings” (*cough* Fallout 3 *cough*), I suspect that the decisions leading to the different endings don’t actually interact to any large degree. For example, supposing that fallout 3 has 2^8 = 256 endings. Worst case scenario is that there are only 8 important decisions that influence the ending, and none of these decisions interact with each other (ie ending has 8 components, each one decided by one of your previous decisions), so you’d only need to play the game to completion 16 times to see all the content.

    Actually producing content by hand for 2^8 (let alone 2^72) interesting distinct endings would be a nightmare. Of course, if anyone writes a game that manages to procedurally generate interesting and distinct storylines based on one’s choices, now that would be something.

    (Self reflection: Oh dear. The topic? forced and limited Grand Moral Choices in games. My response? Mathematics: Cartesian product vs tensor product.)

    edit: at least the kotor games cater to my demographic with the inclusion of towers of Hanoi puzzles and the like

  20. Optimaximal says:

    The Fallout series often had more than the usual binary choice, especially if you count the ever-popular Kill Everyone Involved.

    *smiles*

  21. Gap Gen says:

    This is one of my problems with games pretending to have choices and consequences in general – I read Quintin’s article on Pathologic recently, and I agreed with his comment that Bioshock’s choice concerning children looks a bit shallow and trite, even if there is a genuine point being made.

    Deus Ex managed the choice aspect fairly well, I thought, but then it is Deus Ex. In contrast, I thought this was the one of the weakest aspects of Invisible War – in many cases, the choices you could make made no difference at all. The worst one was whether or not to kill your partner after fighting them, which was a yes/no choice that had no consequence afterwards. The characterisation wasn’t even strong enough to make me care about them enough for it to matter. But enough IW bashing…

  22. CdrJameson says:

    Hateful Racist Fundamentalist Now Blown Up Girl in my case, I fear. Oh well, she was Hateful and Racist, not to mention Fundamentalist.

    Anyway. Bioware! Stop spending all your time on (admittedly lovely) shiny graphics and detailed descriptions of planets you can’t interact with in any way, and put more interesting side quests back in! That’s the way to make longer games, not forcing me to trek back and forth from lab to barracks just to complete a no-choices conversation.

    Mass Effect, you’re so pretty, with several lushly different planets to land on, but wait! Why, if the evil space pirates haven’t set up another identical-except-for-the-crate- positions base. Looks like I’ll have to stand in the doorway again until they eventually run at me one at a time. Oh, mustn’t forget to clear the guards from the outside. Won’t take long… after all, I’ve got a tank and they haven’t.

    Good thing the main plot missions are interesting. I’m off to Baldur’s Gate 2 after this one I think, just to check that the side-plots did used to be more interesting.

  23. subedii says:

    You know, I keep hearing people describe Ashley as a hateful racist type, but I never really saw her that way at all.

    Fundamentally (no pun intended) she has issues with Earth being independent and capable of functioning for itself on the galactic stage. In her eyes the sovereign nation state of Earth should not have to depend on a galactic council or other nation states in order to be able to survive. If nothing else it’s an understandable viewpoint, and it’s one that shifts her thought processes appropriately. The reason she doesn’t want aliens on board the Normandy isn’t because she thinks they’re slimy, it’s because the Normandy is an advanced prototype with incredibly sensitive information on board that she feels it best kept secret from other species. She does have some initial aversion to alien species to begin with but that’s about it, and stems more from culture shock than anything else.

    By the end of the game if you take her down the paragon path she comes to the realisation that Earth cannot fundamentally survive just on its own, the universe is too big for that, and it’s important to be a part of something bigger in order for everyone to be able to survive.

    As a character I found her far more interesting than Liara. To be honest, I thought Liara was just about as shallow as a damp puddle on a hot day, and largely present as a fan-service for the people looking to Captain Kirk it up with a blue alien.

    Closer to the topic at hand, I feel that Planescape: Torment usually gave quite a good amount of depth to it’s moral questions. In particular there was usually a lot of information given about the subject beforehand, and your choices were usually far more varied than just binary. Sometimes you were even given the option of taking the same course of action but with different reasonings behind them. That was pretty impressive to me. The whole question of “What can change the nature of a man?” was brought up repeatedly throughout the game and with different contexts. By the end you had pretty thoroughly been taken through the concept and were allowed to say your piece on the matter. That was very well done.

    Having said all that, I personally think that John might be reading too much into the specific choice given in the example. Might just be me but I never saw this as a cipher for the MMR debate. I suppose it could have been, but I think that Bioware were just trying to insert something “edgy” and “topical” into the game. I did feel it was fairly out of place though, given the universe saving shenanigans that your character is usually up to.

    I thought a good choice sequence was the one with the Rachni (or however you spell that). You’re given a lot of information regarding the history of the situation beforehand, and allowed to draw your own conclusions. Some more diversity in the choices might have been appreciated but I didn’t feel too limited with the “yes / no” scenario as it was presented. What I did object to was the labelling of goody / baddy to the choices (let’s face it, everyone knew which choice would be which there). Anyone making the choice they did wouldn’t be doing so out of spite, but because they felt it was for the best. It’s something I feel a lot of RPG’ fall down on, labelling actions as simple good or bad is always such a relative thing.

  24. Reverend Speed says:

    Can I ask a question?

    Don’t play too many RPGS, but I often find that the limited number of handled choices combined with some rather ambiguous text lables can place me in some odd positions. For example, the Consort.

    “I just saved your political position on this here space station, so no I DON’T think this little trinket’s gonna be enough to reimburse meee wwWAAH we’re gonna have sex now? Wait, hang on–”

    “Sir, should me and Utterly Boring Biotic Guy just stay in this room and watch?”

    “What? WHAT? Why the hell would you–”

    *Weird little sex pod chamber thing (how erotic) seals shut, allowing only the occasional panicked squeal and thud to escape*

    “I guess that means he’s into it.”

    “Awwww yeahh…” *steps closer to pod*

    I mean, that was just uncomfortable. And unintentionally hilarious.

    Isn’t that, on a fairly large scale, awful story design? I mean, the plot can carry on, but what kinda idiot universe is this?

    And then there was the (seemingly) unavoidable romantic plotlines that really had nothing to do with the main plot. With no direct connection, it just felt like the designers were going out of their way to offer their audience (who could never possibly have experienced sex in real life) to enjoy SOME SEX! SEXY SEX!

    WITH AN ALIEN! FROM A RACE! WHICH WE DESIGNED SPECIFICALLY! SO YOU COULD HAVE SEXY SEX WITH ‘EM!

    Which becomes far more appealing when the alternative is Racist Cliché. But then Blue Alien is basically a Wet Blanket.

    Worst of all, I couldn’t find a way to turn ‘em both down with style and humour. Instead, I settled on becoming the biggest boor in the galaxy. And STILL I got blue chick.

    And you’re left with a fucking montage of Ooh! OH! Ahh… and there’s still no goddamn point to it all. Don’t write a sex scene that’s not plot essential! It’s just a sequence with an inevitable end! Jesus, Story 101…

    GRRAAGH!

    At least in San Andreas, I’d get a new car…!

    Mass Effect’s mostly an insultingly silly waste of time, bar exploratory gubbins which are mostly boring. Mostly. The plot that kicks in during the last quarter is just GREAT and the conclusion is excellent. =)

    Also, Bring Down the Sky. Surprisingly good. Lovely knife twist if you save the hostages.

    Ahh. I feel purged.


    CdrJameson: Mass Effect, you’re so pretty, with several lushly different planets to land on, but wait! Why, if the evil space pirates haven’t set up another identical-except-for-the-crate- positions base.

    Actually, this coulda been great. If they’d spent more time drawing attention to this, talking about the major suppliers of modular planetary living quarters, that coulda been great. You could have rescued the chairman of that company and demanded greater variety, etc… =) Hang a goddamn lantern on it, wouldja?

    Subedii: Sometimes you were even given the option of taking the same course of action but with different reasonings behind them.

    Absolutely. Planescape beats out most rpgs for choices and subtlety. Deus Ex hammer’s ‘em for plot, character, humour, setting…

  25. Tom says:

    I did laugh at that bit. It was like: “Hey! Not to eaves drop or anything but I couldn’t but notice you were talking about a deeply personal matter”.

  26. dartt says:

    Great article. I think it’s a common problem in RPGs that the developers have these wonderful ideas for moral choices for the player to agonise over but then forget to weave them in to the strory in a way that introduces them to the player effectively.

  27. Gap Gen says:

    Stop spending all your time on … detailed descriptions of planets you can’t interact with in any way…

    I hate this part of games, where they feel that an extremely detailed backstory is a good thing. Often it is, but only when you don’t have to sit through pages of exposition. If you do, your game is poorly written. HL2 is the perfect example of the opposite approach, and it works far better – I can work out what happened through the hints they gave me, and didn’t have to trawl through pages of dross that has no relevance to anything.

    Still, at least they didn’t publish a Mass Effect novel. Please tell me they didn’t publish a Mass Effect novel.

  28. Richard says:

    There’s a Mass Effect novel. Two of them, actually.

  29. Seniath says:

    @Gap Gen: I’m afraid they did. Twice.

    Edit: Nads, beaten to the punch.

  30. Ian says:

    I think the whole “talking to random strangers just to see if they’ve got anything to say” thing is a bit odd in RPGs anyway.

  31. Naurgul says:

    I put this in the same category I put “Look! Racism!” from the Witcher. It’s the evolution of “blood+tits=mature”. It’s like they specifically made it as material for the fanboys to shout how the game has depth and as a bullet-point for the box: Choices & Consequences! Pressing Issues!

    Let’s just hope developers think of things like this in a way other than just another selling point.

  32. Psychopomp says:

    “Probably not, unless we’re talking to those scurrying Bioware fanboys. ”

    Hello, have you spent much time on the Bioware boards? We’re *VERY* aware of the flaws in Biowares games…

  33. subedii says:

    I think John’s objection wasn’t so much to the issue itself, it’s the fact that he wasn’t allowed to resolve it in the manner that he wanted to. Instead he had to make a choice that he wasn’t happy with. I’d also say it makes a person uncomfortable when having to make a choice that they fundamentally disagree with when it’s the best out of what the player views as worse choices.

    It’s an unfortunate limitation with too many RPG’s that they don’t allow you to make a real choice, just a good / bad choice.

  34. suchchoices says:

    Subedii: Sometimes you were even given the option of taking the same course of action but with different reasonings behind them.

    Torment was a wonderful game.

    I think a great example of this separation of action and intention in fictional characters is the movie Memento. You see the characters perform the same actions over and over, but each time the actions are presented in a different context due to the additional information you have seen.

    (edit: i think i’m talking about the playoffs between action and context, with intention being part of the context.)

    I guess some games do this as well, to a degree – Braid springs to mind. Bioshock along with any other game featuring a ‘grand betrayal’ twist probably count too.

    Surely games, as an interactive non-linear medium, offer a far greater potential for exploring these kinds of subtleties than other mediums.

  35. Mr. Brand says:

    I’m disappointed about the lack of Wrex romance options.

  36. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    When I think of the awkward treatment of “choices” by Bioware, I’m reminded of this awkwardness:

    In BG2, Male characters could romance three characters, all interesting–especially Viconia. Female characters had one, who wasn’t quite as interesting. And he also looked kinda sleazy, which didn’t help.

  37. John Walker says:

    subedii – She describes aliens as like a dog you might love, but would let die if human lives were at stake!

    That’s just about as racist as you can get.

  38. Heliocentric says:

    the 2^72 statement was a negative comment. Who is ever going to write meaningfull dialogue for all that. As black and white as it was i liked gal civ’s moral choices. Commit genocide? But they had no relivence but to a variable. For a game to have real choices it has to genuinely escape being linear. Changing a stat or a static npc wont work. As games plots arch ever wider the time on each one would shrink. That is apart from procedural morality, like stalker. Each group represents a point of view.

  39. subedii says:

    @ John: I may be reading this incorrectly, but my understanding was that she described it the other way around.

    She describes how the council views humans as a Dog. Useful and friendly to them, but ultimately if the issue of survival came down to either them or their dog, it wouldn’t be the dog that survived.

    That’s not even racism, that’s just Machiavellian politics. To understand it from her viewpoint, would the council choose to sacrifice the rest of the council races in order for humanity to survive, or would they allow humanity to die in order for the greater whole to survive? It’s a difficult choice, but the practical one is the latter, and the previous history of that universe has showcased them making similar choices with the fates of other species.

    If you view things from that basis, it becomes understandable why she views a detachment and independence of Earth from the council and council races as necessary: She believe the only ones that the humans can really rely on when the chips are down are the humans. That’s not to say anything strictly bad about the Council races in themselves, but just that politics of the situation is like that if viewed from a utilitarian perspective.

  40. Dinger says:

    Can you present a complex moral issue using only a dialogue wheel?
    The world you create is, willy nilly, the world you understand, and that includes the implicit moral and ethical rules by which it functions. SimCity, for example, doesn’t give you artificial choices about what your ideal society should look like. It does, however, assume a grid model of urban planning, that people will commute to where they work, and that food and water production are givens. And the easiest way to get a “high score” is to make a city for the rich. But SimCity doesn’t tell you that the “right” city should look like Orinda; it just stacks the deck that way.
    A Mind Forever Voyaging, on the other hand, set out to make a statement on similar moral/ethical/political issues. The whole game is wrapped around the developers’ vision.

    In other words, the “moral landscape” of a game is the gamespace: the rules and the entities that make up the game. Putting “moral/ethical choice” into the narrative is jarring, superficial and beside the point. If you want ethics to really matter, make it the core of the game, so that “weighty consequences” are truly weighty. Otherwise leave it alone.

    In American terms, Dennis Miller sucked as a Monday Night Football commentator not because his references were too obscure, but because they had only a superficial bearing on the action on the field. Without context, there can be no meaning.

  41. Requiem says:

    “Deus Ex managed the choice aspect fairly well, I thought, but then it is Deus Ex. In contrast, I thought this was the one of the weakest aspects of Invisible War – in many cases, the choices you could make made no difference at all.” I’ve not played IW but I have to laugh at this, Deus Ex had only one choice that made a difference later in the game and it wasn’t much of a difference at that. Everything else was just a tactical choice no different from most other shooters, that only affected the situation there and then.

    Trouble with BioWare games is they tend to throw you straight into the deep end of the main plot which makes the side quests stick out like a sore thumb. Mass Effect, oh you’re racing against time to save all organic life in the galaxy, oh please stop and go find these trinklets/bandits/monkeys etc. Jade Empire your master has been kidnapped and taken to a fate unknown, please stop and help this woman find a husband. KotOR is probably the best of the bunch since it’s main story is a search for clues and helping people is in character for a Jedi, making stopping and sticking your nose in and talking to random people fit right in.

    Mass Effect would of been so much better if they had held back the main plot and your character becoming a spectre until the last third of the game. This sort of ethical dilema wouldn’t of felt so out of place if you weren’t on a save the galaxy quest or if you’d been able to choose less combat fixated character roles at the start of the game, before becoming a spectre.

  42. Okami says:

    @Naurgul: Hold on a sec! While racism surely is an issue in The Witcher, it doesn’t feel tacked on. You don’t deal with it in a purely black/white manner. The non humans are neither innocent victims, nor is the order of the flaming rose a collection of ultra racist evil doers. There’s a whole lot of different shades of grey in there.

    Also “choices and consequences” in the Witcher were implemented rather well. Especially concerning the whole order vs elves issue. The choices themselves weren’t easy to make and could have very far reaching consequences later on in the game.

    If you really need to whack The Witcher, concentrate on the sexy sex with sexy girl. Though I didn’t mind it, this is a feature that was obviously added in order to go all “OMG TEH MATUREZ” about it.

  43. MissingKeeperSpoiler says:

    Don’t look at this if you’re heart-set on finding that missing keeper, but I’m willing to bet it’s on the balcony out the back door of the embassy bar.

  44. Gap Gen says:

    subedii – She describes aliens as like a dog you might love, but would let die if human lives were at stake!

    You could get more xenophobic – you could argue that aliens should be killed even if no human lives were at immediate risk.

    In any case, most humans are pretty specieist, and that’s not seen as really that bad a thing. After all, her example of a dog is routinely observed if an animal might harm someone, or indeed if people feel like eating meat or wearing leather. In many sci-fi stories where non-human intelligences are sufficiently different from us, we’re generally at war with them.

  45. CdrJameson says:

    I think the whole “talking to random strangers just to see if they’ve got anything to say” thing is a bit odd in RPGs anyway.
    Well, in Baldur’s Gate you had to break into their houses to poke your nose into their business…

  46. John Walker says:

    Nope Missing, I found that bugger. There’s still yet another.

  47. John Walker says:

    Awesome, thanks.

  48. subedii says:

    I spent ages running around the station looking for the last one. Turned out it was in the docking bay just past the Normandy. I never visited there until a little later in the storyline (when you actually need to head down to the Normandy to start off on your Epic Quest), I kept trying to find them everywhere else. So ironically, I only found it when I gave up on trying to find it.

  49. Schadenfreude says:

    There’s two or three of the buggers in the Council Chambers; the one I was missing was in there.