Podcast: The toughest moral choices we’ve made


All right, picture this. There’s five podcasts tied to a train track, and you’re on a train speeding toward them. On another track, there’s just one podcast, the Electronic Wireless Show. Do you swap tracks and kill one podcast to save the other five? Or do you forge ahead? Take your time, it’s a difficult moral choice – exactly our topic this week. Think hard about it. No, listen, you should think about it very carefully. No, listen–

I know, but–

You can’t just p–

Ha ha, okay, stop the train. Joke’s over.

Stop the train.


Yes, we’re talking morality. Glowing paragons, rugged renegades, sith cacklers and jedi hand-wringers. And, of course, all the grey weirdoes in between who can’t make up their minds. Matt thinks the decision to reprogram the robotic Geth in Mass Effect 2 is full of complexity. Brendan prefers the ethical drudgery of being an Arstotzkan  border guard in Papers, Please. John would rather pick whatever decision makes the most sense in the confines of the story. Maybe that’s why he had his favourite character in Knights of the Old Republic murdered by a reluctant wookie. Who knows.

We also play a minigame, in which John and Matt are put through the end-of-level confessionals of Catholic guilt simulator, Catherine. Listen to find out which of them is deemed “Lawful” and which is branded “Chaotic”. Thanks to Tom Frederick for suggesting the topic of ‘morality’!

You can listen above, or go straight to Soundcloud where you can download it for later.

You can also get the RSS feed here or find it on iTunes, Stitcher or Pocket Casts. The music has been ethically sourced from only an organic Jack de Quidt.

Want to write in with questions or suggest a theme for a future episode? Now you can, to podcast@rockpapershotgun.com.


Killing the Geth in Mass Effect 2

Bastard of the Old Republic, part one

Have you played… Soma?

Soma’s safe mode has no monsters

Who is HK-47?


Altered Carbon is a new Netflix show

Have you played… Sun Dogs?

Have you played… Papers Please?

A Good Gardener is a war time grow ’em up

The Red Strings Club review

Catherine’s confessionals

Talos Principle 2 is actually coming out

Readers’ answers on Facebook and Twitter


  1. somnolentsurfer says:

    You’re close with Mass Effect 2, but you’re all wrong. The only moral choice ever in games worth stopping to think about was whether to murder the woman knowingly spreading a deadly STD, or the woman who wants to execute her own daughter because she’s disabled.

    • Lukasz says:

      She doesn’t want to kill her because she is disabled. She wants to kill her daughter because the daughter escape from place which caters to her kind and actively hunts and murders dozens of people.

      No real moral choice here. It’s very black and white
      Helping mother is the correct moral choice
      Helping daughter is evil and assine

      • somnolentsurfer says:

        They both actively hunt and murder people. One does it because of her evil beliefs. The other because it’s the only way she can get a shag.

        Helping the mother condones the death penalty and punishment without trial, and upholds structural oppression.
        Helping the daughter is the compassionate and moral stance.

        • Premium User Badge

          Ninja Dodo says:

          One murders people who harm others, the other murders whoever she fancies having sex with. They’re hardly equivalent. Also worth noting that in the moral space of the Mass Effect universe Spectres are not *that* different from Justicars in terms of skipping due process.

  2. SanguineAngel says:

    I can’t decide if Brendan’s sense of what constitutes himself changes between talking about robots and teleportation or not but I am enjoying this podcast immensely :)

  3. Raoul Duke says:

    I found almost none of the ‘moral choices’ in any of the Mass Effect games interesting, because the games presented almost everything as a roughly equal trade off, which is not how real life works. If you’re weighing up a 51/49 balance of whether to do something, there’s really no good or bad answer.

    The Witcher 3 presents much more interesting choices, and doesn’t telegraph to you what their consequences might be, either.

    • Unclepauly says:

      Spot on pally.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      I got a new PC last month, so I’ve only just played the first couple of hours of The Witcher 3 since writing that post above. But the moment I mentioned in Mass Effect is probably most notable for having literally no effect on anything else in the story. Well, in that game anyway. Still not played ME3.

      • ashleys_ears says:

        If you side with JUSTICE MOM, she appears in a mission in ME3 and can provide a tiny, tiny boost to your War Assets number, which influences the possible endings. If you side with EVIL SEX DAUGHTER, she can appear as a generic enemy in the final mission. Aaaaand that’s it. It’s incredibly negligible. JUSTICE MOM has actual scenes and dialogue in ME3, though, whereas EVIL SEX DAUGHTER doesn’t, which is probably worth mentioning. It’s not *much*, but it’s something. It’s almost like the writers just assumed literally everyone makes the Obviously Right Choice in ME2 or something.

        Perish the thought.

        • somnolentsurfer says:

          How is siding with Judge Judy and Executioner so she can uphold her fucked up moral code and perpetuate their system of locking up disabled people the Obviously Right Choice?

          This was the one point in Mass Effect where I felt the two evils I was being asked to choose between were actually meaningfully close to equivalent.

          • DeepSleeper says:

            Sadistic Sex Murderer versus The Actual Police is a gray area for you.
            That’s faintly terrifying.

          • somnolentsurfer says:

            Because no harm ever came from unquestioning deference to authority.

          • Premium User Badge

            Ninja Dodo says:

            I’m sure we’re all on board with questioning authority but please tell me you don’t really think locking up and attempting to treat those who are physically/mentally compelled to murder random innocents is the same thing as “locking up the disabled”.

          • Premium User Badge

            phuzz says:

            My Shepard had reached that point after quite happily killing a whole bunch of people, so for crimes as heinous as ‘I don’t like your face’. So for me the choice was less down to the (pretty grey) morals of the situation and more down to who I thought would be the most fun to hang out with.

          • Asurmen says:

            It’s only a fucked up moral code from your human sensibilities. From asari morals, code and law, she’s fully empowered to do what she does.

          • somnolentsurfer says:

            Yep, and Asari morals are evil. I mean, I don’t like to generalise. Some of my best friends are Asari, and they’re alright. But execution without trial is always wrong. End of.

            Clearly the actual moral thing to do is not kill either of them, but Mass Effect is a tower made of trolly problems, and you’re not allowed to stop the train.

    • fish99 says:

      I’ve only played about 20 hours of Witcher 3 (really need to get back to it) and while I respected that the decisions I was given weren’t easy, it felt like you often weren’t given much to base your decisions on. It felt like I was missing something, possibly due to having not played the first two games.

      It felt like Geralt would know what to do, but I didn’t, and I couldn’t call on his knowledge of the world and the nations/people in it.

      • thetruegentleman says:

        “Canon” Geralt would look after his own people first, avoid committing blatant atrocities second, and get paid third.

        Beyond that, the choices don’t matter: he’s quite used to no-win scenarios.

  4. Belmakor says:

    Deus Ex surely has to have a mention here;

    The decision whether or not to kill the commander at the liberty statue.

    On one hand you have just been dropped into an active terrorist situation with instructions to capture the commander and as one of the good guys working for a peace keeping agency you would think this is legitimate and morally correct.


    Your own brother has given you some subtle warnings and alluded to the fact that violence is not the solution here.
    The commander when you finally meet him also has a convincing argument which assuming you have a soul completely justifies his own actions. He also pretty much accepts his fate and leaves the decision to you.

    Did you shoot him to save him from presumably a life term and or torture?
    Or do you leave him to be captured in the belief that it’s going to be better for him?

    • Raoul Duke says:

      I knew this was a special game as soon as I got into that first mission. Everything about it was different – killing was quite hard and messy, people on my own side seemed to have different opinions about whether to hurt the ‘bad guys’, the bad guys themselves seemed quite sympathetic, and after the mission everyone had an opinion about my approach… what a great game. Sadly FPS/RPG games have mostly gone backwards since.

      • jj2112 says:

        Yes, I remember telling a friend that Paul Denton had died in my game and he told me he was alive in his. That was one of the first games to do that sort of thing.

  5. thischarmingman says:

    Great stuff! Especially enjoyed Matt going on philosophical rants. What is his twitter handle? Hard for me to make out in the pod.

  6. Kinsky says:

    The end of Avadon: The Black Fortress is by far the most intriguing choice I’ve seen in a game. It spends the entire runtime of the story explaining the political intricacies of its world to you – an uneasy alliance of culturally disparate nations forced into bed together by surrounding nations of barbarians and imperialists, held together by a ruthlessly authoritarian law enforcement body that takes every opportunity to make an example out of anybody who violates the alliance – only to place you, as an agent of that body, in a curious crossroads in which each course of action available to you alters the fate of millions. The choice is pretty heavily telegraphed from the beginning of the game, but that subtracts nothing from its depth, which becomes increasingly apparent as you visit each nation in turn. Rather it does a good job of holding a seemingly small dilemma before you – freedom or oppression? – and then showing you how such a thing blooms to intractability when realities are taken into account.

  7. Meat Marauder says:

    ** Possible Spoiler Alert **

    The ending of the last The Witcher 3 DLC, Blood and Wine, did a very interesting thing where you must choose between being named a hero of the realm, but at the unintended cost of the beloved ruler’s life, causing nationwide grief, sorrow and instability, or you can choose to save the ruler and the people, but in doing so becoming a persona non grata and get thrown into jail.

    So would you put your own vanity above the good of the realm, or would you, playing as a character who sees himself as honourable and just, suffer the destruction of your reputation to save the nation, possibly forever ruining your chance for another contract (your livelihood)?

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      (spoilers continued)

      Curious, which path is that? In my playthrough I managed to reconcile the sisters and pretty sure Geralt’s reputation was left unscathed. Definitely don’t remember being thrown in jail.

      • Meat Marauder says:

        ** Huge Spoiler Alert **

        Oh man, I played through it so many times, but no matter what I did, either the one sister kills the other and get killed herself, or you let Detlaff take his revenge and you get thrown into jail for not protecting the girl. I was not aware there was a “good” ending. Actually that kind of ruins it :p

        • Premium User Badge

          Ninja Dodo says:

          I guess I went out of my way. Syanna even sarcastically comments at one point that you seem to insist on trying to get some kind of happy ending…

          I think two crucial things I did was SPOILER SPOILER 1) choose to go to Syanna instead of the Elder vampire 2) Get the red ribbon from the flint girl and give it back to Syanna in the fairy tale world (which unexpectedly prevents Detlaff from getting revenge when you meet… I just did it because why not but it turns out this is important) and trying to understand Syanna’s side of the story by listening to her and being sympathetic. 3) Finding out the final target and confronting Syanna in prison and pleading with her to make peace with her sister. 4) Telling Henrietta the truth. /END SPOILERS

  8. peterako1989 says:

    Mo, mo, mo, mo, morals

  9. jontaro says:

    I found morality system in KoTOR games annoying. If you wanted to be a sith you were basically a kind of an dirtbag who steals candy from the children, just for the evulz.

    I just feel that being nice and inspiring loyalty on the outside, but being a scheming and betraying bastard on the inside would have been more fitting to Darth Revan.

  10. thetruegentleman says:

    Geneforge probably had the best moral dilemmas of any game/series: no moralizing, just a bunch of difficult decisions with unavoidably bad outcomes. Want to assert the free will of autonomous beings? Congratulations, you just started a brutal war that may or may not drag on forever. Want to avoid that war? Congratulations, you just caused a genocide.

    There’s no universal happy ending, so its just you and the courage of your convictions.

  11. KDR_11k says:

    I don’t get the “you’re rewriting their minds!” angle of the Geth choice since the Reapers hacked them in the first place and you’re just reversing that hack.

  12. Premium User Badge

    zigguratvertigo says:

    Superb podcast. Matt was excellent!

Comment on this story

HTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>