Where games are going.
We all remember how linear the games we played used to be. You never had to question whether what you were doing was right. You, in your red overalls or in your blue battle armor or in just a simple muscle t-shirt, would traverse the screen. The Goombas, killer robots, and enemy soldiers that you stomped, shot, or once and a while set on fire were ‘Bad.’ You were ‘Good,’ and you were going to kick their ass.
It’s not so much like that anymore; the gaming genre is opening up like an oyster to reveal the pearl within, but you have to swim down deep to grab it.
Okay, enough with the metaphors. I’ve had my fun.
Basically, the question of morality in the game has shifted from a great big “Yeah!” to a “Well, umm…maybe?” and sometimes not even that. For instance, take Jade Empire for the Xbox. As a character progresses along, you are given choices to make. To help this henpecked farmer find his ox, to help the ghosts find eternal rest, etc to determine if your character will spread peace throughout the land or just go into town and crack some heads… hell yeah!
Half Life 2 is also a game where you have to consider the moral nature of what you’re doing. Almost every enemy you have to fight in the game used to be a human being. Every Combine solider you vaporize with your plasma rifle, every Stalker that you are forced to shoot, used to be a human once, before the Combine arrived on Earth. So, here you are; a human, fighting against other humans, to save the rest of the human race. In a normal game, that issue would be that you would do the job, however dirty it was, because the people you were fighting were ‘Very Bad Indeed.’ Now, though, you find yourself stuck in a situation where if you don’t fight back, the result is much worse then your character’s death. In the case of Half Life 2 you have to fight to save yourself, the remainder of the human race, and the Vortigaunts
Imagine having to do your high school homework every night and multiply it by say, oh, several thousand if it helps.
Mass Effect has worked this more dynamic form of gameplay into it’s method as well in how they constructed the conversation system. You can be nice, rough, bribe, or interrupt the person talking. This construction of the game creates the sensation that you are not just following a prearranged script. No longer do you go from point A to point B as you go to rescue the princess, but now, you are allowed to make your own choices or decisions without scripting. Also, like in Jade Empire, the morality of the character is important. Bioware has stated that it will be lessened somewhat, but people in your squad who don’t like you will leave and the story will also be affected by your choices in the game.
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion also has a version of this kind of conversation system. Take the example of the Chorrol Mages Guild Recommendation quest, where you have two parties vying for the same book. If you choose not to give it to Earana, she will be angry, and if you decline a second time, she will not speak to you again; her facial expressions will radiate her dislike of you.
Bioshock has a similar system that has been discussed often, which mainly seems to revolve around the Little Sisters, the genetically engineered little girls that harvest Adam from the dead bodies of Rapture’s citizens. Will you kill them for the Adam in their bodies, even to the extent of taking down a Big Daddy for it, or will you let them be even if you have to tangle with their protector?
As Andrew Ryan said in the opening of the Bioshock trailer “We all make choices… but in the end our choices make us.”
So this is where the gaming industry is heading, more freedom, a more dynamic style of play, that will create a level of excitement and a connection to the characters and events in the game that we have not seen often in the games we have been playing all our lives.
Speaking for myself I can’t wait.