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Editorial

Have Developers Finally Figured Out Morality in Games?

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I’ll start off by saying that storytelling in videogames has come a long way. In the earliest days of videogames, you either got a small preface in the form of some vague artwork, or, if you were lucky, a short paragraph in a manual. Other than that, a videogame’s narrative was whatever you made it out to be. As the technology has improved, so has the ability to really say something, and many games have used that to tell some pretty compelling stories. That being said, have developers actually figured out how to portray morality in their games?

My short answer to that question is, no. While a number of games have tried to introduce aspects of morality into games, for the most part, they’ve failed. In most cases, the entire concept of morality runs counter to the escapism that videogames provide. In other games, the concept is too limited, or so poorly implemented that it just becomes another gameplay element to be mastered, in order to complete the game. Of course everything in videogames is run off of a program, and any morality system is just a series of “If/Then” commands coded into that particular game.

For a large number of games, morality is totally off of the table. I mean just about any shooter game, is all about violence. For many gamers, it gives them a sense of empowerment that allows them to release frustration by killing things and blowing stuff up. Driving games serve much the same purpose, albeit in less violent way, typically. I mean, there aren’t any games about being a courteous driver, and allowing other drivers to merge into traffic ahead of you. Likewise, Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War, and Battlefield aren’t about individually assessing the threat of enemy combatants, and don’t offer the ability to capture them.

When I think of morality in videogames, two of the games that come to mind first are the Mass Effect and Fable role playing games. Both games try, but ultimately fail, in my opinion, to implement a morality system. The Fable games do the worse job of the two, because while your appearance can change and NPCs will react differently to you, there is actually no permanent impact to the narrative based on how you play the game. While Mass Effect’s morality is, for the most part, too limited, at least in the first game, your overall morality actually determines a crew member’s fate.

Mass Effect

Another game that tries to introduce a morality system is Dishonored. For me this is one of the most convoluted attempts that I’ve ever seen in a videogame. On one hand, the game does give you all of the tools to play the game nonviolently. It also creates a tangible effect for the level of violence you implement throughout the game, and even has different endings based on how you play the game. The problem is, that the morality makes no sense in the context of the overall narrative, particularly when it comes to the main bad guys. Considering their level of power and influence, the nonviolent choice of turning them over to “the authorities” is just silly. Imagine that the President of the United States wanted to kill you and your family, do you really think that calling 911 would solve that problem? I hope that the system in Dishonored 2 is a little more plausible.

What I would have liked to have seen, in all of these games is a more tangible, nuanced, and at the same time less visible effect of your moral choices. Morality isn’t a meter, and we all make moral decisions every day. Some of those choices have an immediate effect, some play out down the road, and others have no discernable impact in our lives, ever. As Game of Thrones has taught us, being the good guy also doesn’t always benefit you. There is also a significant difference between a perceived public morality, and a more personal one.

The Dragon Age games address this, but what I would also like to see, is more of an impact on relationships in games, based on your choices. If you’re too pious of a person, there are some that will shun you, and not only that, but try to take advantage of you. At the other extreme, if you’re too aggressive, you’re likely to turn others off. In most of the games that try to tackle this, it’s fairly easy to overcome, for the sake of the game’s scope. This is what the real issue of morality in videogames boils down to.

Dishonored

Unfortunately, just like with most videogames’ narratives, the morality systems lean towards being cartoony. However, with limited resources, and time and budget constraints, often game makers just aren’t afforded the luxury of implementing a realistic morality system into gaming. Like enemy AI, it’s a complex system with a lot of variables. Unlike AI though, a morality system also requires a strong narrative that supports it. It’s a daunting task, and not something that’s easily summarized in bullet point on a press release. Even if it was, a complex, nuanced morality isn’t quite as sexy as Ultra HD, or 60fps anyway. That doesn’t mean we can’t expect more, and ask for it.

What do you think?  Let us know in the comments below, and make sure to follow us on Twitter (@Official_OnlySP) and Facebook where you can also sound off your opinions.

The opinions in this editorial are the author’s and do not represent OnlySP as an organization.

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Writer, musician, and indie game developer in the Land of Enchantment.

Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in July 2019

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Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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