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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 May 2019

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May

May offers no respite from the big, bold games that have released so far in 2019, bringing with it a host of games almost certain to appeal to gamers of every stripe.

Close to the Sun

Release Date: May 2, 2019
Platforms: PC, consoles later in the year

May’s first major release may also be its most intriguing. Close to the Sun has regularly attracted comparisons to BioShock for its art style and premise, though the relationship between the two titles is, at best, spiritual.

Players take the role of journalist Rose Archer as she steps aboard Nikola Tesla’s ship, the Helios in 1897. Like Andrew Ryan before him (or after him, depending on perspective), Tesla has created a microcosm in which scientific freedom is unrestricted, with disastrous outcomes. Rose’s first impression is of a quarantine sign at the entrance to a still, dead ship, but she presses on regardless in search of her lost sister.

With Close to the Sun, developer Storm in a Teacup aims to provide an intense horror experience. The Helios holds none of BioShock’s shotguns or Plasmids. Instead, players have no means to defend themselves, with gameplay focusing on hiding from and escaping the threats on board.

Check out OnlySP’s final review of the game here.

RAGE 2

Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

For anyone to whom the slow, meditative approach does not appeal, Bethesda is busting out the big guns with the long-awaited, little-expected sequel, RAGE 2.

This time around, id Software has tapped Just Cause and Mad Max developer Avalanche Studios for assistance in developing an open-world game. The result, if the trailers are any indication, is a breakneck, neon-fuelled experience that focuses on insanity and ramps up all the unique aspects of the earlier game.

One focal point of development has been ensuring the interconnectedness of the game’s structure, and the teams have promised a greater focus on narrative this time around. Perhaps in keeping with that, RAGE 2 is being distanced from its predecessor, taking place 30 years later with a new protagonist and a whole new story, though some callbacks will be present.

Although id’s legendary first-person gunplay is a driving force throughout the game, it will be supplemented by some light RPG elements, robust vehicular combat, and post launch challenges and support (though the developers deny that RAGE 2 is designed with a games-as-a-service model in mind).

A Plague Tale: Innocence

Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Out on the same day as RAGE 2 is the vastly different A Plague Tale: Innocence. A historical adventure, the game challenges players with overcoming obstacles with brains rather than brawn.

Players become Amicia, an orphan girl struggling to survive in a plague-infested medieval France while also keeping her younger brother safe. With the landscape rife with rats and members of The Inquisition, one of the core tenets of gameplay is reportedly the need to use these threats against each other. As such, though Amicia has a sling to use, the gameplay is designed more as survival puzzles than combat ones.

Developer Asobo Studio is not a household name, though it has a lengthy history of adaptations and support on major titles, including Quantum Break and The Crew 2. Furthermore, even though A Plague Tale is yet to release, publisher Focus Home Interactive has displayed remarkable confidence in the project by extending its partnership with Asobo.

Honourable Mentions

Although RAGE 2 is the incontestable action-blockbuster of the month, gamers in search of another kind of frenetic may want to wait until May 21, when Curve Digital drops American Fugitive, which has a more than passing resemblance to the earliest Grand Theft Auto games. Alternatively, PlayStation VR owners may want to look into Blood and Truth come May 28.

Sega also shines this month, dropping Team Sonic Racing on May 21 and Total War: Three Kingdoms two days later.

Anyone looking for an RPG has indie’s answer to The Outer Worlds, Within the Cosmos, to look out for on May 30, while those looking for slower stories get the latest episode of Life is Strange 2 on May 9, Observation on May 21, and the fjord-noir Draugen at a yet unspecified date.

Have we forgotten anything that you’re excited for? Let us know down below or on our Discord server.

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