I've spent a large part of the last few days discussing history elsewhere. I majored in history in college, have read quite a lot of it over the years, and generally find the subject interesting. Yay history!
But of course, history isn't just names and dates. I'm fond of referring to it as an incomprehensibly large jigsaw puzzle, made up of all the stories that ever have been, all the stories that are, and all the stories that are yet to come.
It's hard, when reading of some particularly egregious era, not to insert yourself. I read about the 1850s, and I think, "I hope I would have been an abolitionist." I read about the 1930s and 40s and think, "I hope I would have helped protect Jews." I read about the 1950s and 60s and think, "I hope I would have worked on civil rights." At least I have the good grace to hope I would have been a certain way, rather than to assert that I know I would have lived up to my own 21st-century ideals.
There's been a lot of choice-based gaming going on in my circle lately. As chronicled here, I recently completed Fallout: New Vegas. One of my close friends is finally playing Fallout 3, and she and my husband have been giddily discussing Mass Effect (1 and 2) for months. I've mentioned how I grappled with the choices I had to make in New Vegas.
I've realized, putting these threads together, that in many ways, a game with a rich, detailed world is what gives me the chance to "prove" that I'm the person I like to hope I would be. When I'm in a world like the Mojave Wasteland, I feel compelled to create the maximum possible good for the maximum number of people. I want to make their world a better place; I want to give them the chances to be good people. Granted, I also go and vanquish evil, but somehow that always feels secondary to me to the side quests.
When we say, "games let us play the hero," that's true. And often it's in a very black-and-white, save-the-kingdom-from-the-dragon kind of way. But the component of choice in modern games makes that feel a hundred times more powerful. If I'm playing Super Mario Brothers, then rescuing the princess is non-optional. If I'm playing Fallout: New Vegas, I can remake the world according to my own morality.
What power. And what a rush. And how robust a chance to feel Good, and Right, and Vindicated.
I think that's what it really means when a game lets you "be a hero." Not that you get to stomp out evil (although that's always entertaining, not gonna lie), but that you get a visceral way of being the person that, deep down, you always like to hope you would be, given that kind of a world.
Food for thought.
Interesting thoughts! I've been wondering what it says about me that I find it so hard to play an evil character. Sure, renegade in Mass Effect is great, but that's not evil just rude and unchivalrous; those I can do. However, in Dragon Age I named my aristocratic dwarf warrior Korgan and have tried to live down to the murderous brutality of the Baldur's Gate character who abandoned my party because our reputation got too noble. However, killing Conner because Korgan was too impatient to fight the demon in the fade was really hard for me. I also find it very challenging to construct a set of alternative ethics for him based on his sense of entitlement but also duty. I find myself looking for opportunities to be kind or noble for selfish or ignoble reasons.ReplyDelete
That's the other thing -- even when I want to try playing characters who run counter to my own morality, I usually fail. I certainly can't do it on a first play-through. I might, after completing the other three New Vegas endings, be able to do the pro-Legion ending. But probably not. They're just such bastards!ReplyDelete
This amuses me all the more as I realize that my default character type in all things is "independent but moral." (I tend to skew toward chaotic good and neutral good, with the occasional true neutral in there.) I play thieves / rogues / assassins / stealth-and-snipe characters pretty much all the time, but that kind of character always has the freedom and agency to do what she thinks is right, outside of an external authority. Huh.
Yeah, I want to play FO3 again as a bastard but I don't think I can blow up Megaton and I certainly can't side with the DC Slavers. Also, I mostly enjoy sniping so I think I've played the only character I can really do. I can do dogooder, or I can do Han Solo/any character Clint Eastwood ever played faux-rogue-with-heart-of-gold. Haughty, cruel and entitled is stretching me (although it may actually reflect my IRL personality - but that's what I game to get away from!) and genuinely evil may be beyond my grasp. It was also genuinely hard for me to leave nameless NPC's to die in a Mass Effect 2 mission, even though I'd already played it the heroic way and saved them (and thus failed the mission from one point of view.)ReplyDelete
I am capable of remorseless pixilated brutality against the right targets; I must have wiped out the regenerating Raiders camp on the fallen overpass near Vault 101 a dozen times, and I brought it home to the Powder Gangers and Legion (I think I actually broke the game by assassinating Caesar too early, but that's okay, I'm bored with FONV anyway). But I almost cried over Conner.
If you can survive assassinating Caesar, it's okay to assassinate Caesar. Legate Lanius takes over. (Although actually, I think he's the one you meet in the end even if you don't shoot Caesar. Either way, I needed affinity points with Boone so I took him with me to The Fort and we went nuts.)ReplyDelete
Definitely, anytime you have to actually choose to be a hero, that heroism becomes much more true and valuable, IMHO.ReplyDelete
Of course, now you're making me feel horrible for playing through the less heroic paths on this like Dragon Age as well. <.<
I've found that even thought I make most of my City of Heroes characters villains, it's only because the mechanics of the game drive me there (I prefer the layout & mission structure, as well as the villain side powers. Even when I try to make a character with a backstory that is "really villainous" I still tend to kind of chicken out and make them something amoral (robot, alien, extra-planar being, elemental, etc.) instead of actually villainous. They added content recently which allows you to do some pretty horrible things to reinforce your villainly... I do it for the mechanical reasons (rewards), but I space through it and don't read the plot content anymore lest I start feeling ill.ReplyDelete
I think I killed Boone.ReplyDelete
Well. That leaves you plenty of wiggle room...ReplyDelete
But seriously, I don't know of any games that have allowed you to play as any of those (OK, except maybe the dog thing... I'm sure there's a game or 10 out there where you can shoot dogs).
*ponders* How much wiggle room do the Fable games allow?ReplyDelete
I've had to kill my share of Marbari war hounds. I hated it but it needed to be done. They're soldiers, it's part of the game.ReplyDelete
I think of that (violating Marquess of Queensberry rules of chivalrous combat) as more "renegade" than evil, mostly because of how that plays out in Mass Effect which you do not love. I think to be "evil" in this context you have to do bad things to innocent people, not just shoot Greedo under the table.ReplyDelete
Husband and I have come to an agreement with Mass Effect that we will play it together: I will make all the decisions but he will carry out the actual tedious bits of the gameplay. This benefits both of us: I don't actually have to deal with all the tedious bits of the gameplay, and he gets to do another run-through, which he's been wanting to -- but this way, he doesn't run the same risk of making all the exact same decisions again that he made before, which is what he's hoping to avoid.ReplyDelete
Oh, see, I always made sure to keep Boone. Veronica was fun, but Boone's a sniper and that's how I prefer to play, so he was actually useful (and so's that Spotter perk).ReplyDelete
I just went in shooting and capped him in the crossfire. The drunk lady with the shotgun is handy though, I hate close quarter combat and she keeps it from being my problem.ReplyDelete
Interesting, because Mass Effect strikes me as much more "on rails" than Fallout or Dragon Age (which is also relatively linear.) I played through with Paragon Soldier Red Jenny Shepard and Renegade Infiltrator Someone or Other and I think that covered every option.ReplyDelete
I've just started FO3, but I've played through ME twice and ME2 about 10 times. I find that even though it's definitely more black/white than F03, ME's introduction of other types of non-moral-based choices such as gender, pairing and class make for a varied experience. Even something like "do I choose Kaiden or Ashley to die" in ME1 isn't based in morality, really, but can change the second game. And certainly the third, if the developers are to be believed.ReplyDelete
Hello, I'm K_Commenter's husband, so I guess that makes me M_Commenter..ReplyDelete
Anyway, I just wanted to point out for the sake of the discussion that I think there's a difference between "real evil" and "cartoon evil", particularly in gaming. It's a lot easier as a player to be "cartoon evil". Examples I've played there before are things like City of Heroes, or the Overlord games. You get closer to playing "real evil" scenarios in games like Heavy Rain (there's a situation where you are forced to shoot a man in his daughter's bedroom), and Grand Theft Auto 4 to a certain extent, although much of the gameplay in GTA4 leans more towards the cartoonish variety.
Right. I can do cartoonish supervillainy, but I don't have it in me to cross that line into normal everyday villainy. Shudder.ReplyDelete
Ohohoh, I'm the one finally playing Fallout 3! That's me!ReplyDelete
My first heavy duty introduction to choice-based games was the Fable series. They got more advanced as they went from Fable to Fable 3, but it's always really obvious which is good and which is evil. I actually think the second Fable game did it best of the series. It removed the right amount of the body altering stuff (seriously, nobody would marry me when I was bald and had horns!) and endgame didn't limit you to Good Or Evil. In the third one I was disappointed by the outcome if you choose good, and even when I tried to be evil I ended up good, just because it has a single factor that decides your classification (spoilers!). It's a negative/positive, and though the game may say you can remain neutral, you really can't. Endgame requires a moral decision that places you firmly in one camp (unless you do some serious finagling, I guess).
Fable 3 also removed a lot of class-based customization, which is something that I think can make up for the black/white dichotomy of morals (as it does in Fable 2 and the Mass Effect series). You also can't kill kids in Fable 3, which I think is a failing of the game. As an adult that's perfectly capable of separating fantasy from reality, if you really want me to be evil, you should let me make evil choices. I was able to in Fable 2.
What I've enjoyed about F03 so far is that the moral choice is richer. Even though I can still tell "good" from "bad" (using my personal judgments), there are shades of gray. My first playthrough is always a character close to my own morality... and sometimes I lie. It doesn't make me evil, it just makes me human.
CoH added options for "real villainy" with the last expansion packs. Several of the new missions make me queasy doing them... one of the missions to switch from Hero to Vigilante had, at the end, the choices were something like "blow up the brains of a hundred mind controlled heroes" or ... something else. I don't remember, but the fact that they let you do something like that was a little surprising. There are a number of paths now that directly say "Kill so and so" as opposed to arrest/capture/take out.ReplyDelete
I prefer the cartoony evil as well :). But the new missions are SO much better written than the old ones.
I shot Paladin Star Cross in the head but it wasn't an accident. God she was annoying.ReplyDelete
"I hope I would have helped protect Jews."ReplyDelete
We feel pretty good about you. Obviously we hope you never need to fulfill your true potential on that particular score.
I didn't mean to suggest that ME's choices aren't meaningful; the fact that they carry through is especially impressive. I just meant that there's a much more limited range of them and they're usually either/or, and the eithers almost all line up with paragon (the Ashley/Kaiden decision would be the important exception) while the ors are almost all renegade. I didn't feel like gender played much of a role (very little sexism in ME wrt Shepard although the most powerful race in the galaxy seems to spend most of its time stripping), class falls under the tedious game play K is outsourcing to M, and you're absolutely right about the relationships but again those don't seem (to me) to take up much of the game.ReplyDelete
I've been wondering what it says about me that I find it so hard to play an evil character. Sure, renegade in Mass Effect is great, but that's not evil just rude and unchivalrous; those I can do. However, in Dragon Age I named my aristocratic dwarf warrior Korgan and have tried to live down to the murderous brutality of the Baldur's Gate character who abandoned my party because our reputation got too noble.ReplyDelete
Then what does it say about me that I refused to ever include Korgan in my party in Bauldur's Gate because he seemed evil? Even when it meant getting through a difficult section of the beginning with only two characters, neither of which were warrior classes--an actual sacrifice in terms of the game. I similarly minimized the amount of time with Bishop (the evil ranger) in my party in Neverwinter Nights 2, almost always taking Casavir (paladin) instead if I wanted an extra fighter on top of Khelgar (the good+kickass dwarven fighter).
In fact, I don't think I've ever played a non-good character in an RPG, and I've played a decent number over the years, both tabletop and computer. "Good or at the very least neutral" appears to be non-negotiable in my mind. Chaotic I can handle, but not evil. Whatever it means, I appear to be very hardline/extreme about it.
You also can't kill kids in Fable 3, which I think is a failing of the game. As an adult that's perfectly capable of separating fantasy from reality, if you really want me to be evil, you should let me make evil choices.ReplyDelete
That might have as much to do with getting the game released as anything else. I know they had to make changes in the Fallout games ("Med-X" rather than morphine, kids can't be killed) in order to be released in Australia.
Of course, as I play on the PC, there's a mod available for pretty much everything and, if you choose, you can turn off the "essential" flag on kid NPCs. My aim isn't always everything it's cracked up to be, though (I've headshotted my own companions a few times, when they move at exactly the wrong moment) so I've left the tag on, as I don't want to kill anyone accidentally. I mean, not that I want to kill kids, but if I were trying to play an evil character I would still want her (they're always her; my one male FO3 character never even made it out of the vault) to act with intent rather than accidentally.
BTW I'm really looking forward to you hitting New Vegas someday; there are some gender / hookup things I think you'd be interested in observing, heh. More nuanced than in 3.
The only gameplay sacrifice I'm making is keeping my only mage Morrigan without fire spells. I decided she doesn't like fire. That obviously hurts her damage dealing potential as she goes through her other attack spells before the first one recharges, and there's no alternative to fireball.ReplyDelete
As an admin / guildhead God in an old fantasy MUD, I definitely ran my religious cult as "creepy messed-up dark neutral" rather than sadistically evil, but since "evil" and "good" were the only options as far as toggling it, "evil" followers of the Order of the Ebon Hand we all were.ReplyDelete
That said, I've certainly run my fair share of messed up characters in tabletop White Wolf games (especially as the Storyteller), and in choice-laden path games like BioWare's line, I tend to play both super wholesome good (with Minsk and Boo, natch) and ridiculously mustache-twirling badass evil (all villagers who get in my way either chunked or killed and reanimated). Sometimes the badass ends up doing "good" because of taking a dislike to the sidequest badguy, but it's all about maximum mayhem.
Star Control 2 is the first big one where I consciously made really skeevy choices, rather than over the top ones. The badass playing on Hard ran an entire consignment of crew out to the Druuge Crimson Corporation and sold them into slavery (for amazing profit). But then the crafty good guy realized that the prices the Druuge would offer to pay for fuel went down as you sold to them, so he didn't sell, but rather flew back to Earth, reconfigured the entire ship as a supertanker, and flew into Druuge-port to make a gazillion credits by selling it all at top rate (for even more amazing profit).
Some of the bad guy options in Knights of the Old Republic were ... discomforting, as well, but as it went along they ended up cartoonish - of course I'll slaughter pixellated bystanders late on after I've lied and cheated and stolen and sold people up the river.
I wonder what games could do with something that approached a moral no-win scenario -- say you're a partisan in Yugoslavia in WWII (the most unpublishable game idea I've ever had). Do you kill a Catholic priest that's probably helping out Croatia's clerical-fascist puppet government? Do you kill defenseless enemy soldiers that have been massacreing villagers by the score as anti-partisan reprisals? In practice, it would probably just turn into Grand-Theft Auto style sociopathy, but in theory it could really screw with people's idea of heroics.ReplyDelete
I feel like some games have been wanting to move toward the "no perfect moral solution" design but haven't had the guts or ability to go all the way. New Vegas, for example, is full of trade-offs -- you'll get reputation or karma hits for doing things that seem like the best possible choice at the time, and you can't help everyone. You need to pick and choose, and even when you're playing a very positive and heroic character, by the time you get to the epilogue videos you'll be seeing all of the unintended consequences that come with, many of them at least slightly negative.ReplyDelete
But even then that's only just barely dipping their toe in the pool you describe.
say you're a partisan in Yugoslavia in WWII (the most unpublishable game idea I've ever had)
And that made me laugh, heh. Indeed, not a terribly publishable idea; we gamers clearly like to have the chance to make ourselves heroic. And when we talk of "serious gaming" as described in a couple of posts here, it does seem that in order to be truly serious, the "no-win scenario" would have to be the cornerstone. A Kobiyashi Maru game that you can't hack...
Hey, I earned XP for that Evil!ReplyDelete
Speaking of evil acts which leave the player feeling sick, I just helped Oghren get laid. I hate my character and myself.ReplyDelete
Honky Mufah! Try tangling with Gaxkang the Unbound, Uber Revenant, without fire spells.ReplyDelete
Update: I turned the difficulty down to beat Gaxkang. I'll turn it up to hard for the rest of the game.
Beyond ridiculous: Foreign slavers were kidnapping local elves. They offered me a substantial bribe. Since I am playing an aristocratic evil dwarf (naturally anti-elf) of course I had to . . . come up with a suitably non-paragon reason to slaughter the slavers and rescue the elves. I don't have it in me to ever cooperate with slavers. Competing xenophobias!ReplyDelete
You have the arrogance to come here and steal our elves!?
My MMO characters almost always tend to be "evil," but are rarely actually villainous -- usually, they're just of the "lone wolf" sort of stealth rogue / thief / assassin type I described above. My main and my "main alt" in EQ2 were both Freeport based (Assassin and Fury, with a lil' Shadowknight up-and-coming when I left), and the CoH/ CoV character I played longest was a villain.ReplyDelete
But I never really play them as actually evil. Very few people do. I have a weird sort of back-away-slowly-before-running respect for folks who actually can pull off a genuinely evil character in a game.
This is why there is hope that I may join Husband in The Old Republic when it launches: really, I've always preferred (and wanted to be) the Han Solo type. (Even if the Empire got all the best music.)