I'm thinking about morality mechanics like in Fallout 3, or Fable, or any number of WRPGs. The player gains points for doing good things, and loses points for doing bad things. If their total score is about 0, they're a "good" character, and if the number is below 0, they're a "bad" character. Of course there is some variation in how games execute this, but it tends to be something like this. And it's always shallow, and never very interesting.
It's a good idea, but I haven't ever seen morality done with any depth. In the games I've played, the difference between a good character and a bad character is mostly cosmetic. At most, it affects the most benign of features, like what equipment you can use, or who can join your party. I think that this is largely influenced by the fact that the narrative needs to make sense regardless of the character that is playing the lead. If morality affected the story directly, the plot would have to become very complex.
That said, I've thought of some ways to make morality more meaningful in a game in ways that don't directly affect the narrative.
It really bothers me in a game when I have a saint-like character, but I can still kill a random person in cold blood. Or if I have an evil character that can still save all the orphans and give them puppies rescued from the pound. I think the characters morality should affect what choices the player is able to make. That saintly character shouldn't be able to kill someone in cold blood. At least not without some major penalty. So rather than giving the player complete control over what they choose, force the player to choose from only a few choices - choices that make sense for the character. Assume that for every choice in a game there's a "really good", "good", "neutral", "evil" and "really evil" choice. If the character is neutral, they should be able to any good, bad, or neutral thing. If the character is "really evil", then they should only be able to do evil, and really evil things. If the player makes lots of "evil" choices, eventually, the "neutral" choice should become available.
Though, I still think such narrow morality leaves something to be desired.
In most WRPGs I like to play a thief character. I'll break into houses and steal anything I can. Besides that, though, I tend to play a 'good' character. But in the games I've played, I've either ended up with an evil character, or a saintly character. But neither would really describe that sort of person. Thinking about it realistically, even if someone steals everything in sight, I'd be hard-pressed to say that this person is just as evil as a mass murderer with a pit full of bodies in his backyard. Likewise, I wouldn't call this thief a good person. To avoid this sort of issue, I propose the following:
Instead of one metric ranging from good to evil, have a number of different metrics that measure different ways in which a person can be moral. I like to think about the seven deadly sins, and the seven heavenly virtues:
I like these just because they're quite vivid, and knowledge of the seven deadly sins is pretty common. Using this breakdown, you could have a character that steals everything, but is quite humble about his abilities. With 7 different ways to measure the kind of person the character is, there are many more ways to have that affect the game.
So what do you think about morality in games? Do you like the way it's handled? What do you think of my suggestions? Do you have any of your own? I'd like to hear what other people think. I've thought a lot about this, but I don't have anybody around me to actually talk about it with.
ROLL iT OVER SON, AND LEAVE THE MAX