Apr 6 2012, 02:48 AM
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.
Apr 6 2012, 03:21 AM
Breath of Fire had some morality thing based on choices you and other people made. Black for pretty dern evil, rainbow for stunningly good. Of course, they ignored all the battle enemies you killed. If you wanted to really play this up, you could set up as variable that adds (since aliens, robots, and animals are often viewed as morally acceptable targets) whenever you hurt a human. The hero should probably get a defense command called Talk, that ends with the (humanoid only) target fleeing and subtracting one from this variable. Interestingly, you can probably kill beastmen/birdmen/fishmen without repercussions, but they also can be talked to to lower your morality score. That is, you don't have to spare honhumans, since they're viewed as wild/savage, but it's moral if you do. And likewise there should be certain creatures that actually "too cute to die" and viewed as negative points to your score if you kill them, but they can't be reasoned with because they're animals. We'd called this a weighted morality choice. Then you have out-of-battle choices, which affect your hero (and possibly other party members), ranging from simple ones to ones that give short term morality, which later lead to much darker decisions (and vice versa).
Wait, so you're gonna use the Seven Deadly Sins/Virtues as morality? Well, it's fine but keep in mind this isn't the only morality out there (let's not get into moral relativism). In fact this could be a point at one part of the game, X character has different variables and only cares about honor, family, and devotion.While others care about certain decisions, that character ignores both good and bad decisions entirely on those other points, but is hypersensitive to a choice for instance about whether to take care of one's family.
Apr 6 2012, 04:00 AM
Well exactly as Bulma said, it goes into moral relativism. I mean yeah, I stole some bread, but then I gave it to a starving orphan. Right or wrong?
Games cant become too specific with these choices because we each have our own moral compasses.
Ultimately, your guys a thief, he's 'evil', but he's still out saving the world at the end of the day.
In practical terms I'm unsure about the logistics. Presumably you'd have to achieve certain scores in each category to unlock certain events, this would become significantly harder the more choices provided. Eg. Do I pick the lust or the greed convo option (and this doesn't even take into account their binaries)
This becomes even worse when events require combined traits eg. A lazy but charitable fellow required.
I think you're onto something, I definitely agree with what you're saying about their current use in games. However the vague use of morality in games provides a certain freedom. Just because I made one or two good decisions early on doesn't mean I want to spend the rest of the game without stealing or having to spare everybody.
You should also consider the implications of your choice of morality system, it essentially says lead a good, Christian life and be rewarded.
Apr 6 2012, 07:05 AM
The use of the seven deadly sins was just a toy example. I used it mostly because since in the broadest of strokes it shows different ways you can be good or evil that don't (necessarily) directly influence each other. This isn't actually for any particular project, just something I've been thinking about.
I see the concern of moral relativism, but I don't think that it's really an issue. Even with current games we buy into the morality that the game presents us. It's part of the suspension of disbelief. That and games don't usually look at why somebody does something. (I actually think that's a really important part of assessing the moral value of an action).
As for the logistics, I can see how branching choices would get really messy and confusing from a development point of you. As far as the player debating between the lust or the greed choice, I think that it would work best if the choices aren't presented as obviously aligned with a particular metric. Rather than seeing the lust choice, you can choose to seduce someone. Or you can try to persuade someone with facts and evidence which might increase kindness. I think to make a system like this more smooth, I think the choices would have to become more interesting by at least implying certain motivations. I do agree, though, that practically, this could be a nightmare.
I'm mostly interested in this conversation because I don't think games do morality in a very interesting way at the moment. I think that if there is some sort of morality mechanic in a game, it'd be much more interesting if it was more than a mere cosmetic feature that doesn't really amount to much.
Apr 6 2012, 12:48 PM
I prefer The Witcher way. There are no good or bad choices. All that matters are their consequences, which are really hard to predict. A game should not have meters for player's moral choices, but it sure as hell should have consequences.
Apr 8 2012, 02:50 PM
The 7 deadly sins example sounds like it could make a really good system, but it also sets up a rather negative definition of morality (the moral decision is *not* doing something). It could work if you tied it to the right story though, and I don't think it explicitly has to connect to Christianity, as virtually all RPGs draw from different religions to make their stories. I also like your idea of giving different characters different moral choices that fit their personality.
My question to you would be "What is your goal in designing a morality system?" I'm not very familiar with WRPGs but from what I understand the point of the system is to create emotional investment for the player. Decisions are supposed to make players think about the implications of their actions, but I can see where allowing the player to make decisions that go against the character's personality would actually have the opposite effect. For these systems to really make me care about my actions, I'd want them to have some major impact on the story or ending. This adds major replay value, and I really don't think decision-branching systems are worth designing unless they make the player want to play again to see how different choices result in different experiences.
Decision choices in Persona 3 and 4 work well because the main characters are the silent "blank slate" type. Some of the choices you make in dialogue can give you stat boosts (for example, a character is going to do something wrong and you can try to stop them or not; either way, you cannot stop what is going to happen, but *trying* to stop him increases your courage, which you need to access some quests). The game is also very story-heavy, and generally the nicer you are to characters, the more cutscenes you get with them, the more you get to learn about their character and your teammates sometimes gain new abilities just by you (the main character) making a decision to spend time with them.
Either way, as people have said, creating a good system would require a LOT of work. Please let us know if you want to develop a full system because we'll be glad to help :-)
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