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The Good, the Bad, and the bad with a bit of good in it: Morality and Immersion in Games.

I am a huge gamer. I love video games and burn hours into playing one of the game consoles circling my television. I can enjoy most video games, but I go crazy for any game that immerses me into its world. If I walk out of my virtual house into a green field where a rabbit runs by, only to be picked up by a hawk, who I then shoot down and eat. That is an amazing video game. If I can drag a prisoner into a cell, only to be able to see him in it hours later in my game, then it is amazing. And Most importantly, if I am a huge douche bag to a villager and then everyone in that town glares at me, then I love the game. Morality and reputation in video games is my cocaine. I'll spend days doing mundane tasks just to impress a bunch of people in a fictional world. But I know this system is flawed, and there are many ways to try and fix this.

In A Gamespot article, Black and White: Making Moral Decisions in Video Games, Laura Parker goes over the limitations of morality with a Professor or two. The key problem presented is the morality. Very rarely is there any grey area as to what you can do. It is either Good choice or Bad choice. Never neutral choice. Another issue is the scale of problems or as they put it, “while moral conflicts appear interesting in dramatic situations, the simple fact is that day-to-day moral choices are usually very simple and intuitive in normal circumstances, which partly what makes them so fun and what makes the idea of a moral system so intriguing. So perhaps one of the reasons why in-game morality tends to be so simple is that most people, including game developers and players, think about it in simple terms when presented with the abnormal circumstances of most games.” So simply put, we are used to making good and bad choices every day without thinking about it, mainly because we only deal with little moral choices such as how much of a tip you should leave or if you should drink the last soda. But if we had to deal with huge decisions in reality like we do in video games, there would be more questions involved.

A Gameinformer article takes a similar stance against morality, but defends it in a way that makes perfect sense to me. They claim the key problem is the dichotomy. There are only good or bad choices. And many games make it somewhat obvious which is which through coloration or something similar. But keeping this simple is actually helpful to the player, as they need to learn how the world works as quickly as possible and clearly labeling things in black and white can help adjust the player to the world.

Not only does the title fit, but so does the premise!

Juul in his book goes over the origins and definition of immersion. He even brings up the argument that concentrating on immersion and living worlds is a misinterpretation of what games are. He keeps using this example of a blue arrow from Grand Theft Auto 3. Mainly pointing out that you can't be truly immersed in a world as long as there is a heads up display. I can still lose my mind in a video game blue arrow or not. I actually prefer a game to give me a scale of Morality, so I can more clearly define my actions as “good” or evil”. That way on my next play through I can try the other side.


After weeks of thinking and planning, the only morality system I could find that made me feel my choices weren't clearly good or evil (but still had a consequence) was the following.

This guy isn't a completely nice fellow, but he still gets the charming discount.

Mass Effect Series: You don't play evil incarnate or Jesus Christ. Either way you play a Spectre out to stop the Reapers. Paragon you (generally) play a by the books cop who helps others. Renegade you (generally) play a cop over the edge, willing to do anything to finish the mission. Because they are one two scales, it gives you a closer to reality morality. Where you can be a dick every now and then and you can still be considered a good guy. Or you can occasionally work at a soup kitchen and still be feared as a bloodthirsty madman.

In game 1, your morality unlocks 2 different skills. “Charm” for Paragon and “Intimidate” for Renegade. These affect your dialogue options and give you discounts in stores.

In game 2, they no longer have the skills of Charm or Intimidate. Your Paragon/Renegade skill automatically affects your dialogue. Also the more Paragon, the less facial scars and the more Renegade the more your scars glow. They also added in interrupts. These are mid cutscene quick time events that you hit to do something paragon or renegade IN QUICK ACTION. This adds to the immersion of being Shepard.

These appear in the corner for a Quick time Event

Game 3, there is a reputation system. This put Renegade and Paragon into a single meter. One doesn't cancel out the other; it’s just that both add to the player's reputation. If there is a reputation increase that doesn't change your morality, it just adds to the size of the reputation bar while keeping the Paragon/Renegade ratio the same.

This guy was pretty nice

This system is great because it doesn’t necessarily mean you are good or evil, it just makes it where people see you as a great guy who does his job right, or a real jerk who should be feared, even though he is going to save the galaxy.


Rock of the Dead: This is a rhythm game blended with a sort of light gun shooter. Essentially zombies and other cheesy monsters walk toward you and you have to play the small combination of notes on them or they will damage you. Think House of the Dead, with instruments. The story, characters, and pacing make the game almost unbearable. But somehow they decided to try and throw in morality. In the SECOND TO THE LAST level, you choose between green pictures (good) or red pictures (evil), and all this affects is the ending. If you choose more green pictures, you kind of play missile command with UFOs, if you choose more red pictures; you blow up missiles before they take out your UFOs. At no point do they bring up morality or these decisions until the ending.

Apparently no one on the internet played this game to the end, it is that bad. So have a picture of the graveyard level.

This system not only takes you out of the game, but it stops everything just so you can choose to be good or evil.

Darkwatch: This game is about a vampire in the Wild West hunting vampires while working with the Darkwatch, an organization devoted to hunting blood suckers. This should be an awesome game. It was pretty generic, and the poorly shoved in morality is partially to blame. There are a few moments in game where you choose to be obviously evil or good. Evil gives you powers like damage reduction, melee increase, an aura of damage to enemies, the power to manipulate enemies, or outright butcher everyone around you by tearing their souls out. Good gives you powers like weapon damage increase, cause enemies to run away, a secondary shield over your standard shield, or a outright butcher (but in a good way) everyone around you with lightning. The moral decisions only affect the powers. It doesn't matter if you are a saint or a dark sinner; the group you work with will treat you like crap. Even the ending is unaffected by this. Right before the final boss fight, you choose to take in evil vampire powers or rid the west of them. If you choose the evil choice, you fight a blue winged woman. If you choose the good choice, you fight a red winged woman.

That's a real difference, huh?

The morality might have been okay in this game. It might have even been acceptable in the world, if it weren’t for the fact that you can be a perfect angel, go through the entire game making good choices, only to be evil at the very end for no good reason.

Bioshock: The only real morality in the game is saving “Little Sisters.” These are collectors of a substance called Adam which unlocks amazing powers. After you free them from their Big Daddy guards, you have the option to cure them of their magical plot device slug (good) or you can butcher them (evil). Doing the good option grants you a little Adam and grants you the power “Control Big Daddy”. Being Evil you get a lot of Adam, but no unique power.

Doesn't really make a difference in the end.

Whichever you did more (Good or evil) affects your ending. If you did more good than bad, you raised the cured girls as they watched you age. You die happily with your daughters all with you at the hospital. If you decided to be evil, you unleash an army of psychotic drug addict mutants out in the world, presumably to take it over. This morality has no affect on you or how people see you; on account of there being only 1 person in the game you meet who isn't an insane addict.

I always prefer a happy ending.

It is blended:

Bioshock 2: This one is a bit harder to place. You generally have the same good/evil choice as the first game, but there are a few scenes where you run into a person who hasn't been driven insane by Adam. When you meet them, they tend to give you want you want and allow you access to leave. I was so immersed, I didn't realize it was a moral choice to kill them or keep them alive. Other than one, I assumed the protagonist was supposed to keep them alive. If more games kept the subtle approach instead of labeling every body as “KILL ME TO BE EVIL/KILL ME TO SAVE SOMEONE” then it would immerse more gamers, in my humble opinion.

Is not labeled killable.

There are technically 4 endings, determined on whether or not you killed anyone or harvested any sisters. there's a chart that makes this a lot easier.

Fable Series: You are in a Fairy Tale. The art style, narrative, rules, and everything else pretty much points out that you are in a fairy tale. The morality is simple and terrible by most people's standards. You choose either good or evil; there is no middle ground and no gray area. In the real world this is a dreadful simplification. But we are playing in a Fairy Tale, Where you are either an honorable hero or an evil cutthroat.

The Alignments are relatively simple. These also affect how people see you. Some prefer a cute evil character over a pure good young hero.

Good/Evil: The alignment that decisions are usually pretty obvious in all the games. Turning a rogue's village into a theme park will be good, while turning an orphanage into a bordello is evil. And most of the notable moral decisions affect the world around you. The decisions made will change the way you look to an extent as well. Good will make your eyes turn blue, your teeth to shine, and your hair will lighten in color. Evil will give you darker hair (and bald in Fable 1), paler skin, red eyes, and rotting teeth. This is all generally true for the first two games, but Fable 3, your image doesn't change too much. In fable 2, your dog changes color with your morality similar to your hair color.

What a Douche. 

Purity/Corruption: Unlike Good/Evil, purity affects the way you look. The more booze you drink, whores you pay, and taxes you raise, the more corrupt you are. And the more vegetables you eat, taxes you lower, and donations made, the more pure you are. Pure characters get clear skin and added points to attractiveness and corrupt characters get blotchy skin with a negative to your looks.

All these moralities affect the way people see you, the quests available, and in the first game it even affects the spells available. This system is extremely simple and in no way do they let you truly be neutral, but it fits the feel of the world they created for the system.

 All these games are lacking a truly real life system of what is good or bad. It doesn't matter if you follow morality in a religious sense, a personal sense, how you were raised, or whatever. Games in the end just do an imitation. They are improving, and maybe in a few years we will get a great deal closer. But until then I am more than willing to be considered a bad guy for shooting first or a good guy for stealing from a “villain”. Although I would like there to be a better middle ground.

See, a middle ground.

Juul, Jesper. "The Blue Arrow of the Video Game." Half-real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2005. 190. Print.

Parker, Laura. "Black or White: Making Moral Choices in Video Games -"Gamespot. Gamespot AU, 17 Nov. 2009. Web. 20 May 2012. <>.

LittleBigDaddy."GameInformer."Sinners and Saints: Dichotomous Morality in Western video Games. GameInformer, 5 Nov. 2011. Web. 22 May 2012. <>.