If you could be anything you wanted…

One of the more popular genre of games right about now is a cross between full RPG and general story game. The most highly anticipated was Fable, where you start out as a young boy and grow into a hero…or a villain. And this was the major selling point: a slightly more sophisticated Choose Your Own Adventure book, without the possibility of getting caught in an endless loop (that happen to anyone else?) or for some reason falling off a cliff face & dying, even though you’re on a pirate ship (seriously, continuity was not invented until after the 80s). Perhaps because it was so highly anticipated, Fable fell on its face (like me, off that damned cliff): the choices were either mundane (which is more evil: bread or chicken?) or bizarre (lessee: I can go on your mission or rip your head off & drink your blood); you didn’t grow up so much as wake one morning with muscles, a deeper voice, and a god complex; and clichéd (when you’re good, you glow and when you’re bad, you have flies circling your head). My major complaint about it, since all of those were actually rather charming in a strange way (one of the missions actually required that you stand in front of a cave and eat 50 live chickens to prove your evilness) was that, if you actually did all the missions before the final mission, it was far too easy.

But the point is this: I spent days playing that game. Crunchy live chicken bones and all. I’m the kind of person who explores maps in their entirety, just to make sure I didn’t miss the 3 gold that might be hiding in that garbage can. So when I got my hands on Fable, I played it through, thoroughly; but since you can’t do that and be good, I played it through again. Thoroughly. Jade Empire was my next good/evil game. I played that one through 3 times (once good, once bad, and then another two times half way through bad because there were four endings…).

The most popular is undoubtedly Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Morality game and you get to choose the color of your light saber’s crystal. Pure geeky fantasy.

This post came out of a comment about video games and exploration of morality. There are social rules that we live by on a day to day basis (most often not involving falling off cliffs, eating live chickens, or light saber dilemmas). The little moralities of “should I speed” or “whose pen is this” are petty next to the epic good vs. evil that’s waiting at home on a shiny silver disc.

Not only are these games popular as a genre, they’re starting to bleed into the other genres. Mass Effect, which as far as I could tell was a Halo-meets-EVN knock off had “being evil” an option in most of your choices. This caused my husband to play it through twice: once as a beautiful but tough woman with a nice ass (since the third-person perspective meant that was what you got to see of her most of the time) and once as a large man with a larger nose and a scar over his eye. Nothing subtle there.

What do these [socially acceptable] role-playing games show us about ourselves and others? In the safe space between the video game and you, the opportunity to do anything you want to exists. Will you fire at those ugly aliens and become humanity’s hero? Or will you negotiate with them and become the peacemaker? Either way, you’ll get XP and renown, so the choice really is completely up to the player. Incidentally, I don’t know anyone who plays these games down the middle: I’ll negotiate with these aliens but blow the next ones out of the sky. Everyone hits the extreme.

Is our world so grey that we need these little hits of good vs. evil? Or do we all secretly wish that we were saints (or satans)?

I know I have a (possibly not that hidden) dark streak: I’ve always been the black mage, the live chicken eater, the Marauder. I also don’t often work well in parties. I could go all sorts of places analyzing those two statements…

3 Comments

  1. I’ve not played many RPGs, but I have played SWKOTOR I and II.

    Yes, geektastic. I also found that the second time playing through, I couldn’t bring myself to going the dark-side route, even though I tried to. I honestly felt bad or guilty when I behaved immorally towards one of the characters – whether I stole, killed unnecessarily, etc. I felt remorse after I did it, and then went back and loaded from a previous save point to do it again, but nice. Even when I knew that it was “just a game” and that there were no consequences, AND no one was watching me, I still felt as if I weren’t living up to my own moral code, and felt guilt.

    I wonder why that is.

  2. because you, Craig, are a better person than I…I enjoy stabbing people in the back! Or with blowdarts! [in video games…promise]

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