Friday, 6 April 2012

Happiness is one million good deeds away

Happy... Happy... OK, in light of my last, rather lacklustre, post I'm trying to come up with a brighter topic to discuss this time, and strangely I'm finding this rather difficult... That sounds rather bad on my account, like I'm some constantly moody and dark fellow, but really I'm not like that. All the time... I mean, I like to look at life in both lights - both dark and bright. I like to keep in mind all the dark things in the world while keeping myself warmed by the light of goodness, but neither in a particularly all-in capacity. I guess that's why I've never fully gotten on with morality systems in video games.
                It was an interesting idea - introduce into a game a value of good and evil for your actions and around that alter the various characters and events you interact with according to how many of those actions you perform. These days it's pretty much written that such a system will be involved (largely in RPGs, games with a more fantasy-based storyline. I mean, can you imagine if games like Battlefield or Call of Duty were to implement it? Actually, I want to discuss that later, I think!). Every action you perform has some consequence on the world you exist in. Fallout, Fable, Skyrim, Bioshock and beyond, all these games attempt to measure your actions and have your game altered by them, and frankly, I'm unimpressed...
                For a start, your working with a morality system that is based upon the opinions of the developers of the games. I like to think I'm a well-balanced member of society, though I have been, on occasion, labelled as somewhat "sociopathic" (but don't believe that shit. It's nonsense.), but what I think is a "good" action and what they might think is a "good" action vary significantly. Take Fallout:  the majority of the time you lose morality points based upon anything you might do that can be considered bad, from killing a friendly NPC (who is, of course, only as friendly as your average sociopath, bland, smiling, always willing to accept your help when they need something, but utterly emotionless and entirely unwilling to help you in return, unless your charisma is high enough... fuck that...) to stealing an ashtray from a bar. Stealing an ashtray from a bar? Honestly? That is the act of an evil, domineering, destroyer of worlds? Fallout is set in a 1950's-esque world (actual date is likely closer to the 90's or early 2000's, but with the same attitudes as the 50's) where everyone was be-bopping the streets, cars were the exception, not the rule, and people could smoke freely in the face of a toddler without being looked at twice, and they make you more evil because you stole a sodding ashtray from a bar? I'm not an historian, but I'd wager any amount that in those days the average bar had about 300 reserve ashtrays hidden out back because of the number that would slyly "go missing" from the tables each time some young Bobby-Joe and his cohorts wandered in for a sarsaparilla or a malted milk, and now we're being the labelled as the scum of the earth for that? Bethesda (and whoever it was that coded that little line of 1's and 0's) screwed the pooch there a little, don'cha think? Further to that, what about those occasions when you need ammo or weapons (actually need them to complete some hare-brained young miss's mission to find her lost man who has been kidnapped by a raging hoard of super mutants) and there happens to be a veritable cache hidden in said young miss's living room, if you even dream of pinching a few rounds, she'll schiz on you, probably try to kill you, you'll be hunted by everyone else in the town, and you'll be forever shunned. Afterwards, you'll complete the mission, return to her, hoping to curry good favour having done her good deed, and you'll be rewarded with a bullet to the face, no money or EXP, and continued fear and loathing. Wonderful.
                It's so much easier to be "evil" in a game than it is to be good. I was talking to one person the other day, a huge Skyrim fan (I, myself, have never played it), who was attempting to play through it without committing a single evil act, doing nothing but good deeds and staying as far away from evil as they could, only to find that they were miles behind levels and items wise, showing that the focus of most games is in fact to be evil, or at least be incapable of being truly good. Further to this, I guess, is the player themselves, who rarely takes the wholly good path initially, without having to actively choose to. The games are all actively set to persecute, making it impossible to be a truly morally good gamer.
                I would also like to expound upon the idea of morality systems outside of RPGs. What I would like to see is a morality system built into games like Battlefield or Call of Duty. How would gamers fare if their morality was questioned or graded during their play-throughs of these games? Developers have always aimed at making these games far more "realistic" in their depiction of life and war, so how would we feel playing through a battle-simulation (because that's essentially what these games are) in which we are actively informed that we have committed murder each time an enemy is killed? Each of these games is sold with the idealism that each enemy in the game is evil (regardless of whether or not they explore opposing sides' characters, whether said enemies are a part of a plot to aimlessly wipe out large sections of an innocent populace), that they are only there as a willing tool of some overarching evil, or (in the case of playing as the opposition) either there as a way of infiltrating and subverting the cause of the enemy or are held against their will. The only time enemies in these games seem to show some sort of innocence or repentance is when in the face of overwhelming odds wherein they won't survive. What if these games emphasised the fact that they are only defending themselves? Their homes and their families? What if these games contained scenes where, whenever you kill an enemy, a distraught family comes bursting into the frame to mourn the loss of their father, their brother, their good neighbour? These things don't exist because the morality issue of war games is simply "YOU are the GOOD GUY, these people are the BAD GUYS, they are inherently evil and must die so that you can stop their EVIL cause". Yes, sales would likely drop significantly if they released Call of Duty: Moral Debate wherein you are often rewarded with lists of the lives you have ruined, each enemy dies with a scream of "I WAS ONLY DEFENDING MY FAMILY!" or "THIS IS A WAR YOU STARTED!", but I have to wonder if perhaps some people would maybe wake up and realise that this thing they call "fun" is in fact simply a ruthless killing engine... Don't get me wrong, I've played many of them, and I've experienced enjoyment in picking up some heavy machine gun and ploughing through an endless hoard of screaming Chinamen or Iraqis, but I do often stop to wonder whether I should be enjoying them. And yes, I know, some of you would happily throw back responses of "It's just a game! They don't exist and are programmed simply to be targets to shoot at. They have no families, no lives outside of the three seconds of animation they are given between spawning behind a bush and dying in front of it" but I, for one, would love to play a game where we are given a realistic measurement of the morality of the actions we perform.

               *CONGRATULATIONS! You have unlocked the Pointless Morality Bullshit award, for attempting to guilt-trip people with your words!*

                I love earning trophies...

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