Paragon or renegade?

13Apr10

As we grow up, the idea is that our parents or caregivers will teach us the difference between right and wrong. We exercise those ideas throughout adolescence, testing the boundaries and learning how it feels to do the wrong thing. Eventually, we reach adulthood with what is hopefully a well developed sense of good and evil.

Everyday life will test our sense of morality again and again, usually on a fairly small scale. Will you tell your much-more-attractive friend that she has lipstick on her teeth? And do you tell the stranger in front of you that he’s dropped a fiver on the floor? These are fairly trifling situations, but have you ever wondered what you’d do across a range of more serious, hypothetical situations? If you have, let me point you in the direction of one of many computer games designed to test this very instinct; you could try Bioshock 2, Mass Effect 1 and 2, Fable 1 and 2 or the Fallout series. All of these games are based on a simple premise – will you choose to follow a path of good or evil?

Picture of good and evil character in Fable 2Some of my favourite examples of this gaming style can be found in Fable and Fable II – both games sadly lacking in depth of story but absolutely bursting with kooky, detailed features that gamers have longed for for years. You can start relationships (same sex or heterosexual) with villagers, become a hero or villain, and be feared or adored throughout the world. Choose to be a hero and your character will glow with a white light and be followed around by butterflies, but choose to be evil and you’ll grow horns and glow a deep red colour.

There are a myriad of games that have placed this emphasis on choosing your moral stance, and I often wonder what other gamers choose to do when given the option. Personally, I’ve never played a single game through on a ‘renegade’ path. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I find myself feeling genuinely guilty when killing an innocent character in-game, stealing from the locals or even being rude when given the option in a conversation.

Do other players suffer from a similar affliction? Or can they simply remove themselves from the ‘real world’ effectively enough to disassociate their in-game actions from any sense of guilt? In many ways – disassociation almost seems like the most ‘sensible’ option. If you’re a gamer yourself, do you find the option to adopt a completely different character interesting and exciting, or does your real-world moral compass guide your gaming choices?

I’m glad the gaming world has introduced this style of path-choosing to a mass market, forcing players to be cognisant of the decisions they’re making and usually rewarding them for taking the moral high ground. This level of depth and involvement is why I’m an avid fan of the role playing game (RPG) genre in general. For a fun, easy-to-digest beginners RPG, I’d definitely recommend Fable 1 and/or 2. But if you’re already into it, read my review of Mass Effect 2, and then promptly buy it, because it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played (and there’s been a few!).



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