Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling reports from the front lines* of the Massively Multiplayer Multiverse.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Light and Dark, Good and Evil

In most MMORPGs, morality has little actual influence on gameplay. My characters have done some questionable things in the pursuit of gear, money, or simply experience points. I have toyed with this dilemma in a few stories; but in-game, I continue to maim, kill, and steal without regard to the morality of the quest.

In Star Wars: The Old Republic, players will have the opportunity, regardless of faction, to accumulate light-side or dark-side points based on the dialogue decisions they make (and possibly the methods they use to complete quests, I haven't seen that demonstrated). Tobold started a discussion about morality in games, in which he expressed concern about the "judgements" developers place on certain actions within the context of the game. I can see his point that what the devs think is a moral/immoral choice may not correspond to what the individual player thinks. His specific example, though, is fairly cut-and-dry in the Star Wars Universe, however. "Good" Jedi do not participate in romances, because it leads to attachment, greed/jealousy, fear of loss, and the Dark Side. This comes not from BioWare, but George Lucas. Of course, in the real world, we generally have a different take on romance; at least amongst otherwise unattached individuals (that is, cheating is still frowned upon).
In Rift, the two factions have a difficult morality compared to the real (western) world. The religious fanaticism of the Guardians (including having Inquisitors to investigate/punish heretics) is, at the least, slightly unpalatable to many players. But the the Defiants and their unscrupulous use of souls and "technology" are also morally questionable. Not to mention that these two factions are wasting time and resources fighting each other, when their world is being torn apart by extra-planar beings bent on consuming it. So no real good guys or bad guys there. At least there is no real moral choice within the game that affects gameplay.

 Syp's response to Tobold included this insight:
I’m not a big fan of light and dark side gear and powers, since that will have a stronger influence on how people “game” the system. . . Wouldn’t it be really cool if BioWare makes these choices and stories so compelling that it tears people away from grinding light/darkside points to do what they want to do?
I agree with Syp that it would be nice to have "moral" choices in a game that mattered in the context of the story, without having the end reward be so obvious that, as a player, it only makes sense to maximize the number of moral or immoral choices. Unfortunately, I also agree with Tobold's subsequent response. The attachment of a meta-game goal (gear) to a "moral" choice will inevitably lead to min-maxing your choices in favor of that goal. WoW example: Aldor vs. Scryer in The Burning Crusade. Most players ended up making that choice based on the gear each faction offered, rather than an inherent RP motive.
This RP motive is something I mentioned in a discussion with MMOGC. (I keep going back to that post; see also her response.) I feel that if the RP component is strong enough, the abilities/gear-stats can be made more neutral without affecting gameplay. I have yet to see it.

Illustrations from Sillof's Workshop. If you haven't seen the site, go check it out. 
[EDIT] If you're curious, here is the WoWWiki page comparing the Aldor/Scryer rewards and by-class breakdown of player preferences.

2 comments:

  1. I think the key is for rewards to be "different but equal." Alders versus Scryers is an instructive example. The rewards of a given faction were simply atrocious for some characters at first. They did later revamp them so that you were guaranteed at least something decent with either faction. Even so, choosing the wrong faction still means a long grind for few rewards to this day. If instead the different lines led to rewards that were cosmetically distinct but functionally very similar, in think you'd see a lot more players picking their faction mainly for RP purposes.

    I'm not sure how well Bioware is going to handle things in SWTOR. However, I never felt that going nice guy or d-bag adversely affected my game experience in any of their previous games. I'm less skeptical than I would be of most developers implementing such a system.

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  2. Thank you for visiting and for commenting. I'm not sure how BioWare is going to handle things either. I am not so concerned about being a boy scout vs. being a d-bag. I am concerned about being, let's say "scoundrel" (not the smuggler advanced class). I want to feel free to be a sarcastic butt while doing the right thing. Or kiss up to the questgiver and then stab them in the back.Or spare someone life or take it. All without having to worry about how it affects my chances to get gear later. I read an article about a single-player RPG I can't remember, where staying as neutral as possible ended the game with a fizzle with no one liking you, where going to one extreme or the other led to spectacular endings.

    Going back to the TBC example, I chose Aldor for my main, a human priest, because I felt that was the appropriate RP choice to make. I didn't realize the gear consequences at the end game. In the end, I believe it worked out. But when my gnome mage came along, I went Scryer, for the caster rewards more than the RP factor.

    The factions rewards page on WoWwiki (I'll link above), seems to bear out your statement that the actual choice was fairly neutral--with trade-offs--regardless of class, but there were definite preferences from players, by class.

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