One of my favorite TV shows of all time is AMC’s Breaking Bad, the story of how a mild-mannered chemistry teacher becomes a hard-core crystal meth dealer. In the opening few episodes, the central character is told by his junkie accomplice that you just can’t start “breaking bad”, implying that if you’re a kind person at heart, you just can’t start doing things that are incredibly out of the norm for you.
I feel this way about moral choices in video games. I’ve just started replaying the entire Mass Effect trilogy as a Renegade female Shepard and I’m finding it difficult to “break bad” as it were. I subconsciously find my conversation wheel hovering over the Paragon dialog choices before the option is even up, and when it comes time to make a Renegade decision I get a little sick in my stomach.
The first instance I can remember of this phenomenon happening to me was way back in Knights of the Old Republic when my Dark Side Revan reached Tattooine. On that planet you run across a woman who is down on her luck and offers to sell you a valuable trophy that belonged to her late husband. A Light Side Jedi would have given her a little bit extra for the trinket, but being the bad-ass that I was, I took it from her by force. I immediately felt terrible about it, and the feeling was only compounded when the woman began to cry and berate me for being such an asshole. I immediately re-loaded my save and went the neutral option of giving her the requested amount of credits, and that stands as my only semi-Light Side choice in the entire game.
I have no idea why that choice was so difficult for me, but I think it’s a testament to how virtuous my virtual avatars are. Making evil decisions is a manual process for me; I never find myself gravitating towards the more selfish options. I go out of my way to help people, even if it means that I’m taking the hit in the long run.
Not every game makes me feel this way though, as Fable is on the more ridiculous side of the moral choice systems. You’re either a living saint of the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the world. That feels video gamey and it’s easier to slip in to the dark role. Games that are more nuanced in their morality, like Mass Effect, the Kotors and InFamous one and two are the ones that cause me to check myself.
I know that video games aren’t real and the choices you make in them don’t reflect on you as a person but even still I can’t shake the guilty feeling I get. I’m committed to finished my Renegade Femshep run, but I know that I’ll have to make some decisions that won’t sit well with me.
So am I alone in this? Are you guys able to slip in and out of the various moral niches with ease? Do you also have difficulty playing outside your alignment, and do you have any example of this? Go!