Breaking Bad in Games

breaking bad in games

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.

mass-effect-2-renegade

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!

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mitch@gamersushi.com Twitter: @mi7ch Gamertag: Lubeius PSN ID: Lubeius SteamID: Lube182 Origin/EA:Lube182 Currently Playing: Stardew Valley, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, Battlefield 4, Tom Clancy Double Feature: Rainbow Six Siege and The Division

7 thoughts on “Breaking Bad in Games”

  1. You are most certainly not alone. I did a renegade playthrough of ME1, but when I reached ME2 and I got Thane, and I had to be mean to him, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stand being mean to the characters I love, and still today I haven’t done a renegade playthrough since. Oh, and Breaking Bad is amazing.

  2. I only do renegade choices if I feel that is where there is a sense of justice involved. That leads to an interesting dilema because it brings up morals and forces me to evaluate my own. I absoloutely hated my renegade run on inFamous because being a complete douchebag is unappealing to me (yet the want of trophies won out in the end). So, yeah, unless there’s an easy platinum I’m very unlikely to go and play outside my comfort zone.

  3. You’re not alone, I find it very difficult to break my morals, even in games. I once tried to do a very selfish run of Fable 1, and felt bad for a week after the Arena. Even though that game was nowhere near realistic (especially compared to the graphics in modern games) the characters we still constructed well enough to make you feel bad for killing them.

  4. It took me something like 5 playthroughs for me to detonate the nuke in Fallout 3 even though I had been telling myself I would do an evil playthrough every time I started a new game after my first. I find it incredibly hard to do the evil thing in most games and I love that when I actually force myself to do it then it evokes so much emotion in myself. It’s what art should do, it should make you feel something. In my opinion, any art that can make you look at yourself as a person and know what you’re capable of and then make you feel incredibly uncomfortable with something you didn’t actually do is the best kind of art there is. To this day I have not killed a little sister in Bioshock, during my brief time with Mass Effect I’ve never taken the evil options… I almost always only do the heroic thing when given the choice to.

    Something that I’d like to see more of is a game where it’s easier to do the evil thing but it’s more rewarding to do the heroic thing. It could be as simple as either killing your enemy or arresting him (Punisher vs. Batman type deal) or it could be doing things in an extra challenging manner to save some innocents’ lives, like having to sneak passed some guards instead of shooting them or something. That way if you’re reckless and you play by your own rules you can have some sort of weight on you, knowing that others have paid for your actions. On the other hand, players who put more thought and contemplation into their actions have saved lives and possibly gotten opportunities to use better equipment or gain allies or something. Being a good guy would be challenging but rewarding, while succumbing to evil would make the process easier on you but have less of a satisfying outcome. Much like real life.

    It’s just a thought, I’m sure there’s other games that have done that, probably some that I’ve even played. I’m just sorta out of it at the moment.

  5. I have the same problem in any morailty based game unless achivements are involved. If that is the case I usally speed run my evil character to get it done with and never reactivate that character ever.
    I think Bioware finally lived up to their “Be Jack Bauer in space” promise/plan from ME1. The renegade choices in ME3 are less about being a jerk like in ME1 and more about getting the job done and doing what is nessarey or giving someone a well deserved kick to the ass or bullet to the head. This is why I was so glad my first playthrough was my Para-RENE Fem Shep.
    One examples I can think of that I was glad I went with the renegade option was during a hostage situation in ME3. The renegade option was basicly the I will hunt you down and kill you speech from the movie TAKEN lets just say it was more effective in the game thean in the movie on account my Femshep had a gun pointed at the hostage taker.

  6. I’ve never been one to play the bad guy in games. I always go for the good side because the evil choices always leave me feeling weird. Even in a game as outlandish and silly as Fable, I never play as the bad guy. I tried playing a bad guy in Fable 1, and when you have the choice to beat up the little kid at the beginning as an evil choice, I felt awful so I turned around and beat up the bully after to make it up to the kid, my evil play through quickly turned into a good one. But I’ve also been doing an evil run of Mass Effect, and so far I’m doing fine, but we’ll see.

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