I love playing big, epic videogames with endless possibilities. I spent months this year binging on nonlinear adventures like Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect, and, most recently, Fallout: New Vegas. In all these games, you face a series of moral choices. You can donate money to the kindly old nun, or you can shoot her and steal her donation box. You can eradicate the vile spider-alien species, or you can prevent genocide by letting the vile spider-aliens live (but only if they promise promise promise not to kill anybody). The Fallout games occupy the far extreme of this style — is “Moral Compass” a genre? — by turning practically every choice, every line of dialogue, into an ethical quandary. Will you negotiate with the mercenary? Or will you break his head open with a hockey stick?
I tend to play these games for 60-70 hours. Unfortunately, I don’t really feel like I take full advantage of them. Because PopWatchers, I have a confession to make: I cannot, for the life of me, bring myself to do bad things in choose-your-own-moral-compass videogames. I always donate money to the nun. I always let the spider-aliens live. No matter how much New Vegas tries to tempt me, I just can’t bring myself to break the bad guy’s head open with a hockey stick, when there’s even the slightest possibility of talking my way out of it.
I could argue that, in most moral-compass games, there’s a definite added value to playing the hero. In New Vegas, you can shoot literally everybody, but you’ll miss out on all the exciting stuff (missions, rewards, good karma) those characters can bring you. Same goes for Mass Effect: There’s a famous sequence in which one of your best teammates gets angry, and if you don’t handle him diplomatically, you’ll have to kill him. (“Handling him diplomatically” requires lots of Charm. This is why we do sub-quests, people!)
But that’s the purely logical reason to play the “Good,” and, for me, logic has nothing to do with it. I genuinely feel terrible when I do bad things in a videogame. Once, in Red Dead Redemption, I was feeling a bit bored by the main storyline. So I walked into a bar, took out my sawed-off shotgun, and fired off a few rounds into some unsuspecting poker players’ faces. I felt so awful about my actions that I instantly quit and loaded an earlier saved game. One reason I like New Vegas is that many of the moral quandaries usually don’t have a clear-cut right answer, and when I get to those quandaries, I will literally stare at the screen for 20 minutes before I make a decision. And then I’ll need to stop myself from quit-loading.
PopWatchers, do any of you share my pain? Is there someone out there who only does bad things in moral-compass games? And if so, can you teach me your ways?