Morality Systems and Player Immersion

Imagine you spend hours of game play rescuing an NPC, guiding them through painstaking tasks, mazes, and hordes of enemies to get them to safety and then, just as salvation looms, the game throws a curve ball at you. You have a choice to make: you can either spare the life of your hard laboured trophy, risking the lives of every member of your clan, or sacrifice your trophy to retain the lives the people that have stood by you. Which ever choice you make will change the outcome of the game that will only be revealed long after your choice is made.

Morality systems have become increasingly popular in video games. Player morality is being put under the spot light and most of the time it affects the outcome of the game for either the better or the worse.

People use video games as a way to escape the monotony of the real world, to escape to a place where they can be someone else, free of the stress that comes with life and work, but moral systems in games throw that into disarray, pushing the boundaries of players by making them puzzle on how their actions can impact the outcome of the adventure.

Some games give you freedom over text and speech options superficially. For example, in Telltales’ Game of Thrones series, you are given a choice to protect your sister from Ramsay, but no matter your choice it doesn’t turn out well for you. Games in the Fable, Fallout and BioShock series offered speech and action options that matter in the immediate and long term.

Many gamers consider themselves to be good people with strong moral values who follow the law. The best way for people like that to experience the opposite side of the coin is through a video games’ morality system. Choosing to do something evil in a video game can be exhilarating and sometimes lead to unexpected outcomes. My personal morality prevents me from ever choosing the evil route despite my inner demon shouting at me to do otherwise.

There have been times in my gaming life where I have thought about an NPC: ”I would love to kill you so much.” I have even taken this option (only after hard-saving). There have been other times where I have sacrificed my own desires for the purpose of trying to complete the game as swiftly and to the book as possible. It doesn’t matter how many times or how many opportunities I get to make calls like this – I still make the same decisions over and over again because it reflects who I am. I can never stop being me.

Game developers want the player to impart some of themselves into their game. The more immersive a game is the more someone is going to feel a part of it. This is why gaming is becoming a more widely accepted media platform and now rivals the film industry for revenue. Games’ interactive nature allows for more personal experiences.

The saying ”through choice comes responsibility” is especially appropriate with this topic. In games you take responsibility for your actions, good and bad. The two worlds that we all live in, the one of good and honour and the one of evil and corruption, are in conflict. We all have the potential to be good or evil. We typically don’t think about internal morality during our daily lives and this is why when we play games that bring it to the forefront of our mind we struggle more than we could imagine.

The games of the past were limited in what they could offer in this kind of experience due to limitations of the software, though games then did implement morality systems. The increase of immersive graphics quality complements morality-based game systems. The proliferation of each mean good things for the future.

With new technologies immersive and morally challenging game play is going to blow the lid off of things we knew growing up. VR headsets will enhance this concept by placing players fully within the game and the choices you make will be more costly. This is the start of the future of gaming and is a privilege to behold.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments