The Daily Grind: Are MMO morality systems impossible to get right?

    
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I know it’s an old hat at this point, but I’m still quite appreciative that Star Wars: The Old Republic made an effort to give my character choices in dialogue and story actions. I feel more attached to my characters as a result and enjoy having a say in transpiring events.

However, I also recognize that linking story choices with a morality meter (in this case, light vs. dark side) complicates matters. Players might vote against their inclinations just to get more points for a preferred side, for starters. Then there’s the issue of developers assigning choices as either good or bad; it’s easy when it’s a black-and-white decision, but more tricky when the issues are nuanced. What happens when a player strongly disagrees with a dev’s take on a quest and is penalized in-game for it?

Personally, I’d like to see morality systems get away from the good/evil dichotomy and hew more toward a multi-attribute setup, such as what Ultima X Odyssey was planning. So are morality systems impossible to get right or are they worth the hassle to code?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Tethyss
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Tethyss

I would appreciate a good morality or, dare I say it, ‘consequence’ system.  What I would not appreciate is another ‘faction grind’ system.
Also I enjoy the concept behind a player run bounty system or trial by jury system, which a couple of games have dabbled with.

Vikingr
Guest
Vikingr

First, let me say that I haven’t played Star Wars: The Old Republic or Ultima X Odyssey, so I’m talking in general about this issue.

The morality in games is certainly an interesting issue. Black & white, good or bad, is what makes most conflicts and game creators usually want conflicts to make interesting gameplay and a game universe that feels alive, with lots of action. But, as one who seeks immersion I want to see the grey areas too. If we look at the universal alignment system, then there are many shades of grey in them. Why not in games?

For instance, you don’t have to be either Lawful Good or Chaotic Evil. There are many other moral stands in between those extremes. Personally, I feel naturally aligned along Neutral Good. It means I’ll follow the law as long as I agree with it and the government, but I can break the law if the situation requires it and I feel morally obligated to do so. One example would be to help a political refugee – even if it was forbidden by law I’d probably do it because it was the right thing to do.

The problem arises when the game doesn’t offer situations like the above example, but only good and bad actions. Then there’s the game that is bad and shallow, IMO. Games should offer various types of gameplay and missions so that different moral types can find interesting situations.

Bonnenuit
Guest
Bonnenuit

Interesting question — I’ve only dabbled in Pillars of the Earth, but I think it may well have already found a solution. Different choices you make give you “morality” points (not really morality, more like attitude) based on what you decide. The think is, though, that they accumulate, and decisions can give you more than one. For instance, if you choose to save the town because it’s the right thing to do, you may get points in Benevolence and Sympathy (or whatever they’re called in game). If you choose to save the town so that they owe you one, you may get points in Greed, instead. 

Overall, and over time, it gives your character a more nuanced personality, as well as opening up interesting dialogue trees and whatnot. Like I said, I have only just begun to play, but it seems to have a lot of promise.

Peregrine_Falcon
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Peregrine_Falcon

Ehra – In my experience the Light/Dark morality in SWTOR is pretty consistent, it’s just not quite the same as the Judeo-Christian Good/Evil framework that most people are familiar with.
I do agree with what you said about Darth Marr.

SwobyJ
Guest
SwobyJ

RPG morality systems won’t work better until gameplay systems give a damn about me not wanting to kill people. Its easier to make a shooter and only a shooter, for example, though. Gotta fight fight fight fight fight.

Ehra
Guest
Ehra

Not sure what MMOs have to do with anything. SWTOR’s morality problems are the same as single player games that use a straight up good/bad morality system, particularly other Star Wars games. Mass Effect in particular was big with “forcing” people into picking straight down one path or the other because doing otherwise would mean you didn’t have enough “alignment points” to make important choices later on in the story.

I’d say the largest issue with SWTOR’s morality system is that the morals aren’t even internally consistent with themselves, and this is most exemplified by comparing the Sith Warrior story to the Darth Marr.character. Everyone talks about how they love the Sith Warrior because you’re not just some dumb brute who kills people for no reason. You’re completely loyal to the Empire and you regularly make decisions based on making people useful to that Empire, rather than wasting potential resources. I also basically just described Darth Marr, a man so deep in the dark side of the force that it’s literally tearing his body apart. 
That’s part of why I liked Darth Marr so much, it showed that there is way more to the “dark side” than just randomly murdering and torturing people. But when it comes time to offer morality choices for the player character, it comes down to binary stuff like “make this prisoner a member of the Imperial Army and get light side points, or kill them on the spot and get dark side points.” If you try to model your Sith Warrior after Marr you end up becoming a paragon of the light, even though Bioware makes a point of showing us that he’s supposedly dark. A lot of people say the light side SW story is their favorite in the game, but for me it’s the one that makes me most feel the writers were lazy with the moral decisions.

As for morality systems in general, I’ve always been a fan of the Michael Moorcock style Law vs Chaos rather than the good/evil thing fantasy tends to go with.

Authurious
Guest
Authurious

Honestly some of the moral decisions were pretty pointless. A good example was the Rakata Prime choice. Kill the people or don’t kill the people, either way you’ll still kill the people. I won’t kill helpless people! /Walks into the next room and kills able body people. A moral sphere or circle might be better as opposed to a pole system. But you would have to greatly increase the number of choices. Follow the spectrum of light and dark. I’ll take Chaotic Light thanks.

Estranged
Guest
Estranged

Radfist They have a cheat for that, it is called diplomacy.  Run dark or light diplomacy missions to make up for story choices.  Gives one more freedom.

Estranged
Guest
Estranged

jefreahard I see your position.  However, I have MY memories of individual situations.  Don’t care if some other player ends up with the basic same story.  

Also, I don’t totally agree, the Agent has a few ending choices.  As a BH, I encounter people that I have allowed to live or create additional enemies due to people I have killed.  It really isn’t all the same.  As a JK, if one allows a certain NPC to escape, they receive holo updates from him, along with another in-person meeting.  

So, it takes multiple play throughs to see the nuances.  I doubt few have tried.  Perhaps some have watched the YouTube videos.  

I just finished the Agent story for the second time.  Romanced a different companion.  Ended up on a different side of the conflict than my initial try.  

Has any other MMO been brave enough to give this type of system a whirl?  I’m getting the feeling that one of my choices in the TSW is going to effect a story outcome.   

Seriously, did people expect our choices to change the story arc?  This isn’t a single player game.  MMOs need to have a consistent narrative.  

Now it seems they are stepping it up with the new expansion.  Companions leaving due to unapproved behaviors.  Others being attracted to certain behaviors.  Should be interesting.

Estranged
Guest
Estranged

Syco_at_Twitch Wrong.  Next.  

Also, this is off-topic.