The Experience of Power, the Power of Experience

Games have learned to give us a heady experience of power, freedom from restraint both physical and moral. I spent hours a day for weeks hijacking the tank in Grand Theft Auto 3 so that I could roll down the street crushing cars and people and shooting fire trucks with 10-inch shells. Mayhem plus impunity brews a strong potion. Being a badass is about drinking deeply, f*cking sh*t up and not caring about the rules. This is wonderful. But it is not everything.

Exultant amorality does not exhaust the range of the moral sense, and games should aspire to explore more of that range. The now-popular 'morality systems' promise to help us explore moral experiences, but that promise remains unfulfilled. These systems attempt to explore morality through choice and freedom. They often fail because they are poorly executed. But they also fail because they are conceptually limited.

The truth is, choice and freedom are overrated. By focusing on them, developers embrace a kind of vulgar liberalism, a notion that morality consists in choice and consequences and no more. Whatever its virtues as a political morality, this model fails to capture many dimensions of the human moral experience, like what the moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. The richest moral experiences in games have been achieved without branching storylines or 'karma,' in titles like Shadow of the Colossus.

The most common mistake in morality systems is that the choices are too easy -- They are not dilemmas at all. They feature a clear good and a clear evil option, and few people would make the evil choice and really mean it. This shatters the dream of identifying with the character you play. If you are immersed in the reality of the game experience, you will not ordinarily choose to do something horrifyingly evil; if you choose to do something horrifyingly evil in a game, you probably do not believe in the reality of the experience. Ironically, this works against one of the great virtues of player choice: Choice is a powerful way to make the player identify with the character, and own the character's actions. But ridiculous choice has the opposite effect.

A game with free choice can only meaningfully explore those choices that a player will make. The regret of evil is a potent moral feeling -- look at Crime and Punishment -- but it coexists uneasily with choice. In Final Fantasy IV, a key theme is Cecil's atonement for being the Dark Knight who massacres the village of Mist. The game does not allow the player to freely choose whether to destroy Mist. Instead, the player's hand is forced by the linearity of the game, and by deception, as Cecil is not told that his actions will destroy Mist. A player knowingly making that choice would not be taking the morality of the game seriously, and so the struggle of regret and atonement would not be felt. To make the player participate in Cecil's regret, the game must make the player own Cecil's sin, but player choice is the wrong tool for the job. Sometimes adding choice can only constrain a game's moral palette.

The problem is only compounded in those games (like Infamous) where 'good' and 'evil' player characters develop different powers and appearances. Moral choice becomes more like a tech tree or class system. You can choose to be good or evil, just like you can be a Barbarian or a Sorceress in Diablo II. This might be cool, but it doesn't engage the moral sense. Instead, it recreates the amoral experience of a GTA, giving you the choice to be good or “badass.”

The little-recognized secret of Shadow of the Colossus is that it is morally deep because it is moralistic. Shadow lets you identify with its protagonist, tempts you with power, and then punishes you for overreaching -- for the crime of striking down the majestic beasts and unleashing an ancient evil. Each Colossus battle is a microcosmic version of this morality play: You begin low, at its feet; you climb and dominate it, and revel in your strength as you strike it down; and when it collapses in death, you are pierced by a tendril of black and are laid low.

The larger arc of the game bends the same way. You begin as a weak human, but as you slay each beast you gain in strength, tenacity and endurance. As this happens, your onscreen avatar becomes progressively more grotesque until you are a hollow-eyed wraith. This represents the game taking a stand on your moral character: Your gathering power to yourself is a vile act.

In the game's conclusion, you are possessed by the demon you unleashed, and grow into a powerful Colossus yourself. The player directly commands the black beast, smashing the tiny figures of the shaman Emon and his guards. Unlike in GTA, though, this power rush is fleeting. The player is immediately robbed of his strength, literally diminished to boy-size, and forced to struggle futilely against a mighty wind. Eventually, he falls into the temple pool, where he is destroyed.

This is punishment for hubristic selfishness. The player has been set to a series of killings, and has gradually learned to glory in his power over the majestic Colossi -- and for this, he is made to fall. What sets Shadow of the Colossus apart, then, is not simply that the player behaves in a way that is morally wrong -- that's true of run-of-the-mill power fantasies. Rather, it's that the game sets out to recognize and punish this wrongdoing.

The games that identify morality with choice lose out on the richness Shadow of the Colossus harnesses so well. A vulgar liberalism says that a deed is right or wrong regardless of whether it's punished; Shadow of the Colossus knows that punishing and diminishing the player-character for his sins is a way of stimulating the moral sense, helping the player understand that he has sinned in the first place. In pre-liberal societies, it was understood that rituals of punishment did more than simply punish wrong, but helped to define wrong. Shadow of the Colossus also understands. Most modern developers do not.

Comments

Nyles wrote:

I wasn't all that crazy about the very end of SotC, because it seemed like a simple narrative decision, a way to wrap up that kind of arc. At that particular point in my gaming career, I'd had my fill of endings where the player character dies. I'd also played Ico just before, and been more invested in the outcome of that story. In SotC, I'd already realized that the colossi didn't deserve to die, and I figured there was some sort of "you played me for a sap" ending.

I guess the ending of SotC got me because I didn't realize until then end that I was doing something that could be construed as "evil". Despite all the hints of Wander's Faustian deal, I was still in it to get his girl back.

Dysplastic wrote:
Glanton wrote:

Sometimes adding choice can only constrain a game's moral palette.

Glanton wrote:

I don't understand how a game can make me feel as though I have done something wrong if I had no choice in the matter.

Isn't there an inherent contradiction between these two statements?

There seems to be. Who wrote them? I know I didn't.

Edit: On second thought I'm not sure that there is. And what is a "moral palette"?

wordsmythe wrote:

But on the other hand, if SotC had really put work into making a way of "winning" by refusing to go on slaughtering colossi, wouldn't it have been wildly derided as being "cheap," "gimmicky" or otherwise "lame"?

Quite possibly. But it does not follow that because the game's designers made a smart marketing choice that it fits this article's use of the term "morals." I still do not understand how I can feel like I've done something wrong if my only choices were to do the "wrong" thing or turn off the game.

Gravey wrote:
Dysplastic wrote:

How exactly does forcing me to destroy Mist make me "own" Cecil's sin? If anything, I personally own it less, because the game forced me to do it. My only choice to not destroy Mist is not to play.

Except you don't know beforehand that the mission will involve destroying Mist. So okay, maybe you don't "own" Cecil's sin, but I think grobstein's point is that you take responsibility for it--i.e., the game gives you the responsibility for it because you chose to play the game--and since Cecil regrets it for the rest of the game, it gives his story some weight. Thus having the choice to destroy Mist is not the issue: the decision is made (for Cecil and so for you), Cecil has to live with it, and so the player does too.

Contrast this with the choice to nuke Megaton, where guilt is left up to the player and can't be meaningfully invoked by the game, and so no moral consequence or narrative weight.

I'm still not buying it. Cecil has to live with it, sure, but why do I? I didn't do it - Cecil did - in a cutscene in which I have no control. All I'm telling Cecil to do is kill the various monstors he comes across. That is the extent of my control over Cecil. When I played FFIV, I never once felt that I really had control over Cecil or needed to take responsability for his actions.

Just because the choice to nuke Megaton wasn't invoked meaningfully by the game, doesn't mean that it can't be invoked more meaningfully in another game - and I'd argue that because of the agency involved, a lot of people did feel the guilt left to the player.

Oops. The first quote was from the OP, the second quote was from you, Glanton. For some reason i had it in my head that you wrote the article. Grobstein, Glanton, potato, potaato.

And I'm not so sure what a moral palette is either

I think a good example to look at would be the game Pathologic. It's a game that puts you in an extreme situation, tasks you with surviving, and leaves what you are willing to do about that up to you. There are vicious feral children running around in gangs in areas where civilization has collapsed - they'll steal and fight and kill, and the game never stops you from killing them, either on accident or on purpose to get at the medicine that they seem to have access to. If it's what you feel you need to do to survive, it allows you to do it and doesn't tell you whether it was right or wrong - it just lets the act live in your own mind. Where I think other games fall down on the issue of morality is when they become transparent or overt about it - the Karma system in Fallout, or your alignment in D&D based role playing games. Give a character motivations that make sense, and then let them act on those in a way that makes sense. Allow the player to think about those actions, without having God descend from the heavens to abstractly judge them. That's how you drive engagement.

Dysplastic wrote:

I'm still not buying it. Cecil has to live with it, sure, but why do I? I didn't do it - Cecil did - in a cutscene in which I have no control. All I'm telling Cecil to do is kill the various monstors he comes across. That is the extent of my control over Cecil. When I played FFIV, I never once felt that I really had control over Cecil or needed to take responsability for his actions.

Which is also true. I can't say I'm arguing for FFIV, just hoping I'm clarifying grobstein's point without putting words in his mouth. Since there's no choice in FFIV, anywhere really, it can only really ask you to identify with Cecil, not be Cecil. So you're right, the player doesn't take responsibility for Cecil's actions, but by playing the game the player agrees to take *on* the responsibility--if that distinction makes sense. The player will guide Cecil through his guilt and redemption. It's not the player's though, the player doesn't have to live with it, just identify with it as with any other media's character.

Switchbreak wrote:

Where I think other games fall down on the issue of morality is when they become transparent or overt about it - the Karma system in Fallout, or your alignment in D&D based role playing games. Give a character motivations that make sense, and then let them act on those in a way that makes sense. Allow the player to think about those actions, without having God descend from the heavens to abstractly judge them. That's how you drive engagement.

Indeed! I know gamers love to have their characters as quantified as possible, but putting an overt price (+1000 positive karma!) on ethical decisions is just begging for min-max manipulation. In Fallout 3, all you have to do to become evil as sin is access a computer in the back of a bar over and over again. GRAVE CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY, to be sure.

Dysplastic wrote:
Gravey wrote:
Dysplastic wrote:

How exactly does forcing me to destroy Mist make me "own" Cecil's sin? If anything, I personally own it less, because the game forced me to do it. My only choice to not destroy Mist is not to play.

Except you don't know beforehand that the mission will involve destroying Mist. So okay, maybe you don't "own" Cecil's sin, but I think grobstein's point is that you take responsibility for it--i.e., the game gives you the responsibility for it because you chose to play the game--and since Cecil regrets it for the rest of the game, it gives his story some weight. Thus having the choice to destroy Mist is not the issue: the decision is made (for Cecil and so for you), Cecil has to live with it, and so the player does too.

Contrast this with the choice to nuke Megaton, where guilt is left up to the player and can't be meaningfully invoked by the game, and so no moral consequence or narrative weight.

I'm still not buying it. Cecil has to live with it, sure, but why do I? I didn't do it - Cecil did - in a cutscene in which I have no control. All I'm telling Cecil to do is kill the various monstors he comes across. That is the extent of my control over Cecil. When I played FFIV, I never once felt that I really had control over Cecil or needed to take responsability for his actions.

Just because the choice to nuke Megaton wasn't invoked meaningfully by the game, doesn't mean that it can't be invoked more meaningfully in another game - and I'd argue that because of the agency involved, a lot of people did feel the guilt left to the player.

Clint Hocking has addressed something similar from a different angle. His issue with this narrative-based design is that it mimics forms of other media instead of playing to the strengths of video games, such as the ability to choose and the ability of the game to dynamically re-structure the consequences with that choice.

Dysplastic wrote:

And I'm not so sure what a moral palette is either :)

It's a piece of wood where you mix your morals for artistic use.

I still remember playing KOTOR and when you fought against a certain enemy and got his health down, it would open a dialog where he offers to help you if you let him live. The evil character reply option is "I'm sorry, but I only fight to the death." Now there's a gem of good writing.

This is why I really liked Mass Effect. Wether you chose to be a Renegade or Paragon, you were still serving the greater good by saving the galaxy. Not only that, but you could have both Renegade and Paragon points at the same time, instead of one or the other exclusively.

wordsmythe wrote:

Clint Hocking has addressed something similar from a different angle. His issue with this narrative-based design is that it mimics forms of other media instead of playing to the strengths of video games, such as the ability to choose and the ability of the game to dynamically re-structure the consequences with that choice.

QFT. I wanted to fit that in to my last response but wasn't sure how. Linky

Thanks for the article, Dave. As you may have noticed, we all liked it.

Looking forward to hearing more from you!

Ah, the morality "system."

To make the player participate in Cecil's regret, the game must make the player own Cecil's sin, but player choice is the wrong tool for the job. Sometimes adding choice can only constrain a game's moral palette.

Being railroaded into a particular scenario wherein I have no choice does nothing make me empathize with the character. FFIV isn't the only Square game to play this card, either - heck, don't they all do the same thing? Wasn't Cloud some kind of genetic supersoldier, pawn of the empire? And wasn't Terra was under some kind of evil mind control, out killing villagers?

No, it just doesn't work for me. The less control I have over a character's actions (and the less impact my actions ultimately have), the less I can be bothered to care. I immediately cease identifying with the characters, and just view them as my pawns. They are not extensions of myself.

We were just talking about Fable 2's take on this in The Spire, which some people seem to love, and others hate. In that situation you're punished for doing the "good" thing with stat loss - which some players feel is appropriate (as said stats hold meaning to the player and force them to think about the consequences in terms of the stat loss), and others feel is hollow (as the the only change in outcome between good and evil is ultimately a progression setback, with no impact on the game world itself).

If you are immersed in the reality of the game experience, you will not ordinarily choose to do something horrifyingly evil; if you choose to do something horrifyingly evil in a game, you probably do not believe in the reality of the experience.

Indeed, I believe this to be true. While Fable 2's moral choices often felt hollow and game-y to me, Fallout 3 was quite a different matter. Despite its core "karma" system being built on equations and and scales, Fallout 3 managed to convince me to a much greater degree that each individual choice mattered. The game still railroads you at points, and it almost loses me when it does this. But when I'm asked to destroy a town for money? I just can't do it. Not because I don't want to lose "morality points" or for other min/maxing reasons, but because the world feels like a living place that responds to my own actions. I start to think about what I would be willing to do, rather than what the character would be willing to do.

Switchbreak wrote:

I think a good example to look at would be the game Pathologic. It's a game that puts you in an extreme situation, tasks you with surviving, and leaves what you are willing to do about that up to you. There are vicious feral children running around in gangs in areas where civilization has collapsed - they'll steal and fight and kill, and the game never stops you from killing them, either on accident or on purpose to get at the medicine that they seem to have access to. If it's what you feel you need to do to survive, it allows you to do it and doesn't tell you whether it was right or wrong - it just lets the act live in your own mind. Where I think other games fall down on the issue of morality is when they become transparent or overt about it - the Karma system in Fallout, or your alignment in D&D based role playing games. Give a character motivations that make sense, and then let them act on those in a way that makes sense. Allow the player to think about those actions, without having God descend from the heavens to abstractly judge them. That's how you drive engagement.

This.

gore wrote:

We were just talking about Fable 2's take on this in The Spire, which some people seem to love, and others hate. In that situation you're punished for doing the "good" thing with stat loss - which some players feel is appropriate (as said stats hold meaning to the player and force them to think about the consequences in terms of the stat loss), and others feel is hollow (as the the only change in outcome between good and evil is ultimately a progression setback, with no impact on the game world itself).

If you are immersed in the reality of the game experience, you will not ordinarily choose to do something horrifyingly evil; if you choose to do something horrifyingly evil in a game, you probably do not believe in the reality of the experience.

Indeed, I believe this to be true. While Fable 2's moral choices often felt hollow and game-y to me, Fallout 3 was quite a different matter. Despite its core "karma" system being built on equations and and scales, Fallout 3 managed to convince me to a much greater degree that each individual choice mattered. The game still railroads you at points, and it almost loses me when it does this. But when I'm asked to destroy a town for money? I just can't do it. Not because I don't want to lose "morality points" or for other min/maxing reasons, but because the world feels like a living place that responds to my own actions. I start to think about what I would be willing to do, rather than what the character would be willing to do.

Excuse me, I need to switch threads for a second.

In the meantime, I suggest everyone make sure to read Troy's review:
http://gamedesignaspect.blogspot.com

Troy Goodfellow wrote:

Migeul Sicart makes a very similar argument about the morality of games and gaming - using SotC as one of his examples of "ethical game design" - in his recent book The Ethics of Game Design.

(I wrote a column about it last month at Crispy Gamer.)

While I agree that a lot of the decisions in Fallout 3 are undoubtedly black and white choices--do I bomb Megaton or not, should I join the slavers of Paradise Falls or wipe 'em out in a righteous hail of bullets?--does anyone feel that the central dilemma of the Pitt DLC represented a pretty solid example of a legitimately ambiguous moral quandary? Spoilers ahead: in the Pitt, I started with a pretty clear conception of what I needed to do. Really, at first, I was thinking it would basically turn into Paradise Falls 2: Vault-kid in The City (now with more towering pillars of flame!). But then they started really laying out some clever complications. If you talk to Midea enough, she essentially admits that before Ashur showed up, the Pitt was little more than a killing jar, basically a ruthless slaughterhouse for trog hordes to eat diseased weaklings. And then when you finally get into Ashur's swank penthouse suite, the first thing you hear is Ashur lecturing one of his lackeys about his lack of respect for the slaves. I was so uncertain that the slaves would be capable of surviving on their own, I found myself rejecting my (and my character's) essentialist opposition to the idea of slavery. Then once I walked into the lab and discovered that the cure was a living human being--one who was living a life much like my own, the child of a reformer genuinely interested in rebuilding society, a child who could grow to be some sort of savior--I was paralyzed. Here I was, essentially an orphan myself, being asked to orphan another child. I had to stop playing and sleep on my decision.

I think the Pitt captured the essential characteristic of a truly difficult choice: you don't know what to do, because you don't have enough information to predict consequences. So you have to wrestle with uncertainty. I know what outcome I wanted: I wanted everyone to be free and happy and eating the breakfast cereal of their choice. But even in the best possible worlds, things rarely go as we plan them. Could Werner and Midea actually leverage the baby to secure their freedom? Do they even have the medical know-how to turn the baby's resistance into a treatment? Would they just get murdered by trogs as soon as the Raiders were gone? Inversely, would Ashur actually abolish his chattel system once he restored a greater level of order to the Pitt if I supported him? I didn't know, I still don't know. But for the first time, I found myself confronting the serious questions of freedom and power and liberty and tyranny and chaos and order that would actually arise in a world as devastated as Fallout's. And I made a choice that I decided was as close to right as I could get, fully aware that I would probably never know if it was the best choice. And I was pleased to note that the game neither added nor subtracted from my Karma afterward.

Obadiahstarbuck wrote:

I didn't know, I still don't know. But for the first time, I found myself confronting the serious questions of freedom and power and liberty and tyranny and chaos and order that would actually arise in a world as devastated as Fallout's. And I made a choice that I decided was as close to right as I could get, fully aware that I would probably never know if it was the best choice. And I was pleased to note that the game neither added nor subtracted from my Karma afterward.

I love it when a game doesn't tell you that there is a "correct" answer to muddy issues. I think the world needs more of that.

wordsmythe wrote:

I love it when a game doesn't tell you that there is a "correct" answer to muddy issues. I think the world needs more of that.

That there's Communist-terrorist talk.

This is fascinating stuff. Just wanted to pop in and drop a link to a related thread on the site: What Does It Take To Make You Care, which is in part about what kind of game designs make you identify more closely with your character, and (as I say in this article) "own" his / her actions. This comment in particular makes some points better than I had the chance, I think.

gore wrote:

Being railroaded into a particular scenario wherein I have no choice does nothing make me empathize with the character. FFIV isn't the only Square game to play this card, either - heck, don't they all do the same thing? Wasn't Cloud some kind of genetic supersoldier, pawn of the empire? And wasn't Terra was under some kind of evil mind control, out killing villagers?

No, it just doesn't work for me. The less control I have over a character's actions (and the less impact my actions ultimately have), the less I can be bothered to care. I immediately cease identifying with the characters, and just view them as my pawns. They are not extensions of myself.

But that's not railroading, those are their backstories. They're not meant to be extensions of yourself, nor do you need total control over their actions to identify with them. After all, you have no control over the actions of any character in a book or movie, but you still identify with the well-written and well-acted ones.

The comment that grobstein pulls out above hits this nail on its head.

I'm not convinced that Wander knew that murdering the Colossi was wrong. The player only comes to suspect that Dormin isn't being candid after watching the mournful montages at each creature's death. The growing shadowy retinue that gathers at the temple after each attack of the black tendrils is also suspicious, but Wander never sees them. Sure, they don't hand out titles like "The Forbidden Land" on a whim, but that could have to do with the price Dormin says Wander will pay for Mono's resurrection rather than an inherently sinister aspect to the task itself.

Besides, the Colossi look like monsters, and aren't monsters supposed to be killed?

Justin Fletcher wrote:

Besides, the Colossi look like monsters, and aren't monsters supposed to be killed?

I thought they looked more like some of the bigger muppets on Sesame Street.

But it's hard to say for certain what Wander did and didn't realize.

CptGlanton wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

I love it when a game doesn't tell you that there is a "correct" answer to muddy issues. I think the world needs more of that.

That there's Communist-terrorist talk.

Perhaps it's been among the former, but the latter seems closely associated with unwavering belief in a clear (albeit unpopular) delineation of right and wrong.

Gravey wrote:

But that's not railroading, those are their backstories. They're not meant to be extensions of yourself, nor do you need total control over their actions to identify with them. After all, you have no control over the actions of any character in a book or movie, but you still identify with the well-written and well-acted ones.

Ah, but I think the gold standard can be quite a bit higher in a game.

Movies and (most) books are passive experiences - the entire stories are pre-ordained, and you're being dragged along for the ride. With good enough storytelling, you can certainly empathize with the characters, but you never actually feel like you are those characters.

This is where interactive media (games) have a much greater potential to engage the player. The experience here can be so much deeper - if presented well enough, I can feel as if my character is an extension of myself. I become transported into that world as a participant, rather than an observer, and I start to have a deeper investment in the ramifications of my actions.

This is why Final Fantasy games have historically failed to really grip me on an emotional level - these stories ignore the strengths of gaming as an interactive storytelling mechanism, instead relying extensively on passive storytelling through scripted sequences or cutscenes which I can only watch. A game like this will just never grip me the same way that a more immersive experience will - maybe I can be bothered to care about the characters' various personal stories, but that's not going to have the same impact as if I feel that the game is telling my story.

I keep coming back to Fallout 3, which is my poster child for doing this properly. You even grow up in the game world - your character has absolutely no form at all before you take over the helm. You define who he or she is, and the game gives you (by and large) the flexibility to do this.

gore wrote:

This is why Final Fantasy games have historically failed to really grip me on an emotional level - these stories ignore the strengths of gaming as an interactive storytelling mechanism, instead relying extensively on passive storytelling through scripted sequences or cutscenes which I can only watch. A game like this will just never grip me the same way that a more immersive experience will - maybe I can be bothered to care about the characters' various personal stories, but that's not going to have the same impact as if I feel that the game is telling my story.

I keep coming back to Fallout 3, which is my poster child for doing this properly. You even grow up in the game world - your character has absolutely no form at all before you take over the helm. You define who he or she is, and the game gives you (by and large) the flexibility to do this.

Then why do the decisions in Fallout 3 seem so hollow? Is it because they're relatively insulated from the basic mechanics of gameplay? When I do something I regret in real life, I find that there are generally little hints of half-related things to haunt me a little -- faces that catch my attention on the street because they look half familiar, etc. Maybe a radio host isn't enough to break that compartmentalization (which is itself both coded as distinct and probably even written by a different person at Bethesda).

And in quick defense of Final Fantasy, I rarely feel that I can relate to the main character. I've found that I can often relate more to another character, though, which changes the party's ranks in my mind and leads to rather interesting experiences with "side" quests.

wordsmythe wrote:

Then why do the decisions in Fallout 3 seem so hollow? Is it because they're relatively insulated from the basic mechanics of gameplay? When I do something I regret in real life, I find that there are generally little hints of half-related things to haunt me a little -- faces that catch my attention on the street because they look half familiar, etc. Maybe a radio host isn't enough to break that compartmentalization (which is itself both coded as distinct and probably even written by a different person at Bethesda).

It's funny, I actually got quite a rush when Triple Puppy started talking about my sterling reputation on the radio. But, even as a big F3 devotee, I've gotta concede that, really, a lot of the game's choices had a compartmentalized feel. Maybe it's not that they are insulated from gameplay as much as insulated from the larger Wasteland on a whole. Regardless of everything I did over a hundred of hours of play, the world itself never radically changes. Like Tenpenny Tower: however you chose to resolve that conflict, nothing's different once you set foot outside the Tower's walls.

Still, I was generally satisfied with quests in the game, because I decided early on what sort person I wanted the character to be, so I always found some reward trying to choose the path that fit that initial conception. And that's why I mentioned the Pitt, because it defied my ability to figure out which was the "right" choice for my character. Tenpenny Tower is another good example, because I did what I thought was right and fit my character--the diplomatic, conciliatory thing--and watched it backfire horrendously. In fact, maybe that's at the heart of what grobstein means by "punishment": the reversal of expectation in order to call your actions into question (although I would still argue that the Pitt was successful without punishment).

Alternatively, Fallout 3's choices may seem hollow and goofy because the Bethesda people are still using goofy and hollow character models and sometimes less than stellar voice-acting (although F3 is hardly down to oblivion's level in that respect). From that standpoint, a game's ability to make us care has less to do with its underlying structure--is it open-ended or is it linear--and more to do with its craft. Is it well-written, well-designed and well-executed? Although, I personally lean toward open-ended and away from linear, because it's what unique about games when compared to books or movies or rock operas.

Shameless self-promotion. Not cool. - Certis

gold45revolver wrote:

well documented madness complete with flowcharts about what to do when you encounter a hooker

Mind. Blown.

yo dude i am totes not reading all of that k

wordsmythe wrote:

Then why do the decisions in Fallout 3 seem so hollow? Is it because they're relatively insulated from the basic mechanics of gameplay? When I do something I regret in real life, I find that there are generally little hints of half-related things to haunt me a little -- faces that catch my attention on the street because they look half familiar, etc. Maybe a radio host isn't enough to break that compartmentalization (which is itself both coded as distinct and probably even written by a different person at Bethesda).

I'm not really sure, to be honest. It sounds like Fable 2 worked for you in ways that didn't work for me, and that Fallout 3 worked for me in ways that didn't work for you.

In the end, maybe I'm just more inclined to forgive Fallout 3's failings since I find the setting itself so compelling. The game's morality "system" is indeed pretty shallow, but I felt so personally involved in the world that I readily mapped my own sense of justice onto my character, and I had a lot of trouble deviating from it.

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