Are you a "Good" Role Player?

We've come close to directly addressing these issues before, and the conference call got me thinking about going right at them here.

I've always loved when things get ethically tricky in RPGs. The end of the arena plot in Fable was brought up as an example, and the final boss in Fable has a similar bit (I think this is where the expansion starts). If your cahracter does the "good" thing or "bad" thing, does that necessarily reflect on your own "soul" (as it were) as a player?

What does it mean to be a "good" role palyer? Does it mean playing chacters that are ethically good? Does it mean maintaining a proper degree of aloofness from the character you're playing? Does it instead mean negating that aloofness, and really donning the mantle of your character? Is method acting to be used as an ideal for role players, or should we avoid associating too closely with the good or bad deeds and thoughts associated with the character?

Furthermore, we're getting into the phase of game evolution where there is more viceral connection with the characters again -- where on the Wii the character's hands mimic our own as we punch, shoot, strangle, or stab. In reality, killing -- especially in war -- has become more distant and less personal with advances in technology (I find it fascinating that advances in games make virtual killing work the other way). How are we to address being almost forced to be more like our characters? Certainly one half of our brains would say that if twisting the knife kills the baddie faster, then we should do it. However, it's sort of an evil thing to do -- causing that extra bit of pain. As it's getting harder and harder to put that "chinese wall" (yeah, I'm not sure how I feel about that extression) between our actual ethical selves and the ethical self of the player's character, how should we approach this, other than slapping a "mature" rating on the box? Should we call it advanced catharsis and just go with it? Should there be more pacifist options in games, to allow for us to avoid such ethical crises?

Let's just say that I was one of the few people that a friend of mine would let play a Chaotic Neutral (2nd ed) character...
meaning I swing both ways, evil or good, either one works for me.

Good question Munnie. I'm one of the (apparently dwindling) number of people who has difficulty accepting the "evil" root in RP games and have never played an Evil character. Something about it always makes me uneasy. I had a roommate who always seemed to play an evil character whenever he had the chance and although he was a nice enough person he always seemed to be battling inner demons and was never really at peace with himself. Put me in a situation of necessity though (Splinter Cell, Rainbow 6, or more recently Deus Ex) and it's easy for me to make a survival decision.

Although I spent 15 minutes last night trying to throw an old lady I killed in crackdown on to the roof of a 6 story building. Damn woman kept bouncing off the roof-ledge. Crackdown citizens are hardly worth having a conscience over.

I spend my real life being good. Why be good in games too?

I've never understood people's inability to do something evil in a game. It's just a game! Questions of morality really don't exist in games in my mind. If a game asks me if I want to kill a good character the only thing I consider when deciding to kill that character is how it might affect my progress through the game. It is, essentially, just a game.

I can't say I've ever felt involved enough in a game that any decision I made felt like it had any kind of weight. I've gotten immersed in games before, but they were never RPG's and the immersion was never emotional. It's always more, ah, instinctual I guess. I can get involved enough in a game that a monster leaping at me in an unexpected moment can make me jump in my chair and go apesh*t with an automatic weapon. I can actually get so involved and concentrate so hard on a game that a round/race/level can end and I can seriously not remember my actions during that section of gameplay.

What probably won't ever happen though is I'm probably never going to get teary eyed when a character dies in a game. I will not feel remorse when a character dies even if it were by my hand. Emotional involvement is just something I don't see happening with games unless they change drastically from their current form. Movies pull it off on rare occasions, but games? I doubt it. Lots of people moaned about whatsherface dying in FFVII. Lots of people consider it some huge gaming moment. I got to that point in that game and I just really didn't care. I was not sad, angry, happy, or any other emotion, other than slight irritation at another cutscene I didn't like. It just didn't matter. It meant I picked a different character to take her place in combat and I went about combat in a slightly different way.

As for the final question.. there's no line there really for me. If the game is fun and in that game twisting the knife means I'm more successful then I'll twist away and not worry about it for a second.

I suppose this is why I don't generally enjoy rpg's. I can't make myself care emotionally about anything that happens in these games and the stories themselves are never enough to keep me involved. I get bored and I quit before I ever finish them.

I sometimes have a problem going down the path of darkness. I won't commit evil acts for the sake of being evil (GTA). If doing something bad or being a complete a$$hole changes the direction of the RPG's story, then I'll have no problem doing it. Now, if it's an MMORPG, my character acts as I want him/her to be.

I can swing either way as long as my actions have a higher purpose.

The Dark Brotherhood quest line in Oblivion made me feel pretty rotten. I tried making an evil character for a second playthrough of KOTOR but couldn't stick with it for more than one chapter. Hell, I used to feel guilty running deer over with my buggy in Smuggler's Run, but did it anyway 'cause I liked the physics. Point being, I identify heavily with my characters and prefer to stick to the moral spectrum that I (try to) inhabit in real life.

Well, for Fable in particular, I played through the first time as good, then played through a second time as evil. When the lost chapters came out, I decided to play through for a third time as an evil character. The reason for this? I found that Fable was more fun as evil. It seemed to be the only way to amass a large amount of money in the game. And the only way to buy homes and stores from the villagers (buy killing them and then buying the house.)

I don't think there is such a thing as a truly evil character in video games - someone who beats babies and rapes women, that kind of thing. No, the division is always "Good" or "Annoying griefer."

In every RPG game I play, I have a real hard time playing an evil character too. I guess the best way to describe it would be "uneasy". Every time I pick up a new game, I try it though, but always end up re-rolling a good character. I guess thats just my personality. My girlfriend on the other hand has no problems playing evil characters in RPGs.

Yeah Rocky, evil was a little more fun. That was another that I tried to play a sort morally ambivalent character in -- with some success, I guess.

So wait, Think_J is not a "good" role player, and Mystic is a swinger?

I play Anti-Heroes, mostly. I will steal, I will intimidate, I will kill people who may not neccessarily have deserved it if they get in my way, but i'll still help the helpless.

I'm part of the crowd however, that finds it hard to separate my real-life morality from my virtual-life morality. I've never played a purely evil player in RPGs, mainly because I just can't. Not if i'm given the option at least. Something about it always feels wrong to me, no matter what I do.

Mind you, outside of RPGs, I have no trouble. I've killed so many innocent men and women in Crackdown and GTA that the World Court could probably bring me to trial. Hell, in Europa Universalis I was the scourge of native populaces around the world. I'm not sure what it is about RPGs that prevents me from doing evil. perhaps its the fact that i'm allowed to make that character my own so very much,

souldaddy wrote:

I don't think there is such a thing as a truly evil character in video games - someone who beats babies and rapes women, that kind of thing. No, the division is always "Good" or "Annoying griefer."

I totally agree on this point. The designers just don't seem to have a very good handle on this sometimes. Then again, the big choices (such as the Fable ones mentioned here and in the podcast) have stuck me in the way they make you decide on morailty versus profit.

Of course you get benefits for being good anyway. Game designers seem to really love karma.

For my part, I often play the anti-hero, but mostly because I think that real people tend to have some moral ambivalence as part of being human. So my characters tend to stay away from the extremes (which I guess is pretty like the character's player), but some are more altruistic, while others are much more self-interested, and some are just grumpy.

You know it's weird. If i were forced to play an evil character then i would - the method acting thing, i get into it quite well.

But when i'm playing freely, i play by my own moral code which means that i play as a good character. Sometimes i'll do evil or bad things by accident (this pretty much reflects me in real life too ) or for a certain reward eg. getting the only decent wife in Fable and having a castle for a home.

If i was roleplaying in a game of D&D or some other real RPG then i might decide to be more ethically ambiguous but i don't think i'd play an evil character... i just can't.

If i let the evil inside me out then i might not be able to control it... then it might take over..... What's that? I have to burn them? Oh, okay Mr. Flibbles, i'll do that this time if you promise me it'll be the last time. What?! I have to pay with my soul? Ah... forget it. I'll burn them some other time.

Duoae wrote:

If i let the evil inside me out then i might not be able to control it... then it might take over..... What's that? I have to burn them? Oh, okay Mr. Flibbles, i'll do that this time if you promise me it'll be the last time. What?! I have to pay with my soul? Ah... forget it. I'll burn them some other time.

I think this is where the dark side of role playing comes in. I won't say I agree with he who shall not be named, but the more we associate ourselves with a dark character, or the more we twist that knife via Wiimote, I can't help but believe that that thin paper wall between our selves and our characters will let some of that evil through. Is this OK? Should we avoid this kind of game?

I virtually always play someone in the Good-to-Neutral spectrum. It comes down not to queasiness over the morality of the character so much as an inability to empathize with a**holes. Not just games, either - we tried to watch "Sideways" earlier today and turned it off halfway through due to my dislike of the unpleasant main characters.

I don't like people like that in real life, so why would I enjoy watching them, much less the more personal act of pretending to be them?

I tend to be a bit of a goodie goodie when I play. I think it stems more from the ability to go to the altruistic, non self-involved side and be rewarded. Everything tends to be very black and white with little or no shades of gray. I know I could add the gray in through my play actions, but to me it always comes out as 3 "good" decisions and 1 "bad." That doesn't make it more realistic, it just makes it 3 whites and a black. Still no gray there.

In real life, my selfishness and general prickish nature all get in the way of any spark of altruism I have towards people I don't know very well. I know that the good deed is reward in and of itself, but that sh*t don't fly very far with me.

KillerTomato wrote:

I virtually always play someone in the Good-to-Neutral spectrum. It comes down not to queasiness over the morality of the character so much as an inability to empathize with a**holes. Not just games, either - we tried to watch "Sideways" earlier today and turned it off halfway through due to my dislike of the unpleasant main characters.

I don't like people like that in real life, so why would I enjoy watching them, much less the more personal act of pretending to be them?

Any chance that forcing yourself to play that role would help you understand their point of view? Is that any kind of a valid endeavor, anyway?

wordsmythe wrote:

Any chance that forcing yourself to play that role would help you understand their point of view? Is that any kind of a valid endeavor, anyway?

I see where you're coming from, but I don't necessarily see the ability to understand the motivations of evildoers as a positive development.

Really, though, that would be an interesting prospect if they created a protagonist whose nastier actions came from a source more realistic than "Bwahahaha, I like to hurt people and steal their stuff." It could be interesting to play as a woman whose family was killed by goblins and, driven by rage, was compelled to kill every last man, woman, and child of that race, or an abused teenager whose self-worth was dependent on rising to the top of his guild regardless of who he had to step on along the way.

My main problem is that the evil "option" is almost always less well developed than the good option, mostly because the games pigeonhole you into what they imagine your "evil" character would be, which can generally be defined as "chaotic retarded". I like playing interesting characters that are multi-layered, not either A) goodie two-shoes or B) Evil pricks motivated by nothing but money and killing people and who seem to have no good reason to continue with the story line other than that the game forces you to. Unfortunately, most games don't offer anything in between. I tried to be an evil character in NWN2 and found the dialog options ridiculous. I tried to be a character in Fable that made both good and evil decisions and wound up just being a boring old man. The only games I've enjoyed playing as a character of complicated morals have been the Baldur's Gate series and the Elder Scrolls series.
As such, I tend to take the "good" path just because i've found it to provide a more realistic and well thought out game experience.

I pretty much play a good character in any computer game as well as RPGs. For traditional fantasy RPGs, I always play as a Paladin (although did enjoy playing an Assassin more in Diablo 2). I also found it worked especially well for the Baldur's Gate series as it fit nicely with the plot and your originally evil heritage. Romancing Viconia, the evil Drow and causing her to change her outlook on life along with her alignment worked so well being a good character as well.

For the Fallout games, being good or bad wasn't always so clear cut (as the whole world had gone to hell) but even then I chose more honorable ways than not. It didn't stop my female character being a bisexual, prize fighting, "Made Man" but my reputation and kudos were all in the high positives.

In Knights Of The Old Republic 1 I played a true Jedi and was glad I did because it fit with the story more. In KOTOR 2, the first time I played I actually chose to belong to the Dark Side. However, even then I was never actually truly evil and selfish. My character (or the way I played him) cared about his friends and people that served under him when he was a commander in the Jedi/Sith war. The big difference was, that I chose revenge and retribution to anyone that either betrayed my character (such as the Jedi Masters) or was a bad person themselves. I wouldn't try and talk someone into changing their ways and doing something good with their lives. You do bad, you have to pay the price with your life. I have to admit, I really enjoyed using Mind Control on the two robbers in Nar Shadaa and telling them to throw themselves over the edge of the platform (and to run so they could die quicker!).

In non-RPG games I will simply play how I naturally feel inclined. Crusader: No Remorse is one such case. There were many locations where there would be office employees, often caught in the middle of a shootout between myself and WEC special forces. I would be careful not to shoot any of the office workers. Unless one of them would happen to have a gun in their desk and try and shoot me.

One of my friends on the other hand, is totally the opposite. He will say "It's just a game" as he blows away everything in sight.

I'm kind of stunned by all the good Samaritans here...I mean, it's a game, and evil is so much more fun!!

Let's see, I'm stuck in the middle of fight between two guys. For most standard RPG games, it follows like so:

The good path:
You talk it out and find out what the trouble is. Something stolen/missing/eaten, whatever. We really don't care. So you go on a goddamn quest, for freakin' hours, fighting everything imaginable, banging the crap out of your weapons and potion supply to recover this item that's sparked the fight. In return, you get some token little reward.

The better alternative:
Those bastards talked to you, wasting several precious seconds and insulted your ego by imagining that you actually care. Kill them both, loot their corpses. Go to their homes, loot those too. For added kicks, kill their families. Don't forget their dog! Hey look, I spent a couple minutes and ended up richer than the good way.

And I'll agree that most games don't really let you be evil, more of a sarcastic jerk. But sometimes the dialog options are just too good to pass up.

Really, I have absolutely no interest in roleplaying (still like the games though) but I am big on mayhem, the stuff you just can't do in reallife.

Doug wrote:

I'm kind of stunned by all the good Samaritans here...I mean, it's a game, and evil is so much more fun!!

Let's see, I'm stuck in the middle of fight between two guys. For most standard RPG games, it follows like so:

The good path:
You talk it out and find out what the trouble is. Something stolen/missing/eaten, whatever. We really don't care. So you go on a goddamn quest, for freakin' hours, fighting everything imaginable, banging the crap out of your weapons and potion supply to recover this item that's sparked the fight. In return, you get some token little reward.

The better alternative:
Those bastards talked to you, wasting several precious seconds and insulted your ego by imagining that you actually care. Kill them both, loot their corpses. Go to their homes, loot those too. For added kicks, kill their families. Don't forget their dog! Hey look, I spent a couple minutes and ended up richer than the good way.

And I'll agree that most games don't really let you be evil, more of a sarcastic jerk. But sometimes the dialog options are just too good to pass up.

Really, I have absolutely no interest in roleplaying (still like the games though) but I am big on mayhem, the stuff you just can't do in reallife.

Best alternative: go do the quest thing, then after clearing the hard feelings between the two, and getting your token reward, then proceed with the killing and looting.

Remember kiddies, if noone saw you do it and they can't prove you did it, it's just as good as if you hadn't done it.

wordsmythe wrote:

We've come close to directly addressing these issues before, and the conference call got me thinking about going right at them here.

I've always loved when things get ethically tricky in RPGs. The end of the arena plot in Fable was brought up as an example, and the final boss in Fable has a similar bit (I think this is where the expansion starts). If your cahracter does the "good" thing or "bad" thing, does that necessarily reflect on your own "soul" (as it were) as a player?

What does it mean to be a "good" role palyer? Does it mean playing chacters that are ethically good? Does it mean maintaining a proper degree of aloofness from the character you're playing? Does it instead mean negating that aloofness, and really donning the mantle of your character? Is method acting to be used as an ideal for role players, or should we avoid associating too closely with the good or bad deeds and thoughts associated with the character?

Furthermore, we're getting into the phase of game evolution where there is more viceral connection with the characters again -- where on the Wii the character's hands mimic our own as we punch, shoot, strangle, or stab. In reality, killing -- especially in war -- has become more distant and less personal with advances in technology (I find it fascinating that advances in games make virtual killing work the other way). How are we to address being almost forced to be more like our characters? Certainly one half of our brains would say that if twisting the knife kills the baddie faster, then we should do it. However, it's sort of an evil thing to do -- causing that extra bit of pain. As it's getting harder and harder to put that "chinese wall" (yeah, I'm not sure how I feel about that extression) between our actual ethical selves and the ethical self of the player's character, how should we approach this, other than slapping a "mature" rating on the box? Should we call it advanced catharsis and just go with it? Should there be more pacifist options in games, to allow for us to avoid such ethical crises?

I've been playing roleplaying games for a long, long time. Not as long as Rabbit, with his D&D source books where dwarves and elves are characters, not classes but, I suppose I should chime in.

I'm part of a very mature group that sometimes gets stuck playing the same characters; however, some roleplaying games thrive with evil characters, such as those found in WoD (World of Darkness). The point of trying to create (and I mean really create -- not just roll some dice and put some pencil to paper) a character is all about being honest and being able to honesty assess a situation through another's eyes and then putting it on the table. I've had a character kill another character before at the table. I've double crossed characters, led them into traps, watched one of them get executed by hanging for something I did, played a pirate, an outlaw, and a ton of other things, irrespective of class or race. Evil characters really do work if you can give them some true depth and consideration. Most people, upon playing an evil character, become stupid, in my past experiences.

One of my favorite evil characters of all time was a vampire in Vampire:The Masquerade. I played a Malkavian child psychologist that believed that he survived not on blood, but on the innocence of children. My vampire would literally prey on children, torture them in his basement where there were hundreds of open mason jars that would "catch" the innocence while the torture occured. This wasn't roleplayed, but it was understood when I brought a child home with me or had their parents (after screwing with their minds) come and drop them off for sessions.

Ticking people off at the table is easy.
Making people squeamish at the table where you're playing (both allies and gamemaster) is priceless.

You know what I think is funny? If I'm playing an RPG like Fable or whatever that requires good vs. evil decisions, I, for the most part, always choose the "good" option. However, I have no problem going around on the beach in Vice City chopping people's heads off with a katana just for some extra cash.

Is there something wrong with me? Or do I just need to try being more evil?

I'm with you Dhelor.

I'm ok being an anti hero if the game is made that way, otherwise I'm the guy that made the light side meter in KOTOR fall off the edge of the screen.

The thing is, with the GTA games, they pretty much enforce you to act immoral because the game is designed that way. Not necessarily with the missions themselves (Kill drug baron by putting land mine in his breakfast...or something) but with how the environment acts and encourages you to respond. The police for instance are on you endlessly and are shooting at you from the moment you get two police stars. Seeing as you can never ever evade or lose them unless you get to your safe house, you end up getting annoyed and having to shoot them. Before you know it, you've got SWAT teams rappelling down from helicopters and tanks trying to run you over.

One of the most appealing things for me when playing a good character is that I get to go after the bad guys and make them pay for their evil. I especially like rescuing people. Fallout 2 gave you the option of being a slaver or fighting slavery. Although you didn't necessarily have to, you could rescue the slaves by killing all the slavers in the vicinity. When I say you didn't have to, I mean there wasn't necessarily a mission that required you to do so. You could do it through choice and unscripted. If you did it though, it would trigger events that would affect your game later on.

Playing an evil character seems rather hard unless the game properly allows for it, having story arcs, branches, "benefits" and whether you are happy to do nasty things that you wouldn't hopefully do in real life. I like to see the first point in place but the big stumbling block for me is the second point. While I am happy to role-play a particular type of character and their motivations (Dark Jedi or Drow for instance) to a certain extent, I don't do the really nasty things in reality (and there are already enough people in this world that do just those things). Therefore I have no motivation to try them in a game. That said, and in line with my first point, I really do like RPGs that give you the option to do good or bad. It makes your decision so much more important when you know there is an available alternative.

I think part of what makes the chaos of the GTA series so easy is the shear number of people that you kill by accident. Once you realize that you kill a few dozen people on your way to your next mission, chasing people with a katana just doesn't seem as abnormal.

One of the games that I thought had a really nice method of handling good vs evil was the Hitman series. You can approach a mission as a wholesale slaughter or try to get in and out without being detected and with minimal casualties aside from your main target. Running and gunning is generally easier, while achieving the highest score requires much more patience and skill, and is the more moral way of playing.

I never liked GTA because I'm just not attracted to doing evil stuff.

And I'm not a good RPG player, but I really admire the tenacity of guys who roleplay on MMORPGS, because inevitably they are griefed by a l33t dude and they sort of manage to continue their "illusion", justifying his exploits and whatever.

Well, it was funny back in Ultima Online.

Mex wrote:

I never liked GTA because I'm just not attracted to doing evil stuff.

Same here, man.

I got into GTA when the very first one (in top down bitmap grahics) arrived on the PC. I got hooked into that straight away because it was so original. It was so easy to play up to bad guy role in that, partially because of the humour. When I first played the time-limited demo that came on a PC Gamer coverdisc, I didn't truly know what you could and could not do in the game. At first I thought you could only steal cars that had been parked beside the road and were empty. At one point I was on foot after crashing my car and standing in the middle of the road. I was holding up several cars that were blaring their horns. For some reason I decided to press the Enter key and watched my character casually walk round the side of the car and expertly throw the driver out before getting in. It surprised me so much because I didn't know it was possible to do it in the game (and that easy). I spent a minute laughing my head off while the car was sitting in the middle of the road.

Probably because of the cartoony graphics, the pace of play and the orientation of the game (the Kill Frenzies for instance), I didn't think too badly if someone got runover, or if I hit the brakes and left red tyre marks on the road. I would even line my car up behind Hare Krishnas and try to take them all out. You were "rewarded" with a message that came up on screen saying "Gouranga!".

Although I missed GTA3, my experiences playing Vice City and San Andreas are far different. Maybe it is down to the more realistic 3D graphics, maybe it is because I am older or have tighter morals but I try my absolute best not to run anyone over now. They do get out of the way better but if I am tearing through at top speed with the police after me, I am blaring the horn like a mad man just to give them a warning.

The big difference with the 3D versions is that I spend more time driving casually, enjoying the scenery, the weather patterns and the radio stations (or custom music). Whether that is down to the improved sandbox freedom or because police chases are so unenjoyable (they drive faster, endlessly respawn, always know where you are and you can never lose them through skill) I haven't decided.

What I do know is that I would love to play a GTA style game but as a police officer. Not as some undercover cop who is basically just another "black gangsta" but as a normal police officer, in and out of the car. There could possibly be some artistic license in a similar vein to the earlier Need For Speed games. You start off with a standard police cruiser but can get the opportunity to drive a Pursuit Lamborghini Diablo for instance.

I really liked the Vigilante missions and Need For Speed games where I got to play as a police officer. Especially with Need For Speed, there is something about hearing your sirens wailing, having music going, driving through thunder, lightning and rain, hearing all the CB chatter and trying to catch the speeding driver through your own actions, other AI police, spike strips and roadblocks.

For whatever reason, the SWAT series aside, police games are considered unpopular and you always have to be some street gangster or some type of renegade, because popular culture and media today makes being a bad guy apparently appear so cool. It's a shame that nobody is willing to take the risk and attempt to make a police game. If nobody makes one, nobody will buy one and nobody will think there is a demand for it.

Man, you people type a lot. [/filthy skimmer]

I've got no problem playing an evil character. In fact, one of my favorite D&D characters got coopted by the DM to become the main villain of the campaign, as he had become both uber-powerful and evil, and I had to roll a new character. It was a bittersweet moment, like graduation. "I'm so proud... but don't leave me!"

I think empathy requires understanding, even of psychotic killers or narcissistic assholes.

Keep in mind, however, that role-playing doesn't require empathy. Someone playing an evil character could simply be acting out their inner desires, or perhaps increasing their acting skills while their disgust for the character grows, or just wanting to see all the endings to a game and are just going through the actions.