Sunday, March 14, 2010

No Reward For The Wicked?

Increasing numbers of games are offering players choice in how they allow the player to complete the game. Obviously it's more prominent in RPGs, but the element is becoming more accepted generally. Players typically like to be able to dictate the actions of their characters, and getting to choose "good" or "bad" options can give a slightly different slant on the game.

However, one problem with this choice is that frequently players that pick the "bad" option often get short-changed. Being obnoxious to people within a game shuts down plot lines by alienating or even killing the characters. In some cases, this even results in the death of potential party members.

The problem lies in that the evil player is frequently not granted extra rewards for their bad actions. By being rotten and selfish, they would typically expect to be granted greater rewards as they make decisions purely based on self-interest to increase their own power. For a classic recent example, take the original BioShock. The player had the choice of rescuing the little sisters, or harvesting them for Adam, which the player was told would provide significantly more Adam by killing the little sister. Given that the selfish choice would be to take all the Adam for yourself, one would surely assume that an evil character would end up with more Adam. However, this is not the case. Due to gifts of Adam given to the good player, they actually end up with more. Similar disparities occur in other games, as the player recruits allies and makes friends that come back and help later on, making their journey easier.

Unfortunately, this is a typical situation. Gamers and game developers seem to have a predilection for a classic hero archetype rather than the anti-hero, even though the latter is becoming increasingly popular in movies. Even taking the comparison of Batman, where the most two recent Batman films represent a dark and morally challenged character, Batman: Arkham Asylum (while being a great game) still portrayed Batman as a fairly standard hero lacking that same dark moral edge present in those films.

Before anyone tries to cite counter evidence as the "hero's" ending for vanilla Fallout 3 (ie no DLC), I have to declare that was nothing short of appalling writing. It ruined the game for me. (Note that I steered clear of spoilers for anyone who hasn't yet finished it)

Of course, there's the argument that ruthless and evil character should have a harder time, because they're not making allies and betraying everyone in their path. And in some respects, that's an entirely valid argument. But surely the evil character who has killed and betrayed their way to power should be versed in dispatching their enemies with either guile or brute force better than the righteous do-gooder hero?

Perhaps the only significant example I can think of was Grand Theft Auto IV - where the option of seeking revenge actually turned out to be the "good" choice, which is perhaps contrary to what might be expected. I'd like to see more choices where the "right" decision actually comes around to bite the "good" player. That option to spare the supposedly repentant criminal or to help the "poor helpless victim" could result in them appearing later to oppose the hero. Every good intention does not need to be rewarded, and every bad intention does not need to be punished.

But even after saying all that, I have to end this post with a slight hypocrite warning. I always play "good" the first time through a game. Heck, some games I've never even played through picking the evil options, as I just couldn't bring myself to do it. That said, the jaw-dropping ability of some evil choices (point-blank executions in Mass Effect spring to mind) cannot be underestimated.

Edit: I should note that BioWare has given us a few recent examples in Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening, where "good" choices do come back and bite the player somewhat. As much as I lamented not being able to have a Hollywood happy ending, I loved the fact that I didn't get it.


  1. Hopefully this doesn't double post I had a good bit typed and it got erased. Just going to do this point form hope it doesnt come off as a rant lol.

    -Batman isn't a morally dark character. What did he do in the movies that was anything but for the greater good? Broke some laws, but laws aren't morals. And after all the killing the joker did he didn't even kill him back, just put him in jail (twice).

    -Batman, because he is an established good guy, makes Arkham a bad choice of a game to question its lack of ability to do evil. That's not something that should be expected from any game based on an pre-established persona.

    -BG2 is a game that comes to mind that had some BETTER evil rewards than good. The Soulrazor minion at the end, the human flesh armor etc. Had to be really grossly evil to get and keep using them. This was indeed rare among games from what I can gather.

    -I don't think evil as a fully viable option is anything most game makers pay attention to. I think I get the concept they are going for cause I tried it in my campaign. It's just a way to keep you feeling like you are deciding to do what you do, although its ultimately a predetermined path.

    -Still beats being just given 1 option I think, just gives a sense of you controlling your characters behaviour (good though it must be, in the end).

  2. Soulrazor minion maybe, but compared to Carsomyr? Give me the Holy Avenger every time. And I personally thought the human flesh armor was fairly mediocre.

    The point I was making is that Batman isn't a clean cut hero. I didn't actually expect roleplaying from Arkham Asylum - but Batman was more or less a rampant do-gooder bordering on lawful stupid in the game, which isn't really his established character.

    I'm not saying it's easy to implement the option to be truly evil/bad, in fact, I agree that it's pretty darned difficult. I'm more saying that the evil and self-serving options presented to gamers frequently don't actually turn out to be that, and selfless heroic acts frequently net the player greater rewards than outright selfishness.