Interesting chat in last week’s Gamers with Jobs Conference Call instigated by a listener email on the “trend” towards moral choices in recent games (especially Infamous for PS3). The caller wondered if games should offer better rewards for “good” or “evil” choices, which generated a great discussion among the podcasters. Julian “Rabbit” Murdoch noted/complained that in games, “evil” is often the quick and easy path, while “good” often coincides with patience (and larger long-term rewards). His observation makes me wonder whether such gameplay implicates not so much morality (right vs wrong) than virtue – specifically, the virtue of patience. This particular approach to virtue is particularly interesting given that video games have a reputation as tools of twitchy, instant gratification.
In that same podcast, Rabbit also emphasizes that it makes more sense to tie the consequences of moral choices to story outcomes, much more so than game effects like upgraded weapons or skills, although the distinction can be blurry. (The example he gives is villagers giving you critical information in gratitude for helping the village). This division between gameplay and story illustrates the continuing incapacity of games to make stories into games, which I argue is because remains an absence of a social physics engine which would make such gameplay as fun as throwing objects around using existing physics engines.