More on Morality

Moral choice systems in gaming: saint or demon.

Moral choice systems in gaming: saint or demon.

So, my laptop is officially dead. I got it checked earlier to see if it was a relatively simple fix (replacing the brick) or something much more complicated and expensive (the power adapter in the computer being busted). It’s the latter case. However, aside from one more session in a couple weeks to ensure that everything is going well, I’m done with therapy so should have my Fridays back again for the most part. Here’s to hoping. Anyway, that gives me a chance to make a post today.

A while back, I made a post about how moral choice systems fail and how this scale of extremes ties to feminism. Since I haven’t been able to have computer to use at home, I’ve been playing a lot of X-Box of late, and this issue has come up some more. I mentioned in that previous post an example of a game giving an instance where there is no good choice. However, in that example, the morality system is still implemented.

For those not wanting to read through the old post, it boils down to this. Late in the second Mass Effect game, Shepard is sent on a mission to stop a renegade sect of AI machines known as the geth, and the only options are a choice between genocide and brainwashing. The game makes it out that the brainwashing is somehow the “right” choice. However, there is a game, or rather DLC to a game, that does it much better, and it actually came out a year earlier.

Fallout 3 also has an example of a moral choice system, with the sliding scale of karma between good and evil. However, there is one point in the second DLC, The Pitt, where you are sent to bring the cure to a special form of mutation unique to the area to your quest giver. In the course of this quest, you discover that the cure is actually an infant girl who was born immune to the radiation and disease of the area. Discovering this, you are left to choose, do you abduct her and bring her back to your quest giver, or do you instead choose to work with her father, the ruler of the area, and put down the rebellion that you’ve been helping before.

See, the backstory here is that the Pitt (the ruins of Pittsburgh) has the only still functional steel mill in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, and Ashur decided to work to rebuild the city, and thus civilization. However, because of a mix of the metals and minerals in the area combined with the ambient radiation from the apocalypse, everyone in the area is affected by a degenerative disease that eventually turns 20% of adults into troglodyte monsters, and kills 100% of all children within a matter of weeks. This latter fact makes it impossible for the people of the Pitt to have children, so Ashur turns to drastic measures in order to support the population. Initially, when raiders come in attempts to kill him and claim the spoils of the Pitt for themselves, he ends up killing their leader and recruiting the rest. He then turns around and has his growing army raid other settlements for supplies and people, forcing some people into slavery to work in the mill. However, he’s also spending that time working with Sandra, a prominent scientist, to discover a cure to the mutations of the area. Eventually, they end up having a child, and discover that their baby, Marie, is immune to the mutations. As such, Ashur and Sandra conduct research with her to find the cure, yet they remain ethical in their research, determined that the work will not endanger their child, even if it means the cure takes longer to research.

Seems that working with Ashur is the “bad choice” because he’s a slaver, right? Well, not really. Turns out, Wernher and Midea (the people who have been sending you on missions to this point) already knew that the “cure” was an infant, and they just want to do their own research (cutting corners in the process) and then ransom the child back, knowing that if they told you about it, you’d likely not help. This goes a step further because while the only thing Ashur wants you to do is kill Wernher to put a stop to the rebellion, Wernher wants you to unleash the troglodytes on the entire uptown section of the city, killing half of the city’s population. And after all is said and done, he declares you as the new “Lord of the Pitt” but says that he will handle the day-to-day operations, including “whipping the workers back into shape.” Essentially, while they are no longer called slaves, the people of the Pitt have only traded one master for another, and in the process, you have kidnapped an infant and killed her parents.

Ashur vs. Wernher: the perception vs. the truth.

Ashur vs. Wernher: the perception vs. the truth.

Meanwhile, in the moments leading to the choice of who to side with, you actually see Ashur chewing out one of his lieutenants for referring to the population as slaves rather than workers, insisting that he wants them to know that they can earn their freedom, and that all citizens of the Pitt, workers and raiders alike, are slaves of a sort. In short, you are left with choosing between two well-intentioned extremists, and the game does not treat either choice as the “right” one. Sure, you may gain some karma for killing raiders if you side with Wernher or lose some killing some slaves when siding with Ashur, but the final decision in the end, who you side with, does not award karma. Additionally, it’s possible with either route to get out and to Wernher without fighting more than a handful of individuals, at most, leaving the two sides to fight each other while you either bring Marie to Wernher or hunt him down.

So how do we apply this example to real life? Well, just a couple days ago, a couple of my friends posted this to their Facebook walls. This is a debate I’ve seen come up in one form or another several times over the years. Is it better to fight for marriage equality or to fight to fundamentally change the entire institution of marriage? Do we fight to allow trans people to serve openly in the military, or do we seek to address the imperialist culture that pervades our need for such a strong military force? Simply put, there is no “right” answer, but rather only a choice about what seems best based on our own point of reference. I could give more examples, but these are just a few. I’m sure you all could come up with some more, and I would love to hear them in the comments.

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