Surrounding us in our daily lives is choice. We choose where to eat, what to eat, how to dress, and how to act. Game designers have, for years, been capitalizing on our innate desire to make choices. This month, I’m going to be taking a look at one specific aspect of choice in games: good vs. evil.
As a byproduct of finally having a PC capable of playing today’s latest and greatest games, I’ve finally been able to sit down and truly enjoy my copy of Mass Effect. Most of you are probably familiar with the “Paragon vs. Renegade” game mechanic that Bioware has instituted in ME to gauge the player’s choices throughout the game, but if you aren’t, the short version is that if you do bad things, you gain “Renegade” points, and if you do good things, you gain “Paragon” points. These points accumulate and based on your point totals, you are given unique options in dialogue that someone of the opposite persuasion would not have access to. This allows you to craft your own story, either playing as the noble hero, or the begrudging villain-turned-hero. Giving players a choice as to how they complete and experience a game does wonders for both immersion and enjoyment, and I believe it’s the mastery of this system, coupled with equally masterful dialogue, that not only reels people in, but keeps them coming back for more (and more) play throughs.
However, I’m not just here to preach the greatness of Mass Effect to you. If it’s your kind of game, you’ve probably already played it and loved it. No, today I’m here not just to feed words into your brain, but also to extract them; to delve into the very heart of your conscience and emerge with a truth so profound that you’ll surely be left thinking “wow, that was profound.” But before I ask you to share with the world your most intimate gaming moments and thought patterns, I must first share mine.
The year is 2010, and I have just finished my first playthrough of Mass Effect. I am displeased because I didn’t know that once you finish the game, it is finished, and you cannot return and complete more side quests (of which I missed the majority). I have just gone out to Best Buy and purchased Mass Effect 2, in preparation for importing a character after I am all done with the ME, but am now faced with a dilemma. Reload an older save in ME, play through all the side quests, redo the final mission, and then import my character into ME2, or simply import my character as is and go back to ME at a later date?
In the end, impatience won out and I imported my character to ME2 (and have been having a blast) but, looking back, why didn’t I continue on with ME? I suppose it comes down to me not wanting to recreate my exact game experience (with which I was very pleased) all over again. I wouldn’t want to change any of the choices I made, and to replay the game having to choose the exact same things all over again would be almost boring. With that in mind, it only makes sense that if you were looking to replay the game without getting bored, you would choose the opposite of what you chose last time, to keep the experience fresh. But this brings me to the “intimate gaming thoughts” humdrum I was hinting at earlier. My question to you all has to do with whether or not you are capable of playing a character, good or evil, which reacts opposite of how you yourself would react (in a real life situation)? Keep this question in mind, because I’m going to come back and ask you again, after I finish rapping about my own inability to do so.
Really though, I can’t do it. No matter how funny a dialogue option may seem or how cool the outcome may be if you choose to act like a complete bastard, you will never find me choosing the evil path. I can’t even save the game, go through evil dialogue, and then reload. There’s some moral compass inside me that points due “good” and I can’t deviate from that path. It really limits my replay value in games, but that’s alright. It’s my belief that, because I feel so strongly about the choices I make in-game, I get just as much out of one playthrough as someone who perhaps doesn’t think as much about their decisions and just blasts through multiple playthroughs. This is, at least, my opinion, but what do you guys think? Look back at your former game experiences and think. Can you be someone else in videogames, or do your choices reflect who you are in the real world?