Games sometimes ask players to make moral choices, a mechanic that “has been seen as one way of engaging players more deeply in deeply complex gameworlds” (Sicart, 2009). However, can we really call these choices ethical?
According to Sicart, most systems cannot, as ethical choices in games cannot be “a variation of branching storytelling where the player takes choices based on alleged moral parameters evaluated by the game system” (2009). This is illustrated in the Mass Effect series (BioWare, 2007), where dialogue choices clearly inform players of the moral tone and repercussion of dialogue choices (figure 1): blue is for “Paragon” choices (towards good/altruism), and red is for “Renegade” choices (towards evil/selfishness). According to Sicard, this is therefore not an ethical choice as is tied into the game’s own evaluation of morality, and furthermore is obviously signposted to the player.
The Witcher 3 (CD Projekt Red, 2015) approaches this differently. In the quest “Family Matters”, players meet a baron who is looking for his wife; however, it quickly transpires that her departure is due his appalling treatment of her (figure 2), although he is strongly remorseful and seeking atonement. To solve this quest, the player must also involve parties also showing an equal measure of evilness and humanity, and make a difficult (and unwanted) judgement call on them – indeed, “what the player has to do can be in collision with either her values external to the game” (Sicart, 2009). Interestingly, all choices end in dramatic consequences for one or several of the parties, a deliberate choice according to the quest writer who states that “[the player] will think it through, analyze all the information he was given and then chose—but rarely will he be certain that it was a good decision” (Stachrya, 2015).
Indeed, in a successful ethical choice system, “choices based on moral reasoning will actually have an impact” (Sicart, 2009). They may just not be the easiest to make.
BioWare (2007) Mass Effect. Electronic Arts.
CD Projekt Red (2015) The Witcher 3. CD Projekt.
Sicart, M. (2009) The Banality of Simulated Evil: Designing Ethical Gameplay. Available at: http://www.miguelsicart.net/publications/Banality.pdf (Accessed: 10 March 2018)
Stachrya, K. (2015) ‘The Personal Story Behind The Witcher 3’s Bloody Baron Quest’. Interview with Patrick Klepek for Kotaku.com, 12 October. Available at: https://kotaku.com/the-story-behind-the-witcher-3s-bloody-baron-quest-1736090893 (Accessed: 10 March 2018)
Main: The Witcher 3 | Geralt (2017). Available at: https://www.reddit.com/r/witcher/comments/5y41il/such_a_sad_face_for_one_with_no_emotions/ (Accessed: 10 March 2018)
Mass Effect | Dialogue Wheel (2012). Available at: https://mhstrail.org/ae/2012/12/05/mass-effect-3-review-part-3/ (Accessed: 10 March 2018)
The Witcher 3 | The Baron (2015). Available at: https://kotaku.com/the-story-behind-the-witcher-3s-bloody-baron-quest-1736090893 (Accessed: 10 March 2018)