The Bloody Baron: A Truly Ethical Quest?

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?

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Figure 1: Colour-coded moral choices

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.

 

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Figure 2: The Bloody Baron coming clean

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.


References

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)

Images

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)

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The Sound of Immersion

Immersion is what makes a video game great. It is usually behind the feeling of being at one with the game world, the one-more-turn syndrome that makes you forget reality, the jump scares when something attacks your character… Efficient immersion can be achieved though many tools, but let’s focus on one today: sound.

Immersion’s latin etymology is “immergere”, to dip into. In games, it can be described as follows: “Sometimes people find the game so engaging that they do not notice things around them, such as the amount of time that has passed, or another person calling their name. At such moments, almost all of their attention is focused on the game, even to the extent that some people describe themselves as being “in the game.”(Jennett et al., 2008). How can sound help achieve this?

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Sweeping soundtrack not pictured

As Schell (2008) notes, “audio feedback is much more visceral than visual feedback“. This can be observed in Fist Person Shooters, where gunshots make the player’s adrenaline spike, and cause an immediate reaction such as seeking cover, crouching or running (in-game, of course!). In these cases, the immersive power is such that the player feels directly threatened. On a different note, music can serve to compliment a beautiful setting, and reinforce the presence of an in-game area or its charm. The Witcher 3 uses sweeping soundtracks when the main character travels through the roads and wilderness, allowing the player to enjoy the scenery with their ears, so to speak. Ambient sounds can also be used to make a setting more alive.

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Did you hear that?!

However, a case can also be made for the lack of sound, specifically the lack of musical score. Several games have shown this to terrifying effect, including the pioneering horror/survival game Silent Hill. The player finds themselves lost in fog in a disturbing, hostile world. Where a tactful score could have represented a lifeline to humanity and civilisation, the designers opted to let the player to their own devices. No music can be heard, only strange sounds, distant footsteps making you second guess every movement, and distant screeches. Brrr!

My conclusion? Sound matters more than you may initially think. Use it wisely!


References

Jennett, C., Cox, A., Cairns, P., Dhoparee, S., Epps, A., Tijs, T. and Walton, A. (2008). Measuring and defining the experience of immersion in games. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 66(9), pp.641-661. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1071581908000499 (Accessed 22 Nov. 2016)

Milner, J. (2015). A Sound Argument – Is Sound Important in Games? | SA Gamer. Sagamer.co.za. Available at: http://sagamer.co.za/2015/03/18/a-sound-argument-is-sound-important-in-games (Accessed 22 Nov. 2016)

Schell, J. (2008). The art of game design. 1st ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Morgan Kaufmann, p.390.

Silent Hill (no date) [image]. Available at: http://silent-hill.1408-000.net/index.php?go=35 (Accessed 22 November 2016)

The Witcher, (2015) [image]. Available at: http://static3.gamespot.com/uploads/original/1365/13658182/2624268-the_witcher_3_wild_hunt-crossroads_1407869449.jpg (Accessed 22 November 2016)

Featured Image:

Immersion (no date) [image]. Available at: http://silent-hill.1408-000.net/index.php?go=35 (Accessed 22 November 2016)