Choice Validation vs. Objective Morality in Gaming

The “Right Choice” Wins

Choice Validation vs. Objective Morality in Gaming — Kimia Wood — moral choice

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Moral choice is rooted in worldview, and video games are uniquely suited for exploring worldview.

In movies and books, you can watch characters make choices and explore the consequences through their eyes…but in video games, you’re invited to become the character, make choices, and experience the consequences in a different – and powerful – way.

But are we allowed to make the “wrong” choice? And if so, what worldview does this reveal?

Moral Choice Within Games

Even the simplest children’s games might have an element of moral choice. Games for that age group probably hold the child’s hand for the entire exchange, but things like “bad guys” and “good guys” and “you should be a good guy” are explored even there.

The D&D-inspired Neverwinter Nights features a morality spectrum from Good to Evil – and lets you play a character anywhere on that spectrum.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

I probably wouldn’t have thought about this issue if I hadn’t watched a cut-scene compilation for StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (Blizzard Entertainment). This game features a choice between two exclusive missions — choosing one denies you the chance at the other. What’s more, story-based moral issues are involved in this choice.

Specifically: A representative of the Protoss (ally aliens) claims that a colony of humans are infected by the Zerg (enemy aliens) and the colonists must be destroyed. Your human commander must choose: 1) Fight the Protoss to prevent them from killing the colonists, or 2) Accept the Protoss’ assessment and commit to destroying the infected yourself.

When my dad played through the game, he chose one path, and got a certain cut-scene. He fought the Protoss to defend the colonists, and was rewarded by watching the colonists settle happily on a new world – not infected.

However, when I watched the cut-scene compilation, the cut-scene was different. If you choose to believe the Protoss that the colonists are infected, and you will destroy them yourself, then not only must you fight Zerg hives in the mission you play, but the cut-scene reveals that even the spokeswoman for the colonists (who was safely on your ship) was secretly infected, and the commander must kill her.

Wherever you go, you’re the “good” guy

Here’s the thing: both cut-scenes were designed to validate the choice previously made by the player. Whichever path you chose, you are never confronted with retroactive evidence that you chose wrongly.

If you agreed to destroy infected colonists, you’re not rebuked by learning they were actually fine! If you fight the Protoss to protect the humans, the humans do not later succumb to infection!

The player can’t be wrong.

This reveals Blizzard Entertainment’s worldview that humans are the ultimate masters of our own realities. They embrace the philosophy of self-direction…Free-will FTW. We must validate whatever choice you make.

Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter

Choice Validation vs. Objective Morality in Gaming — Kimia Wood — moral choice

Image from Wikipedia

Recently, I watched a play-through of Frogwares’ Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter. In his first case, Holmes gathers clues about a number of paupers who have disappeared. (You can find the play-through here; cautions: mild language, and disturbing imagery.)

At the climax, he must decide between two suspects: who is guilty? Should he condemn the first man? Or allow him to kill the second man (judging the second man to be guilty)?

(Side note: the writers do not allow Holmes to bring the guilty party in to the authorities. Vigilante execution is unavoidable…and, by the way it’s presented, even laudable. But is this the moral choice in real life?)

While watching the videographer connect the various clues and make his own conclusion, I was busy wondering if there was a “correct” solution! After all, I could see it easily going either way. The evidence had been pretty heavy-handed toward one culprit, but red herrings are a classic misdirection tool of the mystery writer!

If you condemned the first man, would you be scolded for condemning the innocent, and releasing the guilty?

Objective Truth

According to the Wikipedia page, the player “can fail or succeed in finding the culprit” based on the connections they draw between clues.

This implies there is “a culprit” – a singular culprit – a meta-narrative culprit, if you will. Someone who actually did do it, and someone who actually did not.

Virtual Reality

Obviously, these are just games. But the stories we tell, and the games we enjoy, reveal something about our worldview.

Choice Validation vs. Objective Morality in Gaming — Kimia Wood — moral choice

Image credit: RelyOnHorror.com

From the Fire Emblem series (which embraces string theory – every story-line is cannon!) to TellTale’s The Walking Dead adventure games (which have been praised for folding meaningful choices into gameplay) choices matter.

Choices especially matter in Real Life.

The juxtaposition of these two games really intrigued me. Perhaps I will explore the matter in more depth.

But until then, keep an eye out for this issue in your own life. When someone is accused of sexual misconduct, there really is a “meta-narrative” where it either did happen, or didn’t. We may not know whose story is real, but Reality doesn’t shift based on our own preferences.

And neither does moral choice. Right and wrong, by definition, don’t change because I want them to. Otherwise…they wouldn’t be “right” and “wrong”, now, would they?

I’ve overdrawn?! Can’t I go back to a save point?! This boyfriend is a jerk-face, and I really shouldn’t have put myself here. I want to re-start this level. Um…What button do I push to go back to high school? Hello? Anyone…?

[Disclaimer: I have not played Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter, and cannot endorse either it or its content. Use proper discretion. We have played StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, and consider it appropriate for most audiences.]


Choice Validation vs. Objective Morality — Kimia Wood — moral choiceKimia Wood grew up watching games, playing games, and talking about the theological implications of games.

She currently lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by baking, knitting, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

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