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Moral Ambiguity in Video Games

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All video games are designed to give the player a choice. To a certain extent, it is an essential characteristic to facilitate a greater sense of immersion for the player. Either by creating a rich mental model of the game’s environment by highlighting unique set pieces to invoke imagery of its desired tone or hint at subtle nuances to give the player a small snippet into where a greater narrative might entail a hidden inconsequential truth to reward their personal investment foreseeable hours away from the start. Creating a video game that is immersive requires a joint conscious effort from the game developers to engage the player keeping them dedicated and motivated to return. By presenting the enticing offer of crafting your own unique experiences set within the linear gameplay prompts the player the opportunity of choice when creating their own titular game character in the genre of Role-playing games. Owing to the sense of personal involvement in choosing physical characteristics or bestowing preferred attributes leads to the player designates how to react to a given situation.

Whether it’s a simple fight or flight scenario between which other non-playable characters to align and who the player deems worthy of their malicious wrath or as complex in which role the player plays in determining the fate of an entire species depends on how the player chooses to interact or prioritize in order to progress towards the next objective. Thus, ignoring any notion of a fixed playthrough to only process the narrative and rendering any conflicting moral stimulant useless unless conveyed in a consequential way. Whilst the exposure of video games presents a chance to make seemly significant moral choices, the manner of its ambiguous presentation that promotes the freedom of a player’s choice does not impact the predetermined behavior to challenge the foundational moral beliefs of the player if not spurred by a meaningful interaction in the virtual environment to lead the player to reconsider their actions.

Role playing which is prevalent in a majority of RPGS is generally understood by which an individual pretends or imagines temporarily that they are another person to garner insight another’s thoughts, attuites or otherwise intentions to see something they haven’t experienced themselves. For instance, designing a custom character whose behavior and outward appearance is appeasing to the liking of the player or mask insecurities whose impact subtly forces the player to craft what they call perfect representations of themselves. Identification is when role-play and you take media characters identity and adopt their ethics in which they see fit to enhance their immersion into the virtual environment that the game is set. If the world is harsh environment such as wasteland filled with radiated monsters then the player is going to be forced to pit themselves amidst the moral conflict of whether to adapt or abide by their convictions of moral beliefs. The ethics of how a player truly plays depends on the type of game if it is an open world crime game then the player will likely resort to rob and steal not be the disciplinary force such as the police. The idea also intrinsically promotes the idea of immersion that video games are considered to be such as an escape away from reality thus away from any consequences. A relevant note, Krcmar and Cingel state, “players experience more guilt when the violence in games is unjustified and when they are themselves more empathic players. Fourth, players also experience greater guilt when they do not perceive play as ‘just a game’”.” (Krcmar, Marina, Drew P. Cingel 2016). Thus, players are less likely to perceive or worry about the moral constraint of ethics rather treating like a mere fantasy.

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Defining morality is challenging owed due to the lines between good and evil are spewed that most role-playing games find it hard to incorporate as it may sometimes come across as cynicism of upon the players to follow the fixed narrative structure rather than letting the player discover the story as they progress in form of side-quests or player’s own exploration that inform them informally to the events that are yet to transpire. During gameplay players are unknowingly making two parallel decisions. On one hand, the moral decision fueled by common clichés in western gaming which are to shoot, steal, or to scoot out of there until you gain enough experience points or have the necessary gear to take on harder bosses. Unlike most RPG’s that rely on enhanced graphics and minimalistic plots, Fallout New Vegas (Obsidian Entertainment, 2010) engages the player to take control of a former mail courier who was shot and left for dead in the toxic wasteland of the Mojave desert of post-nuclear America to venture outwards to find the kingpin and stop him before he unleashes another nuclear genocide. Along the way, he must face an array of mutilated ghouls to renegade factions that are threating to wage war to due water shortages and countless night raids by mutants. You must complete open-ended quests which give you varying optional objectives which effect an implemented karma system that relies on which factions you side with, what method you choose to execute orders whether you kill only perceived wicked characters or all characters you stumble across even the innocent. These in game moral decisions plant the player in realism as it showcases that the player’s actions will have significant consequences that could lead to them being sided against and marked as the villain. Which the dynamic changes to a harder odd of survival later in the game. A relevant note, Krcmar and Cingel reason players, “did not examine moral reasoning … make an ethical decision when faced with a moral dilemma.” Nor did the authors find that, “it is unclear how and why video game players make moral decisions.” (Krcmar, Marina, Drew P. Cingel 2016). This relates to titular subject of in game consequences of moral ambiguity because of the connection of having to side with at least a slight majority of factions to proceed further in the game. Inescapable and indispensable the game builds you as the hero and when the player objects to this role the question of moral ambiguity is asked, what lengths would you go to prove that you are not as corrupt as the monsters that dwell in the wasteland?

Making choices despite existent narrative is considered a positive highlight when taking Role-playing game formulaic structure into account. Reminiscent of other brands of storytelling such as literature, film, and theatre however the immersion of the player to take part as a viable living witness rather than an observer aids the player to find that their choices matter in their desired outcome. Often linked the gameplay and the narrative is tied to the game’s set rules in which the player in most Role-playing games are subjected to abide. Cheats or otherwise bugs may prevail over the set rules, but a majority of the time, the player’s freedom of choice is limited to dialogue trees or the occasional actions rather than realistic driven choices that fundamental alter the game in a genuine way. The mechanics play part in the role of determining choice for the player is given freedom to abide by any playstyle they choose. Control wise role-playing games prides themselves on functionality and simplicity. Just three buttons, a joystick, a d-pad, and three arrow keys. It may seem unchallenging yet complicate themselves once you realize that as you progress. The fact you die quite a lot is sadistically and functionally tracked by the game by which it learns from failures as fast as you do. Every success is your own and every mistake is yours too. Your sense of pride may be forever changed, but your sense of accomplishment will make you humbled and add only to fuel your own ego only to see it crash when you die again. This ties into morality because of how role-playing games wants you to be tested in how far you will go before you feel tested. Solidary single player and the multiplayer also aspect play affects your social conventions to violate morality. For you kept in touch by another player rather than be immersed yourself to realize you are subject to morality. According to a better explanation, “instead, players would make choices based on reasons related specifically to the game environment, to game play, and to progressing successfully through the game. For example, a player may shoot a character or even save a character in order to score points or regain health. It is not necessarily that the decisions themselves would be moral or immoral, but rather, the reasons for those decisions would be for the purposes of advancing through the game.” (Krcmar, Marina, Drew P. Cingel 2016). Again, this proves most players are less likely to make moral decision against their real- world beliefs in video games unless a game convinces them otherwise to alter their convictions.

In conclusion, although video games expose players to make significant moral choices, the ambitious presentation of predetermined behavior and intention does not impact the player’s fundamental moral beliefs unless conveyed in different meaningful way unless spurred by a meaningful interaction in the virtual environment to lead the player to reconsider their actions. The manner of Ethics, identification or role-playing aspect of immersion, and morality systems all play apart in the existing narrative, but do not fully convince the player to challenge their predetermined morality unless provoked by thoughtful way. Other issues could arise to change players like the desired outcome of a game however the margin to do so is small. After all, like the characters are representations of the player’s own identity thus the truth was rigged from the start.

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Moral Ambiguity in Video Games. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from
“Moral Ambiguity in Video Games.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
Moral Ambiguity in Video Games. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Nov. 2022].
Moral Ambiguity in Video Games [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2022 Nov 27]. Available from:
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