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Morality Systems in Video Games

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To shove a cupcake into the bully’s face or pick the dialogue that shows pity towards him? There are several ways a player can choose to play in narrative-driven games. In this video game genre, the player is the protagonist. The player experiences the world and explores different paths through the protagonist. The player can only go certain branches due to their past choices. The player explores many moral decisions in this genre and enjoys the challenge. Games with the morality mechanic are quite popular with players and developers.

Telltale’s The Walking Dead series (Telltale Games, 2012), is an episodic storytelling game. The player is Lee Everett, who makes difficult decisions throughout the game. Consequences of their choice will follow into the next scene or hours later in the game. Likewise, the Fallout series (Bethesda, 2008-2015; Interplay, 1997-1998; Obsidian Entertainment, 2010; Universal, 2001), captures this genre with its morality system. Fallout is set in an open world that allows the player to have freedom of choice, including whether they are moral or immoral. The player decides from their views to choose the best course of action. Both games allow the player to act however they please but give meaning to their choice. Morality Systems in video games teach players to be more understanding of their moral values.

To begin with, moral values are essential to one’s life. To understand moral values, it is wise to look at moral and values separately. Moral arises when an individual is conflicted on whether a decision they made, or in the process of making, was right or wrong. According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, morals are (1) relating to principles and wrong, (2) sanctioned by or operative on one’s conscience or judgement (Merriam-Webster). Morals are important to an individual, due to them affecting one’s decisions and seeing what is right or wrong. Similarly, values assist in deciding judgment. Values are “something (such as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable” (Merriam-Webster). An individual’s values deem what they believe is important to their core. For example, loyalty is a value many share. Individuals share this value because they know it is good to be loyal and uphold this in life. Hence, moral values are the beliefs that guide us throughout our lives. In “The Geography of Good and Evil: Philosophical Instances”, Andreas Kinneging explains, “…moral values are purely personal values, in the sense that they are values that pertain only to a person’s acts or his character. We refer to an honest deed, for instance, and to an honest person” (Kinneging). These values are a part of every individual’s core. Moral values are shaped through one’s experiences and influence everyday decisions.

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Likewise, moral decisions in everyday life also guide the protagonist in a video game. As mentioned earlier, games such as Fallout can engage their players through their morality system. To illustrate, Fallout has a binary morality system, meaning the players choices are weighted on a “good” and “evil” scale, but the paths they decide to choose are not painted “good” or “evil”, they only show the negatives and positives of that path. Specially, Fallout: New Vegas, (Obsidian Entertainment, 2010), has been able to allow the players moral values to show through the game. The game has several factions the player can align themselves with. Although, it does not state what faction the player must decide to align with but encourages the player to decide for themselves. Dave Eng, Managing Partner from University XP, explains his first playthrough of the game, “I remember my first play through of Fallout and my burning desire to align myself with the Brotherhood of Steel: a futuristic paramilitary organization who held the secrets to Power Armor. Later on in a play through of Fallout [New Vegas] I actively avoided Caesar’s Legion because I despised their use and justification of slavery. It found it abhorrent. So much so that my character actively hunted down anyone from that faction. To this day, I never chose to ally myself with the Legion…I know that I could align myself with the Legion and it would have had no [e]ffect on my personal physical being. But in the world of Fallout I knew that wanted to exhibit the same moral stance that I had in real life” (Eng 1). Eng’s moral values were so strong that he avoided the one of the game’s faction and did everything to make sure they were not around in the end. Many players feel the same as Eng and choose to follow their moral values in video games. Morality systems are encouraging players to strengthen their values.

Furthermore, research has showed players are more likely to play narrative games with a morality system similar to how they live. Amanda Lange, game developer, conducted a survey and stated, “Some data available from games with moral decision systems show that gamers are generally unwilling to play as evil characters. In a study, over 1000 gamers were surveyed to see how the average player interacts with a game system that allows the player to choose a ‘good’ or ‘evil’ path through a game story. The finding was that the average gamer prefers to be good or heroic in such games” (Lange 1). Players prefer to play the “hero” because it is closest to their own moral values. Lange also explains, “A majority of these participants (55 percent) said that they “usually” tried to really do in the game what they would actually do in real life. An additional 10 percent said they “always” did in the game what they would in real life…These gamers that responded are less interested in roleplaying a character who would do something other than what they would do in reality. They are rarely interested in playing as a role that has a different sense of morality than their own“ (Lange 5). Players enjoy following their personal values when playing video games because they live through their character. Even though players understand that their actions in virtual worlds will not impact their image in reality, they still follow their moral compass.

However, parents are concerned with the effects of violent video games on their children. Parents have every reason to worry about their child’s health, but moral dilemmas in these games help children explore their moral values and have a better understanding of consequences. Dr. Kathy Sanford conducted a five-year study analyzing if video games taught adolescents any lessons. The adolescents, 13 to 17 years old, participated in Dr. Sanford’s research played various games that were strategic and focused on real world problems. Dr. Sanford explained, “…Gamers have a wealth of experience and, as evidenced by their comments, they are willing to engage in critical conversations about serious matters…We need to listen to the youth for advice about creating opportunities to discuss issues of social justice, equity, and democratic practice” (Sanford 106). Video games are teaching young players to be engaging in discussion and play a part to developing their moral values. Games have a healthy impact on a child’s moral development process.

Therefore, games with morality systems assist in players understanding their values. The Fallout series is one of several games that engage the player’s moral values through their simple and complex morality systems. The player decides whether they can handle a making a choice which goes against or follow their morals. Moral decisions in video games help players to affirm their moral values. Understanding one’s moral values are critical to guide and shape one’s life.

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Morality Systems in Video Games. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/morality-systems-in-video-games/
“Morality Systems in Video Games.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/morality-systems-in-video-games/
Morality Systems in Video Games. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/morality-systems-in-video-games/> [Accessed 4 Feb. 2023].
Morality Systems in Video Games [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2023 Feb 4]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/morality-systems-in-video-games/
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