Play Morality

Once again, I’ve been playing a lot of Fallout 3.  I just finished the expansion, ‘The Pitt’ and once again I was blown away.  At one point, however, I almost reset my game back to a previous save point.  I made a decision I thought was the wrong one.

I won’t spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t played it yet; I’ll try to keep it vague.  I was asked to help some poor oppressed types, and of course, being the goody-goody type, I accepted.  Once I came face to face with the big bad tyrant, I tried to play the diplomat and find a peaceful solution.  Remembering the quest with the vampires, I thought this would be a safe bet.

The villain of the piece claims to be working toward a better future for everyone, and a little hardship now is a small price to pay.  I was convinced and assumed I could talk my downtrodden friends to see things the same way.  This didn’t go as planned and they reacted rather badly, leaving me no choice but to shoot some shush into a few people.

I didn’t really like this outcome, but I stopped myself from resetting the game and decided that I would live with the consequences of my actions.  Real life doesn’t have any tap-backs, so I’d follow that rule in-game.  I also followed my conscience and moral compass.  I think in real life, I’d agree with the ‘bad’ guys in this instance.  Long term good sometimes means hard times now.  Though I did feel guilty for betraying the poor wretches I promised I’d help.  Once again, Fallout 3 offers something with moral ambiguity, with enough grey areas to give a few HBO shows a run for their money.

In mmos the game saves as you go along, just as in real life, there are no tap-backs, all decisions are final.  Or are they?  Well, not really.  If you fail a quest, there are no consequences beside occasionally backtracking to pick it up again.  If you upset somebody, you only need to grind for a while and you will be good buddies once more.

Will there ever be an mmo with meaningful consequences for your actions?  Will we get npcs who are just like regular people, with morals and motivations that aren’t two dimensional?  I don’t know if such a game would be successful, but I know I’d like to inhabit a virtual world where I had to live with my decisions for the whole of my character’s life.  Maybe the Fallout mmo (should it ever get out of it’s legal tangle) will be the one.  I don’t know.  But I do know that single player games are reaching a maturity in content and theme that mmos aren’t even attempting.  I love my online games, but there’s a lot of growing up to do.

About pipjames

Phil James is a husband, father and stand-up comic. He lives in Sheffield, England with his beautiful wife, Fay. When he is not thinking about her, he is thinking about video games. When he is not thinking about games, he is thinking about food. When he is not thinking about food, he is sleeping.

Posted on March 15, 2010, in Fallout 3, General. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. One problem with “meaningful consequences” in MMOs is continuity with other players. Let’s say you do a quest to save a village – and fail. The village is wiped out. Now the other players can’t access said village and they whine and complain… You see where this goes? The problem with MMOs is players expect to all be able to do the same quests, access the same content – so it’s hard to come up with ways to allow people to effect real change on the world given that.

  2. I would love to see choices and consequences like this in MMOs. When a game lets me choose how to solve a problem I always try to do what I think is the right thing to do. Which is usually the most diplomatic way with the lowest bodycount possible.
    But to implement something like this would be quite a challenge because the world has to be the same for everybody. Small variances like the ones provided by server phasing are possible, but basically you, your friend and some random guy have to be in an identical world. Otherwise you could not really play the game together.
    In a single player game changing the world is much easier, because you are the only player in it and it is YOUR world.

  3. These are valid points, but meaningful choices doesn’t have to mean killing npcs. I don’t have to change the world, but how the world reacts to me. How about if I do something so heinous, that whenever I travel to a certain capital city, people boo and jeer, shout childkiller at me or some such thing? How about being exiled from towns which were once neutral to you never again able to get a quest from there?

    The main point I was thinking of, and apologies for this not coming across better, is that mmos by their nature don’t have save points for you to go back to, so they really do lend themselves to players having to live with the consequences of thier actions.

    Plus there is only 1 state for quests and that is success. There is no fail state – if at first you don’t succeed, you can try again. Some consequences for failure would be a great step forward.

    There are many difficulties inherent in the multiplayer nature of the worlds we play in, but that doesn’t mean I want to settle for the status quo. We love our mmos, but it’s only right for us to expect more from them. I fear that in 10 years time I’ll still be killing 10 rats or gathering ingredients for antidotes for sick npcs.

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