Do You Typically Play As ‘Good’ Or ‘Evil’ Characters?

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Now everyone is judging you for your moral complexity. (Screenshot: ZA/UM)
Now everyone is judging you for your moral complexity. (Screenshot: ZA/UM)

It’s time for Ask Kotaku, the weekly feature in which Kotaku-ites assemble to deliberate on a single burning question. Sometimes a serious one, other times less so; mostly it’s just a nice opportunity to talk more about video games. You down?

This week we Ask Kotaku: Do you typically play as “good” or “evil” characters?

Ethan

I always role-play good characters. It’s a weird tic of mine I can’t seem to shake. Video games aren’t real life, and yet my real-life anxieties, guilt, and hunger for approval filter into them. I can’t stand in-game characters hating me, and since most morality mechanics in games remain binaries around upsetting the “good” characters or the “bad” ones, time and again I find myself reading the in-game room and going with the crowd. This made me very poor in The Witcher 3, and extremely boring in the Mass Effect trilogy (minus that time when doing the right thing allowed me to shoot Ashley to save Wrex). Despite the good storylines, I still can’t bring myself to play an imperial spy in Star Wars: The Old Republic. The prospect of role-playing as a homicidal fascist just feels less appealing than ever.

Despite this weird hangup, some games have helped break me out of my rigid moral ways by offering more multi-dimensional choices. One of the things I appreciate most about Disco Elysium is that it manages to dispatch with the usual pat chains of moral casualty in most RPGs and focus more on the interesting narrative and aesthetic consequences that flow from the things you choose to say and do. Lots of games use morality plays to build out player agency and character role-play, but Disco Elysium, through its disjointed and unpredictable storytelling, let me craft a personal story without feeling judged.

Zack

Whenever a game gives me the option to be bad or good I often think about playing a bad character. You know, the type of dude who shoots innocent people, steals, lies, and does anything to win. And then I don’t play that way and instead, play as an honorable and good person. I wish I could be evil in games, but I can’t. I’ve tried, but quickly I start feeling guilty and go back to being a regular Captain America.

Well mostly good. In games like Fallout 3 or Red Dead Online, I will occasionally do something nasty if it helps other people or helps me. But I always feel a pang of guilt the moment after I do something evil. So I’ll often quickly do some nice and good things to balance everything out. In Red Dead Online my honour is fully positive, so if it ever takes a small hit after I kill a few annoying lawmen, all I need to do to get back to full, good honour is clean my horse and I’m back to being an angel in the West. And as long as the game says I’m a good person, it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done terrible things. Right?

Alexandra

AD&D would probably consider me Neutral Good, and I have never successfully shed this baggage in any video game. There are a couple reasons.

For one, it feels like most games with morality systems have a “default/right way” and “less right way” to play, and the “good” path is almost always going to be the default. Maybe that perception is a result of my wiring, but it also feels like creators seem to lavish the most care and resources on developing that good path. (I’m sure there are exceptions; I know renegade Femshep is great. And Disco Elysium is still in my backlog.)

Also, choosing more destructive or murderous paths just… bothers me. Plot-related morality choices like in Mass Effect are one thing (gotta be good!) but stealth games manifest the good/bad binary directly in gameplay. In Deus Ex I feel a double aversion to lethal options: Killing is “wrong” (in conflict with my disposition) and somehow, in the game’s context, “easy.” So if I shotgun some guards I’ve “taken the easy way out” and denied myself the full breadth of (sneaky, likely more challenging) gameplay I’d have experienced otherwise. That Deus Ex and similar games tend to have listless-feeling gunplay probably strengthens this missed-out, did-something-wrong feeling.

Moreover, it’s easy for me to stick to these habits because most stealth games make knockouts super overpowered, hence abusable. This lets me turn every level into a safe zone, and I do. If there were a tougher risk/reward calculation to make — like if enemies woke up after a few minutes, perhaps dangerously alerted — maybe I’d suddenly start finding lethal force more tempting, “morals” be damned. (C’mon game designers, push me into sin.)

Lastly, a practical reason behind my virtual virtue: I rarely have the time or continuing interest required to replay a game I just finished, so that first run, in which I’m inevitably ms. goody two-shoes, is usually my one and only go at a given game. I’ve got no time to be bad!

Too cool for (morality) school. (Screenshot: Square Enix)

Ari

At the risk of sounding like a liberal arts freshman who read one chapter of Kant in Intro to Philosophy, sorry, but there’s no such thing as a “good” route. Face it, folks: Player characters in video games are usually bad people. They lie. They steal. They manipulate others. And don’t even get me started on all the wanton summary executions! Just because this reprehensible behaviour is acted out in the name of moral righteousness doesn’t make it good.

The only truly good routes, I suppose, are no-kill runs. You can pull these off in games like Dishonored or Deus Ex. But it’s considerably more difficult to do things that way than to just take out everyone in your path, so I usually just do that. Yes, it feels good to be good, but it’s so much easier to be lazy.

So, in short, I don’t tread the path of “good” or “evil.” I take the path of least resistance, whatever moral road it takes me down.

Ash

I like to role-play. I prefer it to combat in Dungeons & Dragons and I have more than a handful of characters on World of Warcraft’s RP-PVE servers. I like the idea of “acting,” of being someone else with a life more exciting and richer than mine — like a monster hunter or a space marine — who is also still me because I’m the one guiding and steering them. As such, whenever I’m presented with a choice in games I always choose the one that best fits the question, “what would Ashley do?” More often than not, the answer to that question leads to me making the “good” choice because I’d like to believe I am a good, kind-hearted person.

Except the “bad” shoot-the-fuel-tank renegade interrupt in Mass Effect 2. I choose that one every time. Eat shit Clan Weyrloc.

How About You?

Kotaku’s weighed in, but what’s your take? Are you a virtual goody two-shoes, or do you enjoy the opportunity to break bad? Have your say. We’ll be back next Monday to deliberate and debate on another nerdy issue. See you in the comments!

Comments

  • Good, 99%. I prefer good IRL too, but have nowhere near the power for enacting the positive social change that’s needed the way that video games offer. Which makes sense given that they are usually pre-programmed with a guaranteed path for success in enacting that change.

  • Depends on the game entirely.

    Star Wars I’m always Sith, which can lead to the realisation of how terrible the ‘villain protagonist’ writing can be, specifically in KotOR2 and The Old Republic. The low point (besides the no-assed Sith ending to KotOR2) being one point in TOR playing a Sith Marauder, and when choosing a threatening line from the dialog wheel, the delivered line was actually: “I’m going to eat you, ar num num.”

    Mass Effect I play a mixed bag. Renegade primarily but not xenophobic (and calls out those that are), always looking for the best outcome, protective and supportive to her crew.

    Megaten, Chaos routes because Chiaki was right.

    Some games an unabashed Goody Two Shoes / nice guy tho. Usually those that hit closer to home and my own personality.

  • I try to be evil, or at least very mercenary in many games, but I always end up being good. If there is an alignment slider, it will be pushed to the maximum shininess by the end of the game. And I don’t know why.
    I’m a cynical ass in real life. Not a good person, not a bad person. Just a person trying to get by. But it’s like I am trying to make up for my shortcomings in game. Same in tabletop rpgs as well. Even my Chaotic Good characters end up Lawful Good at worst, Neutral Good at best.
    I guess it’s the same reason I am an organ donor. Haven’t done a lot to help my fellow man in life, might as well be fracking useful in death.

  • I always go with whichever looks the coolest and gives me the best powers/loot/story/characters/rewards/etc. Basically, morality systems in games are really just choosing your rewards rather than anything meaningful.

  • First I check the achievements.
    Second I check the games play style and difficulty.
    Third I check the games morality rewards.

    Deus Ex is a good example, it rewards non-lethal with bonus exp, achieves all favour that style … but it doesn’t punish theft. Am I really a good guy if U assault hundreds of people with sleeper holds and steal everything nailed down.

    Dishonoured rewarded you both playtimes and had a new game plus… good guy round one, overpowered bad guy round two.

  • The game needs to properly cater for that style of play, not just tack it on as an option to play evil but instead gear most of the game and responses around playing good. I find those with a ‘grey’ moral scale to be particularly good in letting you be objectively evil. Examples being Tyranny and Disco Elysium which really let you go that way, particularly when the character themselves might think they’re doing good.
    D&D games have a good structure around alignment but far too often the main narrative doesn’t tend to support the evildoer.

    • Baldur’s Gate is one of the more frustrating examples of a game where they went out of their way to give good writing and exclusive content to playing ‘evil’ in D&D… and then you had the whole reputation scale causing issues. Too high and characters like Viconia woud ditch you, too low and you deal with endless thugs and good characters ditch you.

      Trying to be low enough to keep Viconia around, trigger all the ‘evil’ Bhaalspawn upgrades, and not be swarmed by endless fights that would lower your reputation further if you win them was nothing but an exercise in annoyance. But doable.

  • Really depends on the game and the personality of the main character. I generally play good guys, like in Deus Ex I’ll try to do it without killing anyone etc, but in games like Mass Effect I went full asshole femshep because she had a great attitude while still kind of doing the right things and keeping everyone alive.

  • to me it largely depends on how the game treats the “Evil/Bad” path. Some games do it well whereas some its just generic bad dude. If playing evil actually gives some interesting experiences ill give it a go but I largely play good.

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