By Ronan Jennings
The problem with gaming is the association of choice with morality. It will be fascinating to see how Mass Effect Andromeda handles this.
Welcome, adventurer. You stand at a forked path. To your left lies a dark passageway, a path of violence and evil. To your right lies the way of goodness, the road of justice and honour.
This excerpt, written like the opening to A Choose Your Own Adventure novel, all but summarises the approach to morality in gaming and the many pitfalls associated with it. For the most part, we are expected to choose between good and evil, with very little grey in between.
This week, the problem is back in the spotlight, with the impending release of Mass Effect Andromeda, one of the year’s most anticipated games and a series built around the illusion of choice and role-playing.
Traditionally, Mass Effect offers players a choice in their actions and conversations: That of the paragon and that of the renegade. The paragon, lit up in blue, is the way of goodness, while the renegade, lit up in red, is the way of evil.
So literal is this approach that players often simply chose the ‘red’ or ‘blue’ options in conversations if they wanted to walk a specific path, without even reading the specifics of the answer they had chosen. This was only exacerbated by the fact that your character got more powerful the more closely they stuck to one path or another, good or evil.
In Mass Effect Andromeda, creative director Mac Walters is trying to change that. This week, he has explained the new system in place for conversations.
“Paragon and renegade felt ‘very Shepard’,” said Walters, choosing the red option. “They felt very tied to the main character of the original games, so they didn’t really make sense if we weren’t going to have Shepard as the main protagonist.
"What we have now is based more around agreeing and disagreeing. The conversation choice now changes with the circumstance and it changes by the character you’re talking to, so you actually have to be more engaged with what’s going on.”
So, basically, Walters and his team want players to pay more attention to the story and dialogue, but that doesn’t fix the underlying issue. Underneath the illusion, there are still ‘good’ and ‘bad’ answers, depending on the situation in question and, if players can’t figure out which answer fits their chosen path, they will only be frustrated with the outcome.
On the other hand, if the answers are too obvious, the writing must be transparent and predictable to make that the case. Neither way is acceptable.
The problem, of course, is the association of choice with morality. The truth is, making decisions in a strict ‘yes’ or ‘no’ environment doesn’t come close to matching the nuances of human choice and myriad of reasons for doing what we do.
Nonetheless, it will be fascinating to see how Mass Effect Andromeda handles this new system. While Mass Effect is basically a shooter, it always tried hard to make us care about the choices we made and the impact on the supporting characters. Now, let’s see if it can add some mass to that effect.
Speaking of evil, let’s talk about Dracula. He has been the one constant through ‘Castlevania’, one of gaming’s longest-running franchises, in which he is hunted by the Belmont family. The series started in 1988 and peaked in 1996 with Symphony of the Night.
Well, Netflix have given new life to the undead by announcing an animated ‘Castlevania’ series that will air later this year. The producer Adi Shankar, who produced The Grey and Dredd, seems pretty excited at the prospect.
“This is very much ‘Castlevania’ done in the vein of Game of Thrones,” Shankar said, while hissing for effect. “I personally guarantee that it will end the streak and be the western world’s first good video game adaptation.” Let’s hope it doesn’t suck.
Speaking of video game adaptations, Duncan Jones doesn’t yet know if there will be a sequel to his Warcraft film, but he’s interested in making one. “I’d love it to happen! Waiting to hear from Legendary,” Jones has tweeted.
Warcraft was largely panned by critics in the US and Europe and didn’t do well commercially here, but was very popular in China, pushing takings to $430m worldwide. What can we say? Like Mass Effect players, we’re choosy.
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