Friday, August 19, 2011

Story-based MMORPGs and morality

In the past weeks there have been several bits of preview information about Star Wars: The Old Republic which made me think about virtual morality. For example it was revealed that there are romance options with your NPC companions, but that pursuing these options as a jedi would yield you dark side points. Or in other words, jedi don't have sex, because sex is evil. No wonder they died out and lost the old republic to the sith, who apparently get stronger by having sex.

There are two problems here. One is having a morality system which is black and white, with just one form of neutral in between. If you are a jedi and take decisions in SWTOR, you will either get light side points, or dark side points, or neither. That doesn't leave much room for complex moral decisions. And a lot of people will end up making all the obvious choices, not for reasons of story or role-playing, but because you need so and so many light side points to be able to wield the glowing lightsaber of holiness.

The other problem is that by clearly attaching good and evil points to decisions, the players are bound to the ideas of morality of the developers. If developers say that romance is evil, then it is so in the game. If they wanted to make straight sex good and gay sex evil, they could do so as well. Unless you keep stories extremely simplistic, there are bound to be situations where a player believes he is doing the moral thing, only to get slapped with points that tell him that the devs consider his choice to have been evil.

I think we will see a lot of stories in the future about players complaining how SWTOR judged their actions and awarded the "wrong" kind of points to actions the player considered "clearly" moral/amoral.

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