When one plays a game, one engages with a world beyond us; a world of ups, downs, and middles. While every game is designed to integrate another viewer into their world, each universe has a certain set of laws that are necessary. Whether it be the frivolity of games like Angry Birds (flinging birds into oblivion = justifiable behavior?) or the serious and complex systems of decisions like those of Bioshock (the attribution of power versus the saving of a human life), all of these games have a certain set of laws established within them. Without these, one would lose story, challenge, and guidance.
But morality in games exists in many incarnations. Most games hold to a pre-established morality; that simple paradigm of good vs. evil, whether it be Master Chief versus the Covenant, or one army standing for justice and liberty versus those who fight to conquer and kill. All of them lead towards a larger system of morality, something which stands above all others.
Most games present the player with a simplistic system of morality: laws you must follow. Kill these guys, not these guys. Battles are simplistic on a moral level: use your tools to defeat your opponent. However, the funny thing is that these battles are mysteriously void of the civilian who deserves no death or punishment. Game like Red Alert 3 allow you to fight in populated places like New York City, yet it doesn’t acknowledge atrocious acts, such as the destruction of civilian structures nor does it acknowledge the lack of civilians present when a town is under attack.
Then we have other games wherein the law is irrelevant, and the only thing that matters is personal interest. In fact, law exists as a barrier, a thing designed to stop you from carrying out your personal desires.
These two models have been the standard. One could choose the good, or ignore it. But there’s no consequence for this choice. It’s more of a choice of preference than anything.
However, games like Fable, Fallout, Infamous, and Knights of the Old Republic have all designed themselves to provoke a stronger sense of morality through their mechanics. When one encounters dilemmas, the hero is offered options and opportunities. For example, in Knights, there’s a scene where you meet up with a bunch of drunks. The drunks are making fun of you, using you and your presence as a source of great humor and joy. You have three choices: fight them and get a few credits and experience points off their corpses, shoo them away, or offer to buy them drinks in order to make them your friends.
This choice is simplistic, but it lays out a clear choice. If you chose to kill them, you become a darker hero, a man whom many would disrespect. Meanwhile, if you offered to buy drinks, you would build relationships, garner friends, and have a longer game experience.
While this event is miniscule compared to the choices of the rest of KOTOR, it is still truthful. These games show us reality: our choices affect who we are.
In Fallout or Fable, as you play through the kingdom of Albion or fight to save Empire City, you find that your decisions, whether to capture rather than kill unconscious opponents or to use others to your benefit, affect the city. Each completed mission either increases or decreases the amount of enemies, and causes the civilians to perceive you either as savior or killer.
These laws are universal concepts, truths that reality and human relationships are based on. They are too transcendent to merely be something some leader or culture developed. Otherwise, why would we fight to save this kingdom, or that city? How would we “go against the grain”, if there’s no grain to go against?