Why I always take the high road

I am not what you would call an avid gamer, but I am someone who likes to play video games every once in a while. Well, more than every once in a while, I guess. I’ll get on a kick where I’ll play multiple times a week, and some of those sessions could easily go well into the early morning hours. In fact, I have even fallen asleep with the controller in my hands while my onscreen character stood idle waiting for the command from the omniscient power source.

Sorry about that, Lara. I was tired.

Unless you’ve been in a coma or you’re Amish, video games over the past few decades have become more than just one-dimensional entertainment sources where an incomplete yellow pizza eats dots or an Italian jumps on turtles. There’s more of a moral slant to these games nowadays. Although, I guess you could say there’s a morality decision when controlling a plumber who routinely executes animal abuse in order to save a princess from possible peril. But what trouble was going to befall Princess Peach? She was just standing in a castle. Yes, there was a giant, fire-breathing, infinite-hammer–throwing turtle holding her there, but she wasn’t in chains or anything.

Now that I’m thinking about it, just what the hell was going on in Super Mario Bros.? A plumber and his brother, who may or may not also be a plumber, venture through eight worlds, stomping and kicking animals, and sliding down flagpoles to explore castles full of lava guarded by a spiky-shelled turtle on an easily retractable drawbridge who doesn’t learn his lesson each time he’s dowsed in a molten river. As you progress through the game on a quest to “save the princess,” the docile animals from the beginning who you brutally stomp and kick get so angered that they end up calling in reinforcements who attack you in later levels. And who’s to say they’re not to be justified for attempting to exact death upon the plumbers? Certainly not this player 1. So, you go from castle to castle, sending animals to their doom, only to find midgets who tell you you’re not even in the right castle. And what happens when you get to the right castle and “save” the princess? She brushes you off by saying, “Thank you,” and sends you on another quest.

Yeah, it was a quest, Peach, and I REALLY want to do it all over again.

Even the name of the game doesn’t make sense. They are the Mario brothers. So, Mario Mario and Luigi Mario? Pretty topical talking about a 28-year-old game, huh?

Since those simple days, video games have evolved into an art form, much to the chagrin of art snobs who like to claim that one form of entertainment is more highbrow than another. Within this mixed-media genre are intricate storylines and compelling artwork that can provide the user with experiences beyond merely playing a game. Like reading a book, you can immerse yourself in a story. Like a painting, you can appreciate detail as well as grand landscapes. Like movies, you can watch events unfold. Unlike these other media, though, you can decide what to do and become part of the game world. But here’s where the tough decisions begin.

I was reminded of this recently when I finally finished Red Dead Redemptionand only 3 years after its release (remember, I’m not an avid gamer). As I looked through my stats, I saw that I had less than $23 in bounty for my character’s head. For those not familiar with the game, it’s an open-world western where, outside of missions, you can just live the cowboy life. Wanna ride through town shooting up the place? Go for it! But be prepared that people are going to want you dead after doing that. This affects your Honor Meter, which will change how the people in the world treat your character. Playing as a bad guy won’t change the ending or anything; it’ll just give you some in-game discounts in shady areas and maybe a game achievement.

As you’re riding around, you can choose whether or not to help people, like maybe that guy who just had his horse stolen or save the whore who’s getting beaten up. Or you can go be a bounty hunter and either capture or kill criminals. What do I decide to do in these situations? I go after the horses, I save the whore, and I bring the criminals to justice. Mr. “Goody Two-Shoes” John Marston. And since it’s the old west, there’s even an area where the buffalo roam, but there’s a limited number of them in the game. If you kill them all, they’re gone. No respawning, ever. I killed one, just so I could get one achievement, but I won’t kill all of them for the second achievement.

Poor buffalo.

But let’s take a look at another game where your decisions do make a difference in the storyline.

Ah, Bioshock. One of my favorites. I love the art design. I love the plot. But I wish I could love the moral dilemmas throughout. Well, I do, but I also hate it. In the game, you’re often given this choice.

I rescued this little sister, along with the rest of them. The first one was the hardest decision to make. Should I harvest the ADAM that’s stored within her body, thereby enabling me to become more powerful, or should I rescue her and make her a normal little girl again? It’s just a little orphan girl! I should help her! I can help her! After the first little sister was rescued, there was no going back. I never could bring myself to hit the button for harvest. I wanted to get the good ending where everything turns out all right. And even though I tell myself, "I’ll go back and play through as a right bastard," I know I won’t.

This morality also affects when I play games—when, as in “real-world time.” In Dead Rising, you’re given opportunities, within very tight timelines and outside of the main storyline quest, to go after known survivors and bring them back to the safe area. Saving these people is optional, and I don’t even see how it’s even possible to save everyone, which is likely the point. After all, in a zombie apocalypse, some people won’t make it.
But I’ve found myself avoiding playing this game and its sequel because I just can’t stand to let these NPCs die without at least trying to save them. I mean, I want to save them, but I don’t have time. Katey needs Zombrex!

Why must I always be good in video games? Because, it just feels right. These games suck me in to a point where I must share my morality with my character because that character is an extension of myself. But that’s not to say that those who take the lower road are inherently bad people. Maybe they just want to see how that side plays out due to curiosity, or maybe they want to go for that extra achievement. There have even been published papers in medical journals that discuss this very fact. The debate about whether or not video games beget violence in the real world even kind of hinges on this behaviors.

I’m not in any kind of study, and I’m not bringing up a new subject that hasn’t ever been discussed. I just wondered why I always decide to be the good guy. Why do I take the high road?

Well, I take the high road because it just feels natural. That’s all.

So, it looks like I’ll always be the good guy, which means:
  • I’ll be the famous cowboy instead of the infamous cowboy
  • All (well, most) of the buffalo will survive
  • I’ll rescue all of the little sisters
  • Katie will get her Zombrex on time

I'll still stomp on turtles, though, because it gives me enjoyment when I fling their shells into the ether.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 11, 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

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