WWRFD?: Moral Choices in the Digital Age

18 11 2008


The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

-Stephen King “The Gunslinger : The Dark Tower”

He is Marten Broadcloak,  Walter O’ Dim, Randall Flagg, but mostly he is the man in black. Stephen King’s key antagonist in several of his novels. He started as a villain trying to reshape the wastelands of Stephen King’s The Stand in his image. He is the underlying traitor to the king of Gilead in King’s Dark Tower series, and is often seen running from the gunslinger.

So why does this man,this fiend,this beast hold any significance? He is the epitome of all that is evil. He is the lasting villain in most of King’s novels re-spawning and taking a new form and name every time. But he also dictates my characters “moral choices” in the post-apocalyptic video game/immersive experience which is Fallout 3.

Very recently video games have implemented a sort of moral compass for their players. Pitting them with moral choices stretching beyond boundaries of good and evil. Really the choices made in certain video games  held great weight over the character. But to be honest I never cared much for moral compasses in video games(It’s always more fun to be bad). Usually you were always forced  to be the hero, be the savior, so I believe most players found out that switching sides would be more enjoyable, less conventional. I’ve never had a problem with these choices until this damn developers  pushed moral choices with outcomes that would stretch along the entire game-sphere.

Now sometimes things could be simple. I remember the original Fable had direct consequences of your alignment to good or evil. But these were exciting choices. Steal from the pauper and shopkeeper, they simply charge too much. Kick that helpless chicken and let’s test how far he flies now. Let’s lead a group of followers to the nearest pagan church to be sacrificed, decisions which pushed all conventional games(well not quite). But then things started to blur.

Welcome to the grey area, which is most recently BioShock, which is a greatly scripted, powerful, and quite riveting game. There are these character’s these “Sisters” who are really just little girls going around collecting the lifeforce  from dead bodies thrown about the underwater labyrinth. There are choices where you can choose to rid their bodies of virus that eats at them, or you can put them out of their misery and collect substantially more Adam to increase your abilities and magical capabilities. But when you find these little girls they beg for their life. The crawl away from you screaming, writhing in their child-like state. These developers have actually tapped into my moral compass to choose what is right or wrong with virtual characters who feel no pain, but she’s begging you for her life don’t you see?This is some serious development into the psyche of the gamer.

So what would Randall Flagg do in the wastelands of Fallout 3? That has been the key question I ask myself every time I come to a moral decision in Fallout 3. The Fallout series was incredible, they actually had an early model of moral decisions which led to certain characters allying with you, or that you could only compete in certain quests with your alignment. Fallout 3 goes above and beyond with the moral choices that resonate in the virtual world. I started off simple enough a pubescent simpleton roaming around the wasteland with my tail between my legs. But in this harsh environment I had to be bad, and be bad fast or my very bones would be but crushed to sand, a sand lost in the wasteland of the post-apocalyptic nightmare.

I killed, I stole, I pick pocketed( and dropped a few grenades in their pants for good measure) , I drank, I did drugs. I was living this raucous truly evil life of Randall Flagg, one of my favorite everlasting villains in King’s books. All culminating with the entire destruction of a village called Megaton(One of my favorite video game moments). See it was I, on top of Tenpenny Tower. I pulled the detonator in the suitcase on the top of the tower. Tenpenny was there laughing and drinking and I saw the mushroom cloud in when the sun began to break over the horizon. I felt the pulse of the wind brushing past my cheeks as an entire town was wiped out. Woman and children and all. Just a heap now, a smoking crag of radiation.

But there was a change, there has to be a redemption even for virtual characters. The news of the destruction of the town spread. All over the radio my escapades were broadcasting to everyone outside in the wasteland. People survived the fallout and actually became these zombie-like ghouls. They really never forgave me for that. I traveled to a town one day and they asked me if I remembered certain people from Megaton. The news had spread and everyone knew now. Even the children being the best moral indicators could see my evil from afar. I had become an outcast in a world of scattered with outcast just trying to survive day-to-day.

I started giving beggars fresh water, I helped and completed missions for positive people. I freed slaves from Super Mutants, I helped those in need even if it costs serious caps. There was a serious turn around and I stopped asking WWRFD, but what the hell will the future bring for moral choices in video games. Do evil people perhaps have an inclination to be a positive character in video games, perhaps they don’t play, they’re just too damn evil. Does the bloodthirsty Ork in the heat of battle go to his computer to play on his account on Second life. Does he abandon his ax and armor for his tie and briefcase. For he sells insurance in his virtual world in a far off fantasy land of Utah. He doest kill or destroy he mows his virtual lawn.




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