Video games are an interactive way to tell a story. It makes sense, then, to use them to create unique moments of introspection when the player is forced to decide between two or more things of incomparable value, and then deal with the consequences of those choices. In this way, video games are unique, and their development is exciting to see, from a gamer's perspective. 

The stories told in this medium can become much more engaging than simply watching a similar event unfold in a film. When you see Johnny Big-Balls decide on whether or not he should decapitate his foes for cracking wise about the fact that he can never quite stand perfectly upright, it's completely different than deciding it for yourself and then being forced to deal with what comes next (a trip to the police station or a country that doesn't extradite.) 

When examining the kinds of moral dillemas the player faces in video games today, you can see that there is work to be done. For now though, let's celebrate the steps taken in the right direction to turning video games into a truly unique form of expression, but also talk about what work needs doing. This list was brought to you by motherkojiro, darkbookmage and myself.

After you realise that you may or may not have just killed some dude, you need to lay low; avoid drawing attention, destroy incriminating evidence etc. Unfortunately your need to go for a walk in the park and meet a friend goes awry. Because parks are public places, and therefore terrible meeting spots for people who are wanted for murder, you run into a little problem.

There is a small child playing by the water. Only the water is frozen over with ice. Upon realising that the kid is totally going to fall, you decide you need to save his dumb ass before he finds himself in an ice coffin. The kid falls in. Your plans to save a life are interrputed by the fuzz, who are walking down the path towards where he fell.

You must make your decision. Do you attempt to save the child by diving into the freezing water and getting him, thus risking being seen and arrested, or do you run from the police to save your own skin? Is the life of the kid worth being arrested for? Is it worth it to make amends for what you've supposedly done? Or is the only thing that matters your own survival, so that you might enjoy seeing the light of day and showering alone?

There are many choices to make in Heavy Rain. That's pretty much what the game is about. That, and finding out where your son is before he drowns thanks to the Origami Killer. The question posed is “How far would you go for someone you love?” On the way to answering those questions, you must also make many moral decisions. 

The Origami Killer puts Ethan, the main character, through a series of trials designed to test his love for his son, and because he's just weird like that. How far is a father willing to go to save his son, and does that sacrafice make him a good man? 

In one of the trials, Ethan is tasked with going to the house of a drug dealer, and totally shooting him in the face. If he completes this task, another part of the location of his son is revealed. If you don't shoot him, you fail, and you miss the clue. And yet, it is still possible to solve the puzzle without all the parts. You can still guess from a small number of locations where it is that Jason is being held. 

So the question is, is it worth killing another man to save your son? A life is a life, after all. Do the drug dealer's sins of... you know, dealing drugs mean that Ethan can decide his fate? That he should be killed, so that a boy might live? Ethan life as he knows it may be at risk of falling apart, but when you're forced into the dealer's young daughter's room, you realise that his family, too, would experience a similar loss.

To best understand this entry, one needs a basic understanding of Norse Mythology. Norse Mythology is fairly similar to most other polytheistic religions, most of all Greco-Roman Mythology, but has a few unique elements. The closest thing Norse Mythology has to an afterlife is Valhalla, where the greatest of warriors are chosen (then known as Einherjar) to wait with Odin, the king of human gods (the Aesir), until Ragnarok. Ragnarok is the battle with the Jotuns (giants) and their gods (the Vanir) that will end the world. It is the duty of the Valkyries to find suitable Einherjar to prepare for this battle.

In this game, you are Lenneth Valkyrie, chooser of souls. It is your duty to locate Einherjar and purify the world of undead creatures, a perversion of nature. 

Once time runs out and Ragnarok begins, you are to raid the palace of the Jotuns. That is, should you choose to obey the Aesir. If you do so, the ending you get makes you realize that this issue isn't so black and white. It becomes apparent that the Aesir are hiding something from you. You can regain your memories by interacting with certain people and lowering your Seal Rating to a certain level. You then learn secrets that go far beyond the Vanir and Aesir themselves. So, the question remains: will you be a good little Valkyrie and do as you're told; or will you dare to learn more and defy the gods, nature, and even humanity itself? - motherkojiro

Those of you who have played Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots may be scratching your heads right about now. The thing is, this game most certainly has to appear on a list of video game moral choices, because there's one scene where it does it so well you probably didn't even notice it. What makes it truly fantastic as a moral choice is how it's blended into the game mechanics so seamlessly.

The moral choice is this: In the beginning of Act 2, you find yourself in the jungle. In front of you are a group of rebel militia soldiers about to be popped off by the ruthless PMC soldiers. It sucks something hardcore - for them. Here's why choosing whether or not to save them is such an interesting moral choice: to save them requires you to use your own resources. Your own ammo, and guns. You have to put yourself in harm's way to save these soldiers, when you could easily just sneak around the back while listening to them being killed one by one.

There's none of that "Choose option A or B" stuff that comes with many moral choices in video games today - it's built into the game mechanics, and the scene. You have to put yourself in the line of fire to do the good thing, or you can take the safe way out and keep all your ammo and health. Maybe befriending them will be the thing that saves you, as you won't have to sneak past them later, but maybe saving them won't be worth all the trouble. Maybe avoiding them is easy. You aren't, after all, fighting for their cause.

The question isn't really answerable until you get further, and even then it depends on a number of other things about the gameplay and your situation. There is no real right answer. The game doesn't praise you and give you a nice big gun, or health, or anything if you save them. Neither does it punish you for letting them die. This is why the choice is so interesting to consider. It isn't framed as a moral choice at all - and sometimes that's the best way to do it. Hopefully we can see more of this kind of thing in the future.

In Bioshock, you must decide whether or not you will harvst ADAM (a super-chemical that may has well have been created by a comic book villain) from Little Sisters. Little Sisters being small children who were turned into zombefied ADAM-gathering... zombies. 

The kicker is, if you 'harvest' these Little Sisters you can take all their delicious ADAM for yourself, which is great because you can use it to obtain special (and awesome) powers in the form of plasmids. Alternatively, you can save them, returning the girls to normal, but the ADAM you receive from this is lower, reducing your unholy power. 

Whether or not you want to destroy the young child's lives or return their innocence is the dilemma faced here. Do you take away their (admittedly zombified) being so that you might survive, or do you save them from their horrible fate and impede your ability to make it out alive? Do the ends (you avoiding being bludgeoned to death by splicers) justify the means? 

There are of course numerous ways this could have improved. The fact that it is more beneficial in the end to save them all thanks to the gifts you receive slightly mess up the execution of what should be a morally ambiguous choice. Nethertheless, consider that the reward is not the only thing to consider when making a choice, and becomes an interesting question to examine, and partly why moral choices in this generation of consoles have become so popular.

An improvement from other moral choices in the Fallout universe, in that in this expansion the major decision you have to make is nethier “completly good” or “completely evil” – it's grey. The player must choose whether to kidnap a small child in order to help the slave inhabitants of The Pitt (Pittsburgh) find a cure for their terrible, terrible disease, or kill the leader of said slaves in order to protect said child. 

The good of the many versus the rights of the few is what is being explored here, and it's rather interesting to ponder over. Endlessly so, when you apply it to a broader spectrum. That's the joy of facing well thought-out moral problems in video games, as in life. They can be debated endlessly, with no clear answer either way. When you are confronted with these decisions in a video game environment, you may just learn something about yourself. So what would you do?

In the introduction to this game, it is explained, that after the previous game, nuclear warheads were launched and completely destroyed Tokyo. The Mesian group, a Christian organization, built a new city on top of the ruins, naming it Tokyo Millenium. Only those who followed Mesian Law were allowed to exist in this new city and all others were forced to live underground in the ruins of the former Tokyo. 

Throughout this game, you have three basic choices: Law, Neutral, and Chaos. Law is represented by the Mesians and God, who value order above all else. On the flip side, they are abusive, insular, self-serving, and corrupt. Chaos is represented by the Gaians and Lucifer, who prefer to live by following their emotions. 

It's pretty easy to see where something like that can go wrong. Neutral is exactly what it suggests and is the path of the Mutants, who are residents of the former Tokyo. The choice system is an interesting allegory to the concept of the id (Chaos), ego (Neutral), and Superego (Law). Will you create an ideal, non-corrupt, lawful society in Tokyo Millenium? Perhaps you'll call the other side out and destroy it in the name of Makai (the abyss). Maybe you'll champion the cause of the residents of the former Tokyo, who are perhaps the greatest victims of all in this scenario. In the end, it's up to you, but not a choice to be made lightly. - motherkojiro

Not every moral choice faced by the player in this game is one that will have you scratching your head/butt and putting down the controller to think. For example, when faced with a choice on whether or not to let a certain generic mook live. If you kill him, nothing happens, if you don't, you see him later and he tries to murder you, or take you out for java, or whatever. 

Basically, the reward for being merciful is more side-missions, but the point is, what makes this thug more speical than the countless others you've mowed down? Nothing, really, and the decision by the developer on which ones it happens to are arbitrary. The decision becomes more of a choice about whether they want more missions than one of morality. 

However, there is one decision in particular that makes you stop, and consider your actions. The decision of what to do with Darko. For those who don't recall, or don't care if the game gets spoiled, Darko is one of the main reasons that Niko, the protagonist, traveled across the seas to America. A revenge mission. For you see, Darko fought with Niko and several other boys from his village in a war, but his intentions weren't completely altruistic – he double-crossed you, for chump change. 

When he comes face to face with him, Niko (see: you) are forced to decide whether or not it's worth killing him, because you find out firstly the sum he received, and secondly that he has become a drug-addicted shell of a man who is barely lucid. In their encounter Niko speaks to him (partly) in his native language, the only true way one can express their feelings. 

Then you come to realise, that perhaps the two are not so different. He even asks Niko how much he charges to have people killed – he points out Niko's hypocracy. But as Roman said – Darko knows what he did, and doesn't look like he enjoys life too much, to say the least. Yet this is what Niko has been searching so hard for. Should Darko live when Niko's friends have died? Is it worth it to extract your revenge?

Kings die, and a monarchy always needs someone to fill the void. The Blighted lands of Ferelden are no exception to this rule. You, the Warden, are left with the choice of who takes the throne.

There’s Alistair, the bastard son of King Marric, half-brother to the deceased King Cailin. A compassionate, kind man, and one who would be deserving of the loyalty he would receive from the people. The problem, though, is that he had little to no experience with politics and Ferelden is in dire need of a competent ruler in the dark days of Origins. Coupled with that, the shortened lifespan caused by his being a Grey Warden limits his lifespan and what time he has to learn his way through ruling. His selection may also be seen as a means for Arl Eamon of Redcliffe, his uncle, and the Warden his/herself to gain power over the throne.

Where Alistair is inexperienced, Queen Anora, widow of King Cailin, is a politically shrew woman and has an equal claim to the throne. Given her exposure to the political world from her childhood as the child of the powerful Loghain Mac Tyr, she can control and did control the nation from her position as Queen. A political mind seems just what the nation needs in these times of trouble, but for one detail. Anora is ambitious and motivated by little but self-interest. What that could mean for the people you do not know, though you might have witnessed her aptitude for betrayal personally in your interaction with Ser Cauthrien soon after you met her.

The last option is quite simple. Have Anora and Alistair marry, hopefully combining the positives of each individual into one cohesive whole. There are no guarantees of this though, and some might question the moral rightness on a personal level of forcing a marriage and breeding for the sake of politics, no matter how prevalent such a thing may have been. - darkbookmage

The inspiration for this entry comes from Daniel Floyd and James Portnow's Extra Credits series. 

There is one moral choice posed in Mass Effect 2 that really shines, apart from the fact that each decision is tied to “good” or “bad” instead of “grey” and “a slightly different shade of grey”. That choice is what you, Sherpard, must do with the Gheth. The Gheth are a robotic faction of aliens from outer space, who were once a big happy family. Good times. Unfortunately as is the way with intelligent beings it seems, they no longer see eye-to-eye, and experience some ideological differences. 

One part of this race believes that it is the will of the almighty that Commander Shepard (see: you) is killed. Brutally, I speculate. The others are diametrically opposed to this, and believe that they need to do the exact opposite of what those other guys say; and not just to be different because they're cool like that. They feel they need to protect you.

At this point, you are given what I believe to be one of the most interesting and endlessly debatable choices ever presented in a video game. Do you committ some serious genocide on those that would have you killed, or do you simply reprogram these robotic alien people, so that they share their beliefs with your friends – the ones that want to protect you. The choice is between genocide, and the subversion of an entire race. These are your options. 

But what is also being asked here is what it means to be a person. How highly do you value free will? Do you believe it to be a core part of one's being? Put yourself in their shoes. Would you (see: the Ghet) rather die than be denied this?

It's unrealistic to assume that every moral choice a player faces in a video game will make him/her/it look into him/her/itself and consider what they would do in that situation, and then learn something about themselves because of it. Indeed, games these days seem to want to sully the whole thing by quantifying the choices you make, but game designers are programmed like that. 

What was once thought to be a gimmick to make us play through a game twice might well be a key element in video games being taken seriously as an art form. There is much to be done, but moral choices in an interactive storytelling method can be endlessly interesting because of how they are/can be presented. That my friends, is something unique to video games.


List by Stalolin (Steve Rosenburg) (01/20/2011)

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