You’ve Made Your Choice. Now Reset And Make It Again.
We revisited the topic of games’ tough moral choices again this week with a Q&A about the hairiest ones we’ve been forced to make. The comment section on this article was massive, filled with great stories and analysis. For Keyboard Geniuses, we’ve picked out a couple of threads that were dedicated to individual dilemmas, but as always, there’s plenty more comments worth reading than we could possibly highlight. Keep in mind, these comments are discussing significant, impactful plot points, so if you’d rather avoid that type of stuff, proceed with caution.
One choice that (predictably, knowing what we know about you lot) got a lot of talk in the comments was the question of what to do with Anders at the end of Dragon Age II. (The spoilers start now, folks.) Drinking_with_Skeletons was the first to bring it up:
I had really liked the Anders in Awakenings, the Dragon Age: Origins expansion, but his bitter streak had consumed him and brought him to do a terrible, evil thing. I could turn him over to the Chantry, where they’d at best execute him and at worst leave him a psychological eunuch. I could kill him, but could I turn on someone who had been so loyal to me? If I let him go and leave his fate in his own hands, who knows what he might ultimately get up to—not to mention the fact that Sebastien and Fenris will abandon me (and in Sebastien’s case, vow revenge) in the last stretch.
And Fluka helped to lay out the many directions this decision can take the story:
I love the array of choices and consequences for Anders at the end of DA2. You can murder him regardless of how you choose re: the Mages/Templars. But if you let him live, the consequences include running away with him as pro-Mage rebels (my second game, where I romanced Anders), having him attack you later so that you’re forced to kill him (my first, pro-Templar game), and having him help the Templars but with the implication that he’ll commit suicide later (if you side with the Templars while Anders is a rival). I can’t argue with the hate lots of folks have for him, but I think he’s a really interesting picture of an activist who ultimately morphs into a terrorist.
He blew up a church, yes, but he also blew up a bulwark of the enslavement and torture of his brethren. I actually viewed his actions through a historical lens, and I think his actions can be compared to something like the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. Was Alexander the cause of peasant oppression? No, he was a moderate, but it was a moderate in an issue where moderation is ultimately false. His moderate position was implicitly a position in support of the continued oppression of the Russian peasantry.
Likewise in Dragon Age II, Elthina’s supposedly moderate position was ultimately false as long as she did nothing substantial to curtail Meredith’s abuses. All she did was keep Orsino and Meredith from outright conflict, which did nothing to deal with any of the deeper issues or the systematic enslavement, torture, and literal dehumanization of sentient beings.
Now, granted, in real life I’m not a violent radical but I was role-playing my mage character as being a bit bolshy so I sympathized with a bit of domestic terrorism.
And Duwease found the decision that followed Anders’ bombing to be the hard part:
I didn’t have any problem turning Anders over to answer for his decision. The guy bombed a freaking temple and killed a bunch of nonviolent religious leaders, for Pete’s sake. No matter our personal connection, that shouldn’t go unpunished. The grueling decision for me was choosing Mage or Templar in the ensuing melee. In my mind, the bombing should be condemned and the victims supported, but let’s not rush to include all mages under the banner of an obviously insane individual. That there wasn’t an option to convey that and calm all parties down baffled me.
Looking back, though, that sort of appeal often fails at alleviating even a low-stakes political Facebook argument, much less the crowd at ground-zero surrounded by fresh corpses. I can see why that wasn’t an option, but it makes both of the remaining choices a gross concession to mob mentality.
In his response, contributor Patrick Lee cited the decision at the end of The Walking Dead’s second season, one that forced you to either kill Kenny (a guy with whom the main character, 11-year-old Clementine, goes way back) or let Kenny kill Jane, the only other adult in poor Clementine’s life. Here’s how Shaney_McShane chose:
I stuck by Kenny that whole damn game until this moment. The entire time, I rationalized it because I’d seen everything he’d been through, and because I made a decision early on to rely on him. Clem, I thought, would cling to her best reminder of Lee. Then he just starts going nuts and falling apart. Jane was a survivor. Jane could still teach me things. I killed Kenny, knowing full well that Jane would never have my back the way he would.
louiebb pointed out that this decision is made far easier if the player interacted with Jane throughout the season in a way that made her more of a big sister to Clem:
The thing that gets me is how different the characters can be based on the person playing it. I’ve seen people scream and argue about how Jane was a raving monster who would stab anyone in the back. But in my game? She just wasn’t. She was a loner who wanted to harden her heart but couldn’t abandon Clementine, this capable little girl. I liked her.
Some of that had to do with the choices I made as Clem, but I also think I just got into Clementine’s head in a different way than those people. I saw Jane as a big sister, and so she had that soft core in my game. Other people would see something different in Jane. Kenny? I (as Clementine) was getting more and more scared of him every episode. At the beginning, seeing him brought back memories of how I viewed him playing as Lee in season one, but I wasn’t playing as Lee any more. And Kenny made my Clem afraid.
So I had no real hesitation or regrets when I pulled the trigger and saved Jane. Hell, part of me had probably been building toward that ever since I didn’t help kill Lily’s dad in the first game, and Kenny (whom I always supported) would not shut about it. Still, I was very grateful that the last episode gave him a dying moment of grace, and that he and Clementine could say goodbye the way they did.
One of the first ugly choices to come up was the decision at the heart of Grand Theft Auto V’s finale. Franklin, one of three playable characters, has to choose between either killing one of his compatriots or embarking on a suicide mission that would tie up all the volatile loose ends if he and his chums were to survive. wlbryant played through all three possibilities but found one path especially troubling:
I tried all the choices just to see what would happen and immediately regretted choosing to kill Michael. It was like killing a puppy. He was talking about how much he loved you (as Franklin), how he was happy for the first time in his life, and how his daughter was going to college. And then he realizes you are there to kill him. I just…I knew I had saved my game before setting out to off him, so I was only doing it to see how it went down, but actually doing it was heartbreaking. As heartbreaking as something like GTA can be, anyway.
littlenim also played through all three but found killing Trevor, the game’s over-the-top psychopath, just as difficult as Michael:
I expected to feel really bad about option B because I really loved Michael, as awful as he was, and I did feel really bad (especially after that phone conversation with his family…ouch). Surprisingly, ending A (killing Trevor) was just as hard to get through. Trevor may have been completely unfit for society but knowing the abandonment/betrayal issues he already has, listening to him admonish Franklin for being just like Michael, and hearing him just keep carrying on while both his friends attacked him—I felt awful. It was a pretty shitty way to go out, even if he was terrible. I don’t know why I have any affection for Trevor at all, but I do.
bigbabyfrumpkin remembered a choice from Dark Souls that most players probably didn’t even know they had:
Throughout the game, you are told that you must kill Lord Gwyn—who has gone hollow and lost his mind—and reignite the first flame, taking Gwyn’s place as the ruler of Lordran and extending the age of fire until the cycle repeats itself. You meet Frampt, a large snake looking creature who reinforces this and says you are on the right path and that reigniting the flame is the best thing for the kingdom when you meet him halfway through your quest.
There is another character, however, who presents a different option. Darkstalker Kaathe, another serpentine creature of the same species as Frampt, talks of how reigniting the first flame will do nothing but extend the undead curse that hangs upon the land, and that the only way to create a world where people can die instead of infinitely resurrecting until they lose their mind is to put out the fire, ushering in the age of darkness. We are shown some humans who have been subjected to darkness in an earlier area of the game, Lost Izalith, who are deformed and look like some Lovecraftian horror, shambling around mindlessly and attacking others on sight.
Both of these options have their flaws. Follow Frampt’s request, and you keep the status quo, where people retain sanity until they die so many times that their psyche can’t hold and they go hollow, stuck as a mindless husk for eternity. Follow Kaath’s request, and you grant the citizens of Lordran the luxury of death without eternal insanity but risk the fact of a life where the deformities brought on by the darkness may rob them of humanity anyway.
Without reading into the subtext of the game, you can roll through and not even realize the implications of the final decision. In fact, you can go through the game without meeting Kaath and even realizing there is a final decision. The game presents the player with a choice where both options are wrong. Is it worth it to be human for even a moment if there’s an eternity of inhumanity lined up afterward? Or is it worth it to risk an inhumane life with a definitive end?
scrappybilly told us a Fallout 3 story about a change of heart:
I remember playing through Fallout 3, and I did some of those evil missions, like blowing up Megaton. The only one that made me feel bad about myself was deciding to do the slaver mission. I got the gun that shoots the little slaver collars, and decided I could make some extra cash by enslaving people who were already dicks. I encountered some raiders, and I pegged one. This girl looked directly at the camera and the look she gave me was of so much panic. So much hurt. Like, she was telling me she’d rather be dead than be a slave.
I actually got disgusted with myself. I walked around the Capital Wasteland for a bit before I decided to go back to Paradise Falls and kill everyone.
I was probably the worst employee Paradise Falls had ever had.
“Now, you’re sure you’re okay with enslaving people?”
“Yeah, yeah yeah. Just gimme the gun.”
“What have I become?? Must…kill…employers!”
Like I said earlier, there were tons of great discussions within this humongous comment section. So if you’re at all interested, you might want to go back and peruse the whole thing. With that, we say farewell to another Gameological week. Thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!