I am not sure how many of you played Dungeons and Dragons, but one thing missing in World of Warcraft, is the development of a character’s (and by extension a player’s) moral code of ethics. In creating a character in pen and paper RPG’s, one question that had to be addressed is the character’s code of ethics, or his or her alignment. This choice opened up specific activities in the game. For example, a cleric (i.e. a priest) and paladin can only be chaotic good, while a thief (or rogue) could not be.
My first foray into electronic gaming was when I got my iBook many years ago. My wife and I wanted to see what Dungeons and Dragons was like on a computer – so we bought Neverwinter Nights. What I liked about it, that World of Warcraft lacks, is the inclusion of ethical choices.
In Azeroth, my priest is not welcome near Booty Bay. A while back, a friend and I were there for the Pirate Day Holiday festivities and got ourselves in trouble by fighting with Alliance players. It was a great day, full of fun and mayhem. But, I chose to fight that day, and as a result of that choice, any time I go near Booty Bay, the guards do their best to insure I am turned away. The same goes for Ratchet.
Because of this choice, I can’t have the Lore Master title, as I can’t complete any of the quests offered in either town. Because of this choice, I can’t fly in either town. Because of this choice, my reputation is shot with them. All real consequences for a random choice I made.
When I first started playing WoW, my character was a Night Elf druid. On my way to Darnassus, I was asked to complete a quick quest which involved killing some animals. So, I completed the quest and went on my merry way. Once I arrived in Darnassus, I was sufficiently chastised for completing the aforementioned quest. Of course, it held no further impact than that, but what if it did? Think of the lesson a new player could learn here: choices in the game have real consequences.
By now, most of you know that I look at games as having the ability to teach players a thing or two about life outside of the fictional world. Furthermore, games can help us develop a sense of self-actualization and problem solving skills. What if, though, our actions in the game had more significant effects with both NPC’s and players alike? What if we made ethical choices in the game that had significant impacts on our ability to get gear and make it to the end game content that so many enjoy?
There have been quests here and there that I felt didn’t fall in line with my characters and their particular personae as they relate to their class. I think about times when I’ve had opportunities to talk to NPC’s and there were very limited options of what I had to say to them – and there have been some quest-lines where I was given the option of killing the bad guy or letting the bad guy go. This happens at the Shrine of Aviana in Mt. Hyjal. At the end of the quest line, a player is given the choice of killing the final harpy or letting her go. Your choice has an impact – in that you would be given a different reward for completing the quest. Druids are calm and seek balance, by letting her live you get a wonderful piece of gear; however, should you kill her, your reward is not as nice.
Why not use these opportunities to give a player the ability to create the character? By this I mean, that which makes us tick: let a player’s ethical choices determine who he or she is in the game. One of the primary themes in existential philosophy is that our choices determine our identities.
In reality I am a good guy. I do what is right by my fellow man. I do what is right and my actions cause as little harm as possible. In the game, there are times when I let that persona go and I go on a warpath. In fact, that is where I am now. Since school began, all I have done is PVP in the game. The beginning of the school year is tough for me – so that I need to lay waste here and there. But, my mage has been down the same road and same ethics as my other characters. Why should she have walked the same path as a paladin? Of course, each class does have one quest or another to deliver on some new ability – but that is where it ends.
I like the idea that if you make this ethical choice as opposed to another one – there are consequences or rewards. Say you did something morally wrong, but you might get a good chunk of gear out of it. But later down the road, when you need some help, the NPC’s don’t come to your aid because they are not sure if you can be trusted. Moreover, enough of these acts and you are given a title of sorts, so that even players know that you cannot be trusted, either. Imagine a guild of self-serving players. Imagine a guild where all players are marked as ninjas.
In reality, our actions have consequences. But, with recent changes to the system, Blizzard has played the role of the Nanny State and won’t let a player role “need” on something that he or she doesn’t “need.” While this is nice, because it cuts back on the ninjas out there, it also removes some of the risk of playing with another free, self-determined individual. I say give a player the ability to ninja, but the moment he gets away with it, he is given the title “Ninja.” Thus, marking him – and informing other players that he cannot be trusted.
Like reality, though, he can come to terms, repent, and the like, and lose that title. Or, he can forever play with others who wear that label.
With Neverwinter Nights, when I created different characters, they were given different quests due to their alignment. A paladin, for example, would never be given a job that fell out of line with his ethical code. In the end, though, they were at the same place: the final fight to save Neverwinter. World of Warcraft and other games are already set up to give players the power of choice, let their choices have impacts on the characters. We spend so much time in reality having to face an ethical dilemma, why not do this in Azeroth? After all, you can always delete your character in game and start over – and hopefully not make the same mistake again.
Do you think that games should deliver more consequences for choices in the game?
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