The Moral Ambiguity of Video Games

"The moral virtues, then, are produced in us neither by nature nor against nature. Nature, indeed, prepares in us the ground for their reception, but their complete formation is the product of habit."


As of late video games have been put under the microscope for many reasons, in particular the impact of games on a younger generation. However, if morality is the product of habit then lately video games have been allowing the player lots of practice. For the most part video games now allow you to choose your own path, therefore the corruption of the player is in that player's own hands.

With games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout 3 and Red Dead Redemption I started to wonder about this very thing. What path do most people take when given the choice? Do we have a predisposition towards good or evil? Perhaps there are areas of gray. More importantly, does this reflect who you are and where your moral compass points? It is an intriguing thought.

The more I thought about my own tendencies the more I realized that I definitely stray towards the morally good side of things. I certainly have my less then chivalrous moments, especially when betrayed or presented with a situation that has consequences. I ask myself how will this affect the world? how will it help me? will it result in a casualty to my team? With all that taken into account, in the end I always tend to to the right thing - I always save the girl or the village. At the same time however I can be pretty ruthless. If I'm presented a situation where I have to do something that would be considered immoral but it's for the greater good, I'll always suspend my honor for a moment until I have done what has to be done.

The same can be said about my real life personality. Of course my life is absolutely no where near as interesting as the games I play, but still, looking at it on a smaller scale the same sort of parallels are met. Ultimately I'll always help someone out, because I always want others to be happy above myself. At the same time, for example, if I see someone belittling another person for any reason my heart will always go out to the person being attacked, and I would like to see the attacker punished appropriately. Anyways, you get the picture.

Being so enthralled in this idea of morality, I posed the question to my fellow Game Ranters and here are the results:

Ashley Gervais

I always went the good guy route. Saving children when I can, stopping towns from exploding, freeing slaves, etc. I always felt that the rewards for doing such quests were earned, rather than savaged. I just act like I would in real life, just with guns instead. The only game I went the evil route, was in Black and White. A game where you were able to play as God, basically. The more people you threw across the town, the more followers you got. Plus it was so much more entertaining to play mean in that game.

My brother on the other hand, he always goes the bad guy route. Especially in Fallout and Fable. In the original two Fallout games, he would just walk into a town and kill everybody without even talking to them. This, in the long run, messed him up. He was never able to complete quests, buy/sell goods, or even beat the game for that matter. He just has fun slaughtering towns, I guess.

Tom Copeland

Morally, I almost always try and play as the bad guy or as an outlaw. Unfortunately, this plan tends to go straight out the window because I just don’t have that evil streak burning within me. What normally happens is I end up stranded in the morally ambiguous middle-ground. I’ll always try to do the right thing, but don’t think twice about offing somebody standing in my way. I’m also open to bending the ‘laws’ of the game world if it’s for the greater good (or maybe a little bit of personal gain). Why go searching for that ever so important key when I can just pick the lock?

For Example, in Mass Effect 2 I played Shepard as a badass. in my eyes he was a rogue, since he had his own ideals and lived by his own law. If he was in an 80’s cop movie the police chief would have asked for his badge and gun years ago. Ultimately he was a good man at heart and always strives to help those in need, but there was a flip side to his character, a side that didn’t stand no messing. If you crossed my Commander Shepard chances are you wouldn’t live to see tomorrow. Go ahead punk, make my day.

Robert Bratcher

In games, I strive to be a 100% Paragon because, if I care about the story enough, I am emotionally invested in my choices. It matches my personality as well. For example, in Mass Effect 2, I wanted to fill my Paragon Meter so that I could talk my way out of situations, which in some instances saved lives and helped me more effectively complete missions. Also, my friends have said that I tend to lean towards characters that are driven by justice rather than vengeance or arrogance (i.e. Kenshin Himura from Rurouni Kenshin, Green Lantern Hal Jordan). I think people's choices in games depend on whether they are immersing themselves into the game (like an avatar of themselves) or using the game as an escape or fantasy (doing what they wouldn't do in real life). We make multiple characters because we all have various shades to our personality.

Jonathan Poole

When it comes to morality in gaming, I usually find that the narrative is more rewarding if I play as a good guy.  Why?  Well first of all, for me, a healthy level of suspended belief is required to fully enjoy a game, any game.  Since the situations and settings in games are at least incongruous and generally completely unbelievable, it’s important that the characters ring true. That’s the main reason that the Uncharted franchise works despite its dependence on ancient biological zombie infections and blue-skinned giants masquerading as Yetis.

However, in a game that requires player choice and a character that only has whatever inner-monologue and motivations that you choose to give them, that suspension of disbelief can be hard to keep up.  For me, the easiest way to maintain it is to make the kind of decisions that I think I would make given a similar set of circumstances.  Sorry, but I would never nuke Megaton.

Ryan Blanchard

I'm not a terrible person in real life. I would never think of hurting another person even if it was for the sake of personal gains. It's just not how I am. When It comes to gaming though, those beliefs are thrown out the window. Rather than follow the path of a hero, I would much rather fill the shoes of an evil genius. Now, don't get me wrong when I say this, as I'm not the kind of person who runs around killing everyone in Fallout 3, completely ruining the gaming experience. For the most part, I make sure that my evil deeds will somehow benefit me in the long run. Killing random people for the sake of just killing them just doesn't strike me as fun. This is why I don't just run through games causing needless havoc without thinking about my actions. I feel that it provides a new level of immersion in the game as it allows me to explore situations from a point of view differing from that of my own. Don't get me wrong though, as I saved every little sister in BioShock 1 and 2 and refused to blow up Megaton. I just decide to let out my inner evil genius if the situation arises where I will be able to benefit from my evil actions. Why I didn't kill Moira Brown in Megaton though, I will never understand.


Seems most of the writers here tend to lean towards good rather than evil, and even the ones that do stray towards some evil will still have some morals about killing needlessly.

This was all very surprising to me!

Maybe it's because most of us writers are on average 25 years old and have actually developed some morals or maybe we just happen to be good people. I would have thought that playing the evil role would be way to tempting to most people. Honestly, my opinion of the human race must be fairly low, as I thought for sure that the majority of people would choose the dark side. I also figured since immorality is so much easier, then most people would take that easy road. Personal gain coming from killing an innocent rather then earning their trust, which I would relate to someone who would step on someone to get ahead in real life.

Perhaps it's my own prejudice because of the way I grew up, my hardships that force me to believe that most people are bad people. Willing to do or say anything if it meant their lives would be easier. Or maybe I just happen to work with a few good people and my cynicism is well founded with the occasional exception like the Game Rant team.

Am I right? Let us know. Tell us how you play a game when you're given the choice, and do you think it reflects your personality?

Think about it and be honest. You are generally anonymous on the internet after all.

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