There are a few rare exceptions, but there is also a widely acknowledge industry standard of terribleness. We all know it, this default system that allows the player to choose between one of two cartoonish moral stereotypes: the shining do-gooder or the mustache-twirling sociopath. Angel or Devil. Goofus or Gallant.
|This comic is over a decade old, and yet more relevant than ever.|
While games sometimes successfully attack moral issues on the narrative level, they seem to struggle more with it on the mechanical level. Most mechanical systems struggle along with the same Angel vs. Devil trope, perhaps with a small twist or two.
As long games are held hostage by mechanical stagnancy, we cannot advance the moral issue. The design assumption that morality consists of nothing more than explicitly black and white (or red and blue) choices limits what the narrative is able to say.
So let’s look at some narratives about moral choices that are not held back by this mechanical assumption. Here are three stories that present three different moral pictures, three different moral outlooks, and hopefully three different moral systems that games can learn from. Games require game mechanic systems, but by looking at non-game narratives, we may be able to think up possibilities for new systems.