Moral decisions can make or break a video game experience. Find out which video game conundrums had Screen Critics thinking long and hard
Video games love their moral decisions. The hard choices that come to define a gaming experience sometimes are the ones that gamers would rather not make. From the death of loved characters, to unwanted consequences in the game, sometimes the decisions we make really define the game we experience. We decided to take a glance back at some of the harder decisions we’ve had to make in video games – the ones that really made us feel good or bad – and rank them. To be clear – these are just for the decisions themselves – not so much for the fallout from them (Although sometimes the two go hand in hand).
8. The Witcher 2 – Roche or Lorveth?
The Witcher 2 had a heap of moral choices for gamers to sink their teeth into – the game teeing up its morals in a fairly balanced way. It’s the decision however of which side you take in one of the games more defining moments that truly leaves a lasting legacy on the gamer – largely because it actually re-draws the end game experience.
The game doesn’t go out of its way to make clear what the consequences of your actions will be – making the end decision one of trust on the gamers part. It’s this air of unknown and previous interactions with the characters that ultimately define what you’ll end up doing. Do you help the person you busted out of jail or give the morally righteous a try?
To add to the fun, it’s made very clear that both have glaringly huge flaws in their personalities; meaning no matter which side you choose – the end result will likely be one of various degrees of disaster. Flip a coin and make your moral choice?
7. inFamous – The Needs of the Many?
inFamous is pretty hit and miss with it’s with its moral offerings; the game seemingly content to slide options under the gamers nose yet yank away the stakes as it sees fit. Towards the end of the game, the player has the choice of saving Trish (your girlfriend) or rescuing six doctors who can cure the pandemic threatening the city.
With the facts presented the gamer is faced with an impossible decision. The needs of many versus the needs of one. The decision must be made before the gamer can progress and with time such a pressing factor; the gamer is left to make the morally difficult choice themselves.
Sadly the weight of this decision is diminished greatly within minutes when it’s revealed that the girlfriend option is in fact a red herring. A fake has been placed instead of your girlfriend, effectively nullifying the gravity of the choice (For reference, your girlfriend is with the scientists and dies if you save them anyway).
6. Grand Theft Auto V – Killing the Weak Link
Grand Theft Auto V was centered very much around the bond of three men. Michael, Trevor and Franklin. The previous beef between Michael and Trevor is a constant source of tension within your merry band of robbers; bubbling under the surface and coming to flash points several times. By the time the games final mission is enacted things have deteriorated beyond repair and the gamer is faced with a simple choice; which one of the weak links needs to be cut?
The game offers a cheeky third option, allowing the gamer to escape from the problematic choice and instead retain the use of all three guys post-game. Similar to how Grand Theft Auto IV threw a moral decision in the eleventh hour at the gamer; it’s the way that this decision can entirely re-shape the way your end-game experience goes. Do you really want Michael and his frustrating standards looming over you? Does Trevor’s constant crazy drive you round the bend? This is the opportunity to eject both into the distance and grants the gamer a large amount of power in how their memories of the game will be formed.
In truth, it’s hard to argue against the case for killing either man by the end.
5. Fallout 3 – To Detonate or Not To Detonate?
Fallout 3 had its fair share of moral pondering throughout its playtime but perhaps the best example of this came in how the gamer was granted the chance to destroy a whole settlement of people. Megaton was a town founded around a still-active nuke that hadn’t detonated. This constant threat never seemed to worry the locals – that was until the inhabitants of Tenpenny Tower decided that Megaton was a blight on the Wasteland’s scenic vista.
The gamer is given a simple choice – blow it up and be richly rewarded or defuse the nuke and be given a house in Megaton. The complexity around the issue falls down to how invested the gamer is in having a hub area to do their business in. Outside of Washington D.C. – Megaton was the only real option for trading. By blowing it up, you were robbing yourself of a huge hub. On the other hand, the amount of bottlecaps offered up more than made the early-mid game easier and the ability to get a room at Tenpenny Tower made up for the lack of hub.
4. Splinter Cell: Double Agent – Kill or Spare Lambert
Undercover deep in a terrorist cell, things begin to unravel for Sam Fisher when his long-time friend and boss Irving Lambert is captured. The villains want him dead and it falls to Sam Fisher to make the decision to kill him or not. Pull the trigger and Lambert dies, the NSA gets very angry with you but the villains fully trust you. Don’t kill Lambert and the terrorists dislike you instantly, your cover is blown and the game gets a mighty bit harder from here on out.
For long-time fans of the Splinter Cell series it was a hard moment to live through; the game forcing the gamer to kill off one of the more recognizable and loved characters or face a more difficult route from there on out.
If it makes things notably easier – Lambert ends up dying no matter what the gamer does. He gets offed slightly later for continuity sake.
3. Until Dawn -Ashley or Josh?
Depending on which characters you found yourself attached too, Until Dawn very quickly descends into a game of nervous decision-making. Death lurks around every corner and sometimes the most inauspicious of decisions leads to swift ends for much-loved (or hated characters). Perhaps this decision however more than most underlined the brutal reality of the games nature.
Throughout the early part of the game, players can either help or hinder Chris as he creeps on Ashley very awkwardly. Things take an interesting twist however when Chris stumbles into a Saw-type trap – complete with guiding rails and a cutting saw. You the gamer have to choose which of the two trapped contestants (Ashley or Josh) gets turned into a kebab. With no third option present and the screams of the two filling your ears; gamers are faced with a stark choice (Even more so if you happen to like BOTH characters.
It’s here however where the plot twists slightly – the game is rigged against Josh no matter what the outcome. Ashley can’t die here – but you don’t know that before making your decision. Perhaps more amusingly Josh isn’t actually dead either – he turns up a little later safe and well as the plot awkwardly tries to fill the plot hole it created. But for those brief few minutes; this was a deeply unsettling and terrifying decision to land in gamers laps.
2. Mass Effect 3 – To Shoot or Not Shoot Mordin
In truth any of the big Mass Effect decisions could slot in here. From choosing between Ashley and Kaiden, to whether you save the Council or not, all the way through to the decisions which lead to the deaths of your party members or entire races. Mass Effect is a series that delivers hard on its moral choices; yet there’s one for me which always stood head and shoulders above the rest.
During your Mass Effect adventure you hear about the Krogan genophage; an intentionally constructed sterilization of the Krogan race that brought them under control. There are numerous points where you can influence the eventual outcome of this, from destroying research to sabotaging the cure. These decisions have real consequences but perhaps the most harsh outcome (if you make the stars align) is one where you’re faced with the tough decision of saving Mordin or allowing the real cure to be dispersed. If Mordin refuses to stand down, the gamer is given one final chance to stamp their decision into action; shooting Mordin in the back or allowing him to disperse the cure.
What makes this choice so horrifying is that Mordin is a squad mate in Mass Effect 2. His survival to this point means you must have worked to keep him alive. His quirky nature and humerous observations the source of much amusement through his time on the Normandy.The fact that he survived all that way only to be downed by your weapon – in the back and with the gamers full compliance, makes it such a gut wrenching decision. The split second trigger to deliver the shot gives the gamer no time to ponder the choice effectively. It’s an instinctive decision and a brutal one. The cut scene that follows only tips salt into the wound as a dying Mordin crawls desperately to disperse the cure; ultimately dying in a pool of his own blood.
Put simply, there’s a special place in gamer hell for those who pulled the trigger on Mordin. You moral horror.
1. The Walking Dead: Season One – Put Lee of His Misery or Not?
Again, pretty much every key decision in The Walking Dead could come under this umbrella. Do you help Shaun or Ducky? Who do you let eat in the camp? Do you let Clementine eat the human meat? Do you kill Ducky or let Kenny pull the trigger? Honestly there isn’t a decision in this game that isn’t loaded with huge repercussions down the line, the game gleefully reminding you <XX will remember> at every turn.
Yet for me it’s the games final decision which was the real sucker punch. After five episodes of watching Lee and Clementine grow, their relationship blossom from that of complete strangers into a loving maternal union, the final act of the game summed up that The Walking Dead is always liable to leave you in tears. Lee is bitten at the end of Chapter 4, leaving him with precious little time to save Clementine from her captor. You achieve this but thanks to the Walker bite, Lee is overcome by his ailment. Chained to a radiator behind a counter, the gamer is placed in control of Clementine who has to make the decision whether to kill Lee and put him out of his misery; or watch him turn before her very eyes.
The moral decision isn’t made easier by the fact that Clementine doesn’t really seem to understand the gravity of the situation. Lee desperately using his dying breaths to instil parting knowledge, his breaths growing shallower as the moment of truth arrives. For many gamers it was a tough call and while ultimately the decision doesn’t really change much; subjecting Clementine to a Walker-turned Lee or making her kill him outright seems like a terribly bitter way to end a game with so much loss.