Morality in gaming

I’ve wondered about this lately, especially with my time in the Dark Souls universe. In the Souls games you can invade another players’ game and ruin their day by slaughtering them mercilessly…it’s almost an expected behaviour. And yet even though I’m trying to wring every last drop of game out of DS2, I can’t bring myself to do it. I’ll equip items that’ll summon me to assist other players, or use items that will send me into the worlds of the guilty (those players who have accrued sin by invading and killing other people), but I don’t feel comfortable aiming to aggravate or upset other people by ruining their game.

Thinking back on it I’m like this in most of the decision making I make during gaming. Knights of the Old Republic - Light side. Mass Effect Trilogy - Blue decision path. Dishonored - no kill run etc, etc, etc. I recently heard someone suggest that this is unusual, and the most players let their inner murderer loose as they couldn’t do it in the real world, but I just don’t believe it. I genuinely think most people are intrinsically nice and that colours their playing style. Of course in subsequent playthroughs people explore the alternative options, but primarily I think most people err on the side of good, and as a result the media scaremongering regarding gamers is way off.

What say you?


Well lets just say a clear and resounding yes, obviously to that to start with. As for everything else you’ve said I really don’t think morality enters into it at all.

I tend to go for no kill runs if at all possible, to the point of savescumming for 30 minutes per encounter until I get it right. Not because I feel bad about or prefer to not hurt digital enemies, they’re not living beings and I do not treat them like it. I do it because I enjoy the puzzle of figuring out the order of operations and overcoming the obstacle in a clever way… and some times because there’s an achievement in it.

The dark souls invasion mechanic is something I’ve not engaged with much either. I’m really not much of a PVP player in general and this was a feature of DS that I had great hesitations about before playing the game. For some time during the early parts of the game I opted to not engage with it neither as an invader or defender, partly due to the whole “ruin your fun” bit and not wanting to do it to someone else. The very first time I failed to avoid getting invaded though I found it very exciting and actually very interesting. I know it’s trite to say “it’s part of the experience” but to someone who have avoided it like I did, I would strongly recommend exposing yourself to it.

I am now on NG+ and I’m trying to run it through embered and open to invasions at all times and even pondering maybe trying to invade myself. Not because I want to go prey on people, but because I now think it might be fun for both of us. Still a little hesitant to do it though.

As for morality systems in games they’re almost always terrible and not really about morals at all. They tend to have rewards and effects tied into them which instantly makes them game systems and the question the player asks is not “is this the right thing to do” but “how will this bonus work with my setup” or the like. So your choice is not based on morality but stats and rewards. In far too many games the “good” path is given the better rewards for some terrible reason. Would be far more interesting if you rewarded bad behaviour which would make good choices actually a moral choice, forgo bonuses and riches for making “the right moral decisions”.

I really do not believe this to be true. Again no one really thinks of enemies in video games as actual living creatures and fantasy violence is so far removed from real life violence that it’s not comparable. You do not “let lose your inner murderer” by killing guards in Dishonoured, you’re solving the problem of getting from point A to point B. This might seem callous, but only to someone who can’t separate fiction from reality.


You are a nice soul indeed :stuck_out_tongue:. You are really overthinking it though. When I started with DS PvP I was thinking the same until I just started to do it and than everything became clearer - it’s intended you to do so and it’s part of the game design. It helps the balance of the MP aspect of the game like you can’t imagine until you see it the other way around. Co-op parties need to be punished, so does invaders, so does blue invaders… etc. It’s a circle and the game is created in this fashion to keep it intriguing and fun.

Don’t worry about the players - 80%+ of them know they are signing up for invasions and 50% of them want exactly that. 25% of them want it easy so someone can help them - punishment is required! and the other 25% are my favorite - the gankers that purposely make a party of 2 or 3 friendly phantoms to gank invaders. What about those?! They are the most annoying part of the game design especially when provided with flasks on their own, but can give you the best feeling of accomplishment if you kill them all or the host while they try to kill you. Hell even killing 2 of them before dying is pretty cool feeling!

I’ve spent probably more than 300 hours in random invasions with all kinds of soul levels in every place possible. This experience is amazing if you want to get semi decent or pretty good at PvP. Doing this faces you with all kinds of opponents in all kinds of hard to fight places which teaches you far more how the PvP works than facing the same builds over and over in the designated PvP areas. It’s real fun as well when 2 established PvP guys meet totally random on early area while one of them is making new build or something. I’ve met crazy amount of cool random dudes that even became friends with me and wanted to learn and improve in the dueling and told me they would have never even considered if I haven’t invaded them and wiped the floor with them :smiley:

Of course there are always the salty ones - friend requesting just to cry, but it is what it is. I always bring prizes for the really new and unexperienced players though. When I see really bad gear guy I just give them some cool weapon or something … let them pick it up and than I let them know that now we fight and they die. Some of them were really appreciative and were happy when I invaded them again few moments later jumping with the joy gesture and straight going to fighting… some were so scared didn’t even picked up the item. It’s always fun though. If you don’t go for it you are missing 1/3rd of the game experience. Oh sometimes there’s even a chain reaction when I invade 2-3 guys over and over and they start to put even red signs down and we make small local PvP fight club for hours on like Soul Level 30 or something.

Playing the intended game mechanics shouldn’t feel bad at all. Don’t hold back on the best fun! Cheers! :slight_smile:


I admire your point of view, but I have to agree that it is unusual. At least to me, but then again I think my standpoint is unsual and I believe people are by default evil.

Yes, I have a therapist. :smiley:

I do tend to violence in video games, as a broader term for the negative choices you can make, for different reasons depending on the context of the story and I’m sure it has to do with me being out of touch with my aggression, but I’m also annoyed with how it is portrayed in video games.

In The Wolf Among Us for example - and this might be a spoiler so skip this paragraph if you have to - I chose to kill, rather than to spare, the person that was responsible for multiple deaths and destruction. I think it was the objectively right thing to do. Eye for an eye. Yet the ending then turned out negatively because of that, despite all my efforts prior being positive and maintaining an good image with all characters. Only one choice made all of them turn their backs on me.
Same goes for Dishonored, which I didn’t play avoiding conflict, but again I chose to kill a murderer, which resulted in the worst of endings about a kingdom that reigned in terror and violence. I think this is a little extreme considering what the antagonists have done to the protagonists.

Morality in video games is black and white, which is understandable, because with programming you can only do so much, but in reality there is an entire gradient in between.
That’s why I often feel forced to be the white knight and avoid anything with negative consequences as almost all games punish you for deviating from the predetermined path that leads to a happy ending, so ultimately I think you can’t blame video games on that as they clearly have a certain philosophy they try to convey - well, in stories with multiple endings that is.

To get back to your question I don’t think it’s that easy.

Sure, there might be sociopathy lying dormant in some people that go for the dark side of things, but what about the gameplay itself? In Dishonored for example you have to be very patient and strategic to play stealthily. Someone with the purest of hearts could play like an absolute monster, just because they simply don’t like that particular style of gameplay.
Or maybe it is sheer curiosity that drives people to be the antagonist of the story they inhabit, because being the hero is the norm of 99% of media.

So no, I don’t think it has to be about the person’s morality itself that dictates how they play games. After all video games at their core are about escapism and being someone or something we are not. Video games let us explore different realities and with the evolving focus on storylines let us explore different personalities of ourselves.

Edit – Oh, and regarding the invasion mechanic, I don’t think it has to do with a moral choice, really. Sure, it can be frustrating and people might enjoy the sadism that comes from dominating weaker players, but the human is a competitive animal and competition drives us to improve.


I’m glad that this form of insanity isn’t just limited to me!

I suppose on the point of Souls’ invasion mechanic, it’s not particularly well balanced. It’s certainly fun and exhilirating when you’re relatively evenly matched with your opponent, but when they invade your game and one shot you with a Soul Spear sorcery, it’s not that fun (true story - invaded, rolled through two, one shotted by the third). I’ve really enjoyed being invaded for the most part, and it even made me undestand what the Dried Fingers are for, and thanks to Demon’s and Dark Souls 1 and 2 It’s really opened up my mind to the joys of co-op and multi-player gaming…something I’d never considered before.But I do feel that there’s a risk of ruining people’s experiences, and with the Sin system I’m happy just running with the nice guy co-op options rather than the red phantom choice. Although saying that, the Gravelord Servant Covenant from the Dark Souls sounds really interesting…

I agree, although I can see the point of view that aggressive gaming can potentially break down societal norms in the less well adjusted person and potentially create a problem. The media of course scaremongers with the result and paints violent video games as a problem which they’re not. But your reply also highlights a difference in our approach to the games we play - I’m roleplaying a character, in the instance you cite Corvo Attano, and whilst I did play both ways, when I’m playing the no-kill run I’m playing out my Corvo as an honourable soul who has no wish to injure or harm unecessarily. It’s not me in the game and I do my best to immerse myself in the worlds I journey too. I know those characters aren’t real, but by gifting them side stories or backgrounds it heightens the experience…whilst it is problem solving of getting from point A to point B unnoticed, I also had the inner mental narrative of the guards I avoided going home to their families and cursing their bad luck in letting me slip past. Worlds within worlds and all that.

As if the Souls games aren’t gruelling enough! The best Invasion video I’ve seen is this one, in which our invader trolls to the highest level (this is also fun too)

Thus far I’ve done a whole lot of co-op, and learnt enough about invasions that I recognise it’s a totally different affair (Lloyd’s Talisman for the win!)…sadly I’m only hitting around a 33% victory rate at the moment…far too few PS3 players left.


I do this as well from time to time, at least if the game makes it apparent that you’re not just stepping into an empty pair of trousers of a character. I do this a lot throughout playing the Witcher games. This is partly because Geralt is a very well established character with his own goals and wants and partly because the games are so well written the choices you have are almost always grey. This has made me frequently ponder what would Geralt do and lead me to take actions that I probably would never have done in any other game.

Most games offers you a blank slate of a character to pour yourself into though and also have a very clearly binary choices between “good” and “evil” at which point as I described above it merely becomes a stat system.


I can’t speak specifically to dark souls:

Never forget your roots.


(wow this spiraled out to become a “wall” pretty fast :flushed::grimacing:)

well, since i’m a pessimistic cynical misanthrope, i don’t exactly share that “world view” :smile:
as for gaming tho i have mixed experiences, tho i do think most the people (“personal”) played with also leaned toward the “lightside” of morality encounters
as for me i tend to prefer them too, because often it seem like it’s more fun, “better”, or potentially more demanding to be the “nice guy” or do no kill runs etc. (i always do a separate “bad” playthrough too tho in SP)
and idono, there is just something appealing about being “a hero” to me. I might not be able to save our world from nuclear destruction, but dang it, i sure as heck can go fetch “generic NPC nr. 8” her 5apples! :smile:

also, gotta remember, even if they “might” have made a bad career choice, the “bad guys” are just people too, doing their jobs, and maybe have families too,
-i think it’s nice if i make sure to not brutally stab them in the spine and explode them in a mist of red “poof”; so they make it home to dinner


as for the other stuff “games impacting RL decision/behavior”, i feel like that horse has been beaten so much it’s been been reanimated+killed again and been through a complete cell disintegration down to the the Quark level, that we’d have to build an entire new universe and it’s own dimension for it to even exist anymore :man_shrugging:
-gaming “fandom” (along with just “fandoms” in general) however, do seem to have gravitated to become more and more toxic over the years. But so does anything involving the interwebs and people not getting “parented”/consequences in a way that makes them able to maintain half decent manners when interacting with others.

it would be curious to see what stats devs might/could have/put on those morality choices, -one could infer from say steam achivements how big a % group might have a no kill run in X game.
But i recall stuff like TWD/telltale taking notes of choices in the end, could be curious to see if devs did that with other games/“morality choice/consequences” that don’t get straight tied to achievements,
just so we’d be able to see if the total sum of “good guys” is actually just scarily low, or so commonly high it’s almost boring :smile:

as for “strangers” interacting in stuff like mp, idono, i think that leads back to the (perceived)“increase in negativ behavior online” for me. Mentioned a couple of times i don’t do mp games “much”/more these days. Because it gradually felt like getting a pleasant encounter online among “strangers”/competitors just became more of a hassle, annoying, toxic, to where i couldn’t enjoy it. Never decide to take actual note of “how many” it was, just that their “bad” behavior, be it cheating, griefing, “chat”, “sportsmanship” etc etc just got to a lvl where i cba to bother diving in and roll the dice whether this time it would be endurable or a total shtfest.
(PS truly fun when someone that has spend 10.000€ on in game items decides to stalk/“gank” fresh created characters, for ages, tho they obviously can do nothing, nor give points to kill :man_facepalming: -never understood that mentality)
but i don’t think that’s “because of the game”, but just “their” already existing mindset/personality, even if some mp games/interactions could “invite” more/less to such

Tho most SP/“choice” games also pretty much seem to sorta “hold your hand” or hit your over the head with a frying pan that “duh, this is obviously the proper choice”, which i find a tad bit condescending. All “morality” don’t really have to be either straight up “good vs evil”,
the one in fallout where you can help survivors in a in vault or choose some farmers/feed people instead was partially neat that way letting you decide which was “right”
ofc, it’s also important your decision has tangible consequences sometimes, like having to choose between a crew member’s death in mass effect ? or something bigger would be nice
one thing is trying to “play on the feels”, or have some minor/modest outcome that cheekishly/straight up “incentivize” you to do a thing perhaps more than the other
another would be to engage your stance too, like… what was that game where you sorta had to become almost just like the bad guy to save your people/kingdom anyway? -because “teh bad guy” actually had a point.
Stuff like bioshock for instance never really felt like a “decision” or “moral” choice to me, sure you might not know how much Adam you’d end up with in the end(or if any) when you decide to save the sisters, -but to me i only ever took the bad ending to see/try it, and have always just taken the “save them” path all the other times. Since there is just no real downside to doing it, you get what, like a tiny fraction less Adam in the end out of it, still more than enough for your entire arsenal you’d want or need :man_shrugging:
the further off into the game your consequences could/would be the better, since it then takes a while for you to even know/realize, and then maybe even harder to weigh which benefits better (as long as the outcome was substantially diff ofc).
I enjoyed KOTOR where your choices gradually led up to “either decision” in the end, but it was a slow build up, and felt unsurprising in the end to have X option, even if still able to choose (as i recall). Having it forced on you via X “secret” potential cutoffs could have been interesting, -tho the slow progress of dealing with HK47 along the way was neat.
and on the other half could maybe be Undertale, where your consequence (as i understand it -haven’t played it) carries over to the next playthrough, and actually “hard” saves to where you need to wipe it from your system to be able to get rid of that stain, -even if maybe the payoff that carries over could be considered minor?

I suppose it can be hard+consuming to develop games with “true”/“deep” moral or meaningful decision systems, but even i as a “grump” do think that tho “humanity IRL” might be “worthy of disdain” :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:, that people like to experiment with making the “right choices” in games, even if not all the time :blush:, -and highly appreciate devs taking the time to implement such systems/features for us if/when they can :smiley:

PS. miss you companion cube :cry: image


I wouldn’t question the morality of players that engage in PvP.
PvP is part of Dark Souls, you don’t slaughter, you challenge other players that can do the same to you within the game’s rules. It’s all good.

The only times I question other people’s morality, is when they break the game’s rules and ruin the experience for everybody.


Whenever I play RPG’s, I usually like playing as morally ambiguous character. I think sneaking around and stealing stuff right under people’s noses is fun, but murdering every NPC in the game isn’t. Being a sneaky kleptomaniac kind of immerses you into the world, where you have to figure out NPC behavior, explore areas for alternate entrances, and avoid the law and other groups you managed to piss off. Playing as an absolutely heroic character who can do no wrong is kinda boring to me, and so is playing a completely evil character that turns the entire map into an empty wasteland. For me, that moral ambiguity manages to create more interesting stories.

One game I think does morality extremely well is Papers Please. Sometimes you’ll be given moral choices where, for example, someone desperately wants to get through the border to see their family, but can’t because they don’t have the right documents. You CAN let them through, which is the “moral” option, but the game doesn’t treat it as the “right” option, since you get slapped with a penalty if you do so, making it harder to feed your family. It gives moral choices weight by not simply going “you did a good, here’s your prize”, and putting something on the line as a result of you kind-hearted action.


I wasn’t going to hop onto this thread beyond reading everyone’s thoughts, but @MrBonesWildRide made me think of something… :thinking:

I had family sharing with a close friend of mine a few years back. Shortly after Papers Please came out, he and I talked a long while about how amazing he thought the game was. I took his word for it.

Thing is, I played a couple of hours and I felt absolutely DONE. I was emotionally drained and mentally exhausted. It’s not an easy or fun game, but it isn’t the kind of frustrating-hard you get from hardcore metroidvanias and roguelikes either.

No sir, it’s the kind of game that wears you down by testing your sense of morality time and time again and mercilessly punishes you for simply being… you.

I couldn’t play it back then, I don’t think I can play it now. :frowning_face:

All this to say, @xist, that I may take my in-game choices far too seriously, to the point where being actually mean and doing evil things in-game only happens as it does in real-life: when I’m unspeakably pissed.


I often try to go sneaky. But then I mess it up. And then this happens :skull:



That was the appeal of Spec Ops if I recall. To be totally honest, I think that we are all lucky that video games are largely devoid of overarching ‘morals’ within their confines (I am talking about tough moral choices not whether it is right and noble to be killing off hundreds of devils as the doom marine).

Because video games are largely cathartic and, for lack of a better word, “pulpy” games that means games like Papers please, Spec Ops: the line and Undertale are more powerful because the narrative they are telling isn’t expected by the audience. Video games are after all, skinner boxes, the stimulus can get so routine that it doesn’t hold the same meaning as it did before (not that it stops us from pulling the lever).

The “basic” good-evil moral spectrum in games like Fable and Fallout are, once well understood, so much less powerful that they barely register. The phrase ‘____ will remember that’ is powerful the first time you see it in a telltale game, the 100th time someone is going to remember something it doesn’t hold the same gravity.

After the first great success, the follow up games that embrace the same mechanics that made the first game so powerful typically don’t have the same effect unless the developers do something to take a bold leap off the concept. So too with morality, games with effective and powerful morality mechanics often dwindle in future titles with the same mechanics (I won’t deny finishing the good or evil ending in fallout 3 made me feel sad and sick respectively, but when I got to Hoover dam in new vegas (in my opinion a better fallout) finishing “strip”, “Selfish”, “NCR”, or “Ceaser” didn’t mean anything to me… the character epilogues though… those got me with some moral sadness).

Anyways, thank god everything sticks to murder-hobohemia, because without them keeping our moral expectations low we might be more jaded when a game makes something incredible.

also, @Eidos that looks like stealth to me.


Personally, when I play a morality/ethics game, I don’t read a walk-though and play as though it was my personal decision to make. As a result, I never get the totally good or totally evil endings. So then I read a walk-through and replay as totally good or totally evil just to see the game-play/story from that perspective.

Games with moral choices have a degree of replay-ability that I don’t want to miss. So I get at least 3 playthroughs.

I recently heard someone suggest that this is unusual, and the most players let their inner murderer loose as they couldn’t do it in the real world, but I just don’t believe it.

You are not unusual or whatever people think you are. You’re just not into the killer gameplay in Bartle’s taxonomy.

People play games differently and that is A-OK.

I genuinely think most people are intrinsically nice and that colours their playing style.

Nobody knows if that is true but we do know that people enjoy different aspects of games in varying degrees.

and as a result the media scaremongering regarding gamers is way off.

Are gamers being targeted in the news again? It’s the nature of the beast for any entertainment to be criticized. Video games were for children. D&D was satanic. Marilyn Manson music was being blamed for things. Nowadays video games are blamed for sexism and bigotry. But those are normally from game news media. Mainstream media focuses on saying video games cause violence.

Did one of their articles bother you?


Certainly not, on this regard, I’m pretty much like you, if a game gives me the option, I’ll go pacifist on it, even if takes longer to do so, some of the games I’ve finished this way are (sans the obligatory kills): Deus-Ex: Human Revolution(bosses), Crysis 2(only the last boss irc), Dishonored…

And so far I’m doing good in MGSV and the newest Deus-Ex.

Even in multiplayer I’m the support guy, especially in Halo, no one knows how to properly use some of the equipment :roll_eyes:


There’s a support class in Halo? I only played up until Halo 3, so maybe I missed something?
Actually there’s classes even? Wasn’t Halo always more of a Quake type multiplayer?

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Please don’t murder me next time I’m irritating. :grimacing:

No, it’s nothing current, just something I’d heard in a podcast which intimated that most people find release in gaming that they couldn’t in the real world…letting their inner psychopath loose, which after thought I felt was very contrary to my own experience.


This is a super in depth topic and I’ve only had time to skim, but morality in video games has always been an interesting scale. For DS, I find that just being polite and taking a duel approach to fighting people I’ve invaded and allowing them to regain health feels much better than just mercilessly slaughtering them. Unless they’ve ticked me off by not responding in kind, then any means necessary works.

Sometimes I’ll play through games intending to be a good guy or bad guy specifically, but I often end up straying this more neutral line, especially on villain routes.

With that said, it still depends on the game. I have no issues with playing GTA and shooting people and going on car stealing rampages, cause that’s what you do. I’m much better at separating good and bad in games vs reality than my wife. Stuff like that bothers her a lot more than me.

I think overall I tend to view game choices less as a good vs evil decision, and more of what makes me or my character not an A-hole. My thought process ends up being “Good, bad, weird, just don’t be a jerk.” But that’s my ramblings.


What about the ending in Saints Row? That one actually gave a good ‘moral’ choice in a game devoid of Morales…

I can’t see myself getting unspeakably pissed at you, dear. :blush:

This!!! I also suffered so much playing Spec Ops… and to think I didn’t do it in my Steam account so I’ll have to go through it again at some point… eesh

Btw this whole thread reminded me of an old favorite:

Anyone else was a big fan of this gem of a game? :smiley:

I still have the original box and stuff, but I dunno where, otherwise I’d send you guys pics.

I remember LOVING it as a kid. In fact, the GOG petition to add it to the store made me feel h*cking nostalgic.