The Morality System – Does it work in video games?

While it is hard to create multiple endings in video games that reflect a player’s actions; video game developers give players a false sense of control of video games. They give players moral choices to choose that do not actually affect the game’s ending or the player’s choices because players are given very limited control over a game and are pushed into a single ending. Even if a player decided to perform low moral actions non-player characters will not react adversely based upon player choices. No matter which moral path a player chooses to walk, their actions are never reflected. Rather it is a dilemma created by developers that have no real consequence.

Choose your alignment but it doesn’t really matter.

Video Game developers give players a false sense of control of video games. Players are given black and white choices that do not allow a player to act outside of their moral code. Player choices do not reflect in the game. In a lot of games the player’s party members may not even react to adverse actions in games. Additionally no matter what the characters final alignment is in the game, no negative or positive outcomes are gained from following that alignment path. Typically this system is found in most modern RPGS. Often video games blur the lines of what is a good alignment ending of a game and what is a bad alignment ending. Instead, both paths ultimately lead to the same conclusion. Regardless of how the player got there.

Take for instance BioWare’s Mass Effect. If the player decides to follow a Paragon or Renege the more extreme of the opposite reactions are greyed out. However, even if a person is someone of low morals they still have a right to behave outside of their moral code and Vise Versa. Additionally, if you play the middle ground both extremes are greyed out. J. Cameron Moore in his paper Making Moral Choices in Video Games states, “Yet many role-playing video games blow it! They do not fulfill this potential because the choices they require of players are not morally significant: either these choices have little effect on the narrative development in the game or they occur within an amoral secondary world.” In a poll on my twitter account, I asked my followers what they thought about the morality system in games. It seems that many feel video games give players limited control over their actions in games.

In a poll on my twitter account, I asked my followers what they thought about the morality system in games. It seems that many feel video games give players limited control over their actions in games.

This can mean that players, of course, are pushed to progress in the story. Yet again we are not given any freedom to actually shape the story instead there is the idea of choice. But the player continues to follow a mostly straight line.

Video games need to evolve.

Aaron Birch of Den of Geek states,” As morality is a very complex and often a personal thing, for a game to truly embrace this subject, and to give players a real moral choice, the game itself needs to evolve. At the most basic level, pre-scripted stories and character interaction would need to be altered, or totally overhauled. As everyone is different and has a different sense of morality, games would need to adapt to each player. This would mean a greater level of artificial intelligence, and even learning and adaptability. Even the best AI in gaming at the moment is still a simple decision tree based upon possible player choices, and so limits are easily reached. With better, and more flexible AI, unique choices and situations could make for a far more believable and emotionally involving situations.”

Games need to evolve.

It is simple games need to evolve in order to reflect the idea of freedom of choice in games. The Witcher series tends to produce the best results of player freedom. Player choices in this game are not always black and white. Additionally, players find they can make pivotal choices in the story that appear to be insignificant choices. Choices made in this series often display negative or positive consequences in the game. Such as the quest Velen. Since the quests stack on each other the outcomes of this quest will differ depending upon what the player did in The Whispering Hillock. Although certainly, BioWare has done some of this to a mild extent such as not saving the mages in the Circle of Magi during the Broken Circle quest. You will not be able to save Conner if you don’t save the mages. Yet that is the only consequence for not saving the tower. It seems CD Projeckt Red got it right when they keep the moral choices hidden from the player character. They gave a player pause about which choices they should make and even created virtual stress by adding a timer for certain critical choices. The developers seemed to understand that players enjoy having the perception of choice in the very least and their choices reflected in games.

What needs to be done.

It is certainly a challenge to give players more options in video games that are not dependent on a rigid morality system. However, some developers like CD Projekt Red and to a mild extent Fable have already given players a wider range of free will in the games. Games need to evolve to allow players choices to reflect their actions. Additionally, the ending of the game should be affected by player choices in some way rather than leading up to the same ending. Video games need to do a better job of presenting better thought out morality systems when they are offered. As Birch states, the development of a game that gives more freedom is difficult to create without sacrificing gameplay. However, if a developer claims to truly create a game with a strong morality system they have a long way to go.


Making Moral Choices in Video Games by J. Cameron Moore

The problem of morality in video games by Aaron Birch.


  1. theNadeFace says:

    I agree with your poll. There is limited decision making and how it effects the outcome of the over all story line. Although, with all these choices in mind, it all comes together to lead you to the big confrontation or climax of the game. I can see why this is and why it would be more interesting to have a completely different last bit of the game based on your choices.
    Lets take Mass Effect as an example. Whatever choice you make, and how the spider webs put to create different situations and outcomes to events you didn’t even think would be impacted by your choices, it is still the story of Shepard. And Shepards story goes like *this*. Along the way you get to choose who comes with you and the conditions as to how you complete the game but ultimately, like you said, we don’t have control.
    There are several reasons that come to mind as to why this is. For one, it’s the journey that we love and how it can differ from anothers. Two, to preserve the plot of the next game in the series it has to follow a basic story with the pinnacle moments leading to the same outcome. Or generally the same outcome.
    It would be pretty cool to hear your friend say he didn’t even ever go to *wherever the final part of the game takes place* but instead because of their choices ended up on the other side pf the galaxy argueing with ann Elcor about poetry.
    Your article makes a sound arguement and I enjoyed reading it 🙂 It brought up some very important points as to why your choices in a game are “scripted” and it would be cool to see how a game that has very different endings based on all your choices. It just seems for the sake of longevity of a series they have to pull the rains on free will.

    Many high fives for the awesome article,


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dina Farmer says:

      Wow, thank you so much Nade! I apperciate your comments. I have to agree about that! At the heart of Dragon Age I still love the story and I love how things shaped up. I understand the game would be wrapped up in one game if they allowed for more alternate endings. However, I think it could be possible a developer to shape a game based on your choices. I’m sure the extent of your choices will have to have more mild consequences on the game however. It would be a difficult undertaking if a developer to do that. I think that it could work and it would be revolutionary, for instance if BioWare continued Jade Empire the player’s choices at the end of the game would cause major changes in the world state. Such as if the player let the water dragon life or if they became the new emperor.

      I seriously thank you so much for comments!


  2. Hatm0nster says:

    I agree that morality systems are rather restrictive. They tend to force you to align to extremes rather than play naturally. Also, more often than not, they tend to present the player with choices that are either downright evil or absolutely saintly.

    Some games present the consequences of these choices better than others, but said consequences never really go very far. For example, being “Chaotic” in Dishonored results in more swarms of rats and zombie-like enemies running around, and you get a bad ending, but that’s it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dina Farmer says:

      Yeah, I would like to actually have the choice to play a neutral character or act outside of my alignment. I’m going to hold my breathe for the day a game pays more attention to choice.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hatm0nster says:

        I’m thinking it would be better to not have morality systems in the first place. Have the game adapt to the players choices, but don’t assign alignment points to those actions. Less restriction. More genuine outcomes.


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