Yes, but I can't keep it up

| Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Have you ever noticed how Good-Evil/Light-Dark morality systems tend to instead be of the "pet the kitten" - "kill a hundred unarmed civilians" type?

So there I was in Tamriel and I was a thief in the thieves guild who was also in the murderers society but was only in that society out of convenience, due to the opportunity to rob more houses, including the local safehouse. I was so evil I was too evil to play by the rules of evil! Eventually I killed them all, though in subversion of the usual theme, I'd already taken their stuff.

I'd rob houses at night. Or at day. I robbed houses. If people caught me, which they never did, I killed them. They never caught me because I killed them first. Screams alert guards, whereas death gurgles don't.

I was evil.

Until one day I decided to pet the kitten. Readers take note, terrified of touching cats due to their extreme speed and unpredictability. So when I start petting cats, it means I am putting in some major effort to be kind. Though kittens are a lot slower and often don't yet have claws, so maybe it's not quite so great. Now why would I go and pet the kitten? I'm evil!

Well sure, but I'm also practical and let's face the facts, murdering everyone in sight leaves you with no one able to repair your armor. So I stopped murdering.

And now we get to the morality system: I can't be evil in most stories. Instead I can be chaotic, usually with extremely self-destructive consequences, even if there are short-term minor benefits. With the easily exploited alchemy system or just dungeon farming, I didn't need to rob houses for the gold. Evil isn't bad, it's just plain stupid.

We could get around this problem with long-term evil. Let's say I play along so I can be there to murder the emperor at the last minute. Okay so let's go ahead and do that. I can't? You mean the story inevitably drives me toward good? So infamy tracking has no purpose except to make the guards act like asses?

Oblivion (the game I've been talking about, beside KOTOR) is a fairly open-ended world. It's a bit sandy, but ultimately, you are what the story tells you to be. You could avoid completing the story, in which case you'd be a loser who can't get anything done, which doesn't really tell an evil story either, unless you really, really hate bums.

KOTOR (I know it's not all capitalized but it's a lot easier to type, a gain entirely offset by this explanation) at least allows me to go in an evil direction. But it's not MY evil direction. I will acknowledge that in the first one if I was going to be evil then taking over the Sith and the Star Forge would be a good way to go about it. But what if I just liked chaos? Or maybe I liked peace and quite and would go to extreme ends to get it? In that case, I might instead destroy everyone in hopes of causing a (which didn't happen) World War I effect of War to End All Wars which would so deplete the galaxy of military power that war wouldn't be happening again anytime soon.

Good and evil almost seem meaningless when the game itself doesn't offer choice.

Now to ask the question that the title answers: Do you play evil characters in RPGs?

Tomorrow: I contradict myself, because that's what I do.


Issy said...

*giggles* *is 12* This was not what I was expecting when I read that title :P

I compromise. I am, of course, lawful good, if thousands of innocent people got slaughtered, it was totally my evil twin :P

Yes, I don't think there is a game where I can be my kind of evil either ;)

Hyperian said...

KOTOR was probably the only game in recent history i can say i went "evil"and that was only because the dark side ending is bad ass. But even in Oblivion i do some random knifings on my play through as a thief but found it very hard to kill any innocent civvys (with execption of guards, id knife the lot of them just outta spite) But in a game like DA 2 i could not side with the templars. Even though the majority of the mages were slicing palms and turning into demons i couldnt sentance the half way normal ones to death. Even in my "super angry warrior playthough" when the time to see the templar ending came i couldnt do it... maybe because i fight religious fanatics like that on a daily basis, and i loathe to impower them even if its not really them.

Nils said...

Evil in these games is stupid. Long know fact :(

Problem with evil is that humans are usually rather nice. They only become 'evil' by caring about something - too much.
Hey! Let's use the prime example, k? ;)

Adolf Hitler wasn't just evil for the sake of being evil. He mass murdered Jews (and others) to make humanity more pure. (When Adolf Hitler was thinking about humanity, he was actually thinking about Great Germany.)

Mr. Hitler is a great example, as most people nowdays won't doubt that he was about as evil as it gets. But he didn't order millions of the humans to be killed to .. be evil. He did it to do, what he thought, would be good.

The only thing that is easy when it comes to evil is accusing others of being evil. To actually be evil yourself, and to acknowledge it, is almost completely impossible. I mean, you can do it just for the sake of it. But it is a hallow experience; actually, it is very similar to adulating someone.

Syl said...

Afaik chaos is actually considered the evil/dark side in many religioius beliefs - it's basically the enemy of order and order is always good (funny enough extreme order or purity also turn into fascim real fast which makes you wonder how close good & evil are, anyway). so if you can play chaotic, maybe you ARE (truly) being evul? or just the other end of the spectrum with both good and bad on the other end?

Good Omens (Gaiman/Pratchett); a formidable read by the way.

Michael said...

Agree. One of my continual frustrations in games is that playing as good generally makes everything easier. But that means that a totally evil and self-interested player would be good, so as to achieve the best selfish ends.

What I'd really like to see is for it to be hard to be good. That good require some real self-sacrifice and hardship. That you're continually tempted by the easier path but choose to take the more honorable one. That would give being good some meaning.

Max said...

Yeah you dont get play evil in games. Dungeon keeper was probably as close as it ever got

I had some fun in Baldurs Gate2 with all evil party, Edwin was probably pretty close to "evil" - ego maniac with lust for power. I wish it had quest to turn him into a lich or something but alas

What is evil anyways. In my mind? -Stupidity ,incompetence ,complacency and ignorance is the only true "evil". everything else is just competition.

p.s. In non -relevant example with Hitler for example problem was that he was wrong in what was good for germany (purging and prosecuting jews was definitely very bad as a lot of them emmigrated to US and created Atomic bomb for example)

Anonymous said...

Ever play Black & White?

Klepsacovic said...

@Issy: You won't believe me, but I didn't even realize what else my title sounded like.

@Hyperian: Are you a soldier or just a very active atheist? A gesture of respect for the first, a high five for the second.

@Nils: Godwin takes all the fun out of internet arguments.

There are a very few people who admit to themselves that they do what they do for purely selfish reasons, which is a good step along the way toward being truly evil, but maybe you have to lie about it to really qualify.

@Syl: Chaos and destruction seem to always be synomic in these beliefs, as if absence of rules mandates wanton destruction, which would itself seem to be a rule, meaning that... oh god I've gone cross-eyed.

Michael: Aha, vague teaser, this has given me an idea for a game mechanic which would fix this and I might or might not forget to write down for later.

@Max: re:P.S. His delusions were his downfall. At the very least the timing was awful. Waiting until after the war, or at least until victory was more certain, would have helped.

@Anonymous: I have. Somehow evil seemed to be too costly in terms of killing off the very villagers that I was trying to force to do my bidding. Maybe I just wasn't very good at being evil. I didn't play it very far due to some situations causing my computer to lag almost to the point of a crash. One in particular was a crowd of villagers who somehow were eternally falling down a very shallow drop. The screaming got annoying.

Anonymous said...

OK, I have to ask, what the fuck does KOTOR stand for?

Anonymous said...

As I recall, the system requirements for B&W were pretty high at the time and the game did have some flaws. But it also offered a viable evil path that felt different than the good one. Certainly much more interesting and smarter than the faux evil options you've run into.

Klepsacovic said...

@Adam: Knights of the Old Republic

In college I had to ask what CBT is. It's not anything dirty, unless you're a Scientologist.

@Anonymous: I do have a newer computer since then, so I should give it another try. I did like the flinging rocks system.

Hyperian said...

@Klepsacovic: Infantry officer in real life, and a non believer. Grandparents on both sides were religo fanatics to a frightning extreme, parents rebelled against it all, I reaped the rewards by having my Sundays free from indoctrination.

Ephemeron said...

If you want a game where you can explore many different shades and nuances of good, evil, law and chaos, look no further than Planescape: Torment.

Verilazic said...

I sometimes play a module in NWN 1 where I often play an evil character. The module itself is amazingly well written, giving many options in most cases. One convenient thing is that you basically start off as a thief in a sort of mafia-like organization, so it's actually possible to go either evil or good and be equally successful.

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