Morality, Rewards, and Repercussions in Video Games


Most arguments regarding the strengths of video games come down to motor skills, creative thinking, and logic solving. I’ve made some of these arguments myself in my day as a gamer, but as we move forward into these faux worlds that are becoming more and more immersive, I wonder: what more can we take away from it and how deep does it go?

Morality is one of the topics often contended with in the video game community. “It’s pretend.” “I’m only playing a character.” And that’s absolutely true, but what about the choices you have to make as that character? How can that impact your perception of the everyday “in real life” world?

In the Mass Effect trilogy from BioWare, you play a character that is faced with tough choices impacting your morality and as a result, the individuals around you. This same approach was reflected in their preceding titles, like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and similarly in Lionhead Studios’ Fable series and more emotionally, within the award-winning The Walking Dead series from Telltale. While these worlds are vastly different, with different rewards and different consequences, one thing remains constant.


“Fable: The Lost Chapters” by Lionhead Studios

In each of these titles, the “evil” actions you take often have some immediate rewards but long-term repercussions while the “good” paths take you along a much more difficult route without the same grandiose rewards.

Some argue that the Fable series is notorious for teaching the appeal for being evil, as being a hero often doesn’t have rewards and still makes the heroic ending underwhelming. In Star Wars: KOTOR, you were often showered with credits by your negative attitude and on the Light side, you were showered with …good feeling? However, options to redeem the character also become more limited as the game progresses. In the massive-multiplayer roleplaying game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, other players can have an influence and force difficult decisions on your character that you may have not wanted to make raising awareness about the company you keep.


“Mass Effect” from Bioware Studio

However, within the Mass Effect universe, you were rewarded by your heroics by companionship, with friends and loyalty that were required to successfully save the universe. It has the power to teach the true value of alliances and reputation extending outside of personal morality and into the realm of general ethics. Sometimes the reward is maintaining status quo, but is that enough to inspire heroes in our world? These titles and the choices they allow the player to make have the availability to teach us about sacrifice, selfishness, and how our choices impact those around us.

So, which side do you fall on?

Scarlett Dowdy
Community Manager