Why is it so Hard to Play the Bad Guy in Morality Based Games?

I recently returned to Mass Effect 2 to complete my renegade play through for importation into Mass Effect 3, and I couldn’t help but notice that I’m not cut out to play the bad guy in video games that present morality choices.  I’m not sure if this defines me as being a pussy, or just a naturally moral person at heart, but it has been emotionally difficult to pick some of the renegade options now that I’m playing through ME3 as Dark Shepherd.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s fun to play the brash anti-hero, but in a series like Mass Effect where I’ve come to know and love all of its ancillary characters, I’m finding it morally challenging to pick the renegade dialogue options knowing full well what the outcome will be.

(Minor ME3 Spoilers) This inner conflict came to a head a few nights ago while I was playing through the mission that involves curing the Krogan genophage.  While completing this mission as a good guy the decisions I had to have my Shep make were clear and righteous, but while doing so as Dark Shep I found my mind and fingers not wanting to choose the renegade options due to their anticipated outcome.  The sick feeling you get when you know you’re making a devious life decision crept into my being even though I was just playing a damn video game.

It was extremely tough for me to lie to my team about my true intentions for the genophage cure, and it was even more difficult to betray my former friend and squad member Mordin.  My actions resulted in a very emotional end to this particular level that still resonates in my mind now as I write this post.  Kudos to the Bioware writers for their ability to emotionally engage a gamer such as myself, who in real life shows about as many emotions as a statue.

If you have any good in you this scene will wrench at your heart while making the renegade decisions

Not only do my strong reactions to this particular Mass Effect 3 event confirm Bioware’s excellent story telling abilities, but it also confirms something about myself.  No matter how rough and calloused I may seem on the outside, deep down I’m a good guy at heart who believes in doing the right thing regardless of the situation.  This must be why it’s so hard for me to play the bad guy in video games that present moral choices.  I’m just not wired to be an a-hole, and it’s difficult for me to do so even in the land of make believe which most games reside in.

Call me what you will.  I’m sure some of you are thinking that I like boys, or have a secret vagina, but it is what it is.  I guess when it comes to things I’m passionate about in life I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeves.  Not every game that presents the chance to be a good guy or bad guy has the same effect on me as Mass Effect, but for the most part I tend to lean towards the powers of good, and will continue to do so because that’s who I am in real life.  I consider this revelation to be another indication of the video game industry’s ability to draw on gamers’ emotions like other mediums such as books and movies can.

The storytelling in video games has come a long way since the 8-bit days of gaming, but in the same light I think gamers have as well.  We’re not just a bunch of emotionless drones sitting in front of a TV anymore grinding through levels to reach a game’s climax.  We are now active participants in the game’s universe, and as a result we are forced to draw on our own moral compasses to play out a game’s story as we see fit.  I’ve know it all along, but my recent ME3 experiences have confirmed that I’m truly a good person to the core even if I tend to be an a-hole in real life sometimes.  Thank you for that lesson Bioware, you’ve been a great friend.  You’ve been thinking that I may be on my period…

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Tags : Mass Effect 3MoralityStorytelling
Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he’s not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB’s Star Wars Time podcast show.