Video games often discourage players from living interesting, unpredictable virtual lives. Play a game that allows you to be good or evil, violent or peaceful, and seldom will you find that a mixed approach is rewarded. Special powers are given to players who direct their character to behavioral extremes.
Morality-coded video games like "Fable" or "Knights of the Old Republic" encourage you to be a Luke Skywalker or an Emperor. They seldom dole out a specific reward if you choose the Han Solo path instead. But isn't the morally mixed path the most interesting one? Isn't it the most life-like? Or even the path most of us walk in real life, being nice to some people and not so nice to others?
This is what I confronted "Fallout 3" executive producer Todd Howard with in the middle of an interview about his team's upcoming game: "Can we take a middle path, and will you, unlike most developers, reward us for it?"
Howard told me just how far they've come in addressing that issue:
Multiplayer: I played the first "Fallout" but never finished it because I got stuck. The character I created wasn't charming enough to talk myself past some guards. I wasn't strong enough to beat them. This happens a lot with games that allow you choice. These games want you to be an extremist. They don't want you to be a mix. But I always try to be a mix. I want to be interesting…
Todd Howard, executive producer, "Fallout 3": We actually support you with [playable paths of] good, evil and even neutral -- who are people who do good things and bad things.
Multiplayer: Do you get anything for playing as "neutral"?
Multiplayer: Usually you don't get anything.
Howard: Well, realized we who were playing it, a lot of us were neutral. You get certain followers who will want to come with you. Certain followers will only come with you if you're evil. Some only if you're good. And there are Achievements you will only get if you're neutral.
Multiplayer: And these are cool things? Because, again, you're calling it "neutral." It already sounds like something not to be proud of. Yet I know it's the one I'm going to wind up being…
Howard: Some of [things you get] are very cool. And some of them are avoiding a negative that comes with being evil. If you're evil some people will come after you. If you're neutral they won't. If you're good some people will come after you. If you're neutral they won't.
Multiplayer: Everybody loves Han Solo, right? They like him more than Luke Skywalker, who's the goody two-shoes. And Han Solo is the guy who -- he's not the bad guy, but he will murder people in cold blood. He's got that mixture.
Howard: I can't say we've conquered that.
Multiplayer: I'm glad you're at least thinking about it because so many of these games where you can go to one extreme or the other, you get the reward only if you act as an extremist.
Readers, would you like to be rewarded for playing as a morally complex character rather than strictly if you play to the extremes? I did also interview Howard about what's in "Fallout 3," of course. I'll cover some of the more interesting things he revealed about the promising 360/PC/PS3 game in a follow-up post on this blog tomorrow.