Archive:The Moral of the Story

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  • Published: 13 December 2000
  • Host:
  • Author: Paul O’Connor

The Designer Diary

Part 14: The Moral of the Story
By Paul O’Connor, Senior Game Designer

As video games move into the mainstream, one of the issues we have to address is the violent content of our games. While violence has figured in our entertainment since Ook slew Ogg in the first caveman floor show, there’s no denying that the violence in today’s games is more graphic, more visceral, and more available than in any mass-market electronic form we’ve ever seen.

Setting aside the debate over the influence of fictional violence on real-life behavior, and assuming the responsible choice is to present violence only in a meaningful and appropriate fashion, what is Oddworld doing about violence in its games?

Well, plenty.

First, a history lesson. There’s no denying that our previous games, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee and Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus, had violence. Many a Slig were blasted to bits by bullets and bombs. Slogs, Paramites, and Scrabs took no prisoners. And Abe’s pathetic Mudokon pals sure took it in the shorts, whether they were being beaten by cruel shift managers or ground up to make Mudokon Pops or Soulstorm Brew.

At the same time, I wouldn’t say Oddysee and Exoddus were violent games. Abe doesn’t carry a gun. Most of the time our hero is on the run from things considerably more violent than he. More important, Oddysee and Exoddus weren’t cruel games. Sure, things blow up, but it’s a far cry from the routine sadism of most shooting games. You know the type—?shoot the guy in the knee, and he drops down to beg for his life, then you nail him in the shoulder, and a shudder passes through him, then you put one in his brain, and he drops like a sack of meat.

To each his own, but that kind of play troubles me. I certainly wouldn’t want my kids playing that sort of game. But it’s not up to me to decide what sort of game people choose to play. All we can do is offer an alternative and encourage players to choose responsibly…

…which is what we did in our previous games and what we’re really emphasizing in our next game, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee. We’ve always regarded our titles as toy sets as much as they are games. While there is a story and an objective, we encourage players to take their time, explore the environment, and experiment with different approaches to solving problems.

For example, assume I give you a rock, then put you in front of a room sealed off by a land mine, inside of which is a Mudokon.

The indifferent player will just walk away. He doesn’t care about Mudokons one way or the other. The aggressive player will use GameSpeak to get the Mudokon to walk over the mine, blowing himself to bits. The compassionate player will knock out the mine with the rock and then rescue the Mudokon.

All three are valid ways to play the game. We provide the toys. The gamer makes the choice.

But choices imply consequences, and that’s where Quarma comes into play. Our previous games have had multiple outcomes based on the player’s moral behavior. The easiest path to completing our games is by being neither especially evil nor charitable, but there are alternate endings for players who are good, flawlessly good, or entirely evil. We encourage players to strive for a good ending by rewarding them with the best movie, but because players have to work hard to attain the bad endings, we also acknowledge those choices with a message or a secret power (you’ll have to play our games to find out what they are).

We are significantly expanding this moral framework for Munch’s Oddysee. Players will have more free will—and more difficult choices—than ever before. Rescue Mudokons, or put them to work in a factory to build some cool new weapon? Protect a pristine forest, or clear-cut it for resources to build an invulnerable war machine? Every decision the player makes influences not only the outcome of the game but the reaction the player will get from other Inhabitants as he explores the environment. Reputations—be they good or bad—travel fast on Oddworld.

Even with our Quarma system, the moral choices we present to players would seem hollow if not for the attention we devote to the emotional and social behavior of our Inhabitants. Every creature in the game is ruled by its own unique physical and emotional needs. Our characters cry, laugh, lie, sacrifice themselves, run away and hide, or respond with unexpected courage as their internal systems dictate. The effect is to transform our Inhabitants from a simple set of tools or targets into real, breathing creatures that are sympathetic in their own right.

If our games entertain you and leave you wanting more, then we’ve done our job. If, in addition, the nature of our game makes you stop and think or consider a moral issue, then so much the better.