A Moral Conundrum

MAG just reached over one billion in bodycount, and I’m sitting here, thinking to myself, why does it come down to this?

Up until a few years ago, I played the RPG genre almost exclusively. Then high school rolled around and as per usual for an aspiring teenager, I wanted to grow up. When I think about why I justified getting an Xbox 360, I realize that I had no actual particular reason to get it. I recognize, now, that’s what it must have been: an effort to try to ‘grow up,’ and grow out of my ‘childish’ Nintendo roots.

My online friends raved about Gears left and right…I had never played a game online before, much less a shooter, but I got it anyway. I don’t regret the purchase exactly, because it opened up an entirely new world to me.

I just have a–moral? I don’t know if that’s the right word, but let’s say moral–conundrum because I’m having fun but it’s pretty mindless.

When I bought Gears, I only played about 5 minutes of the single player before I went fuck it, and started playing the multiplayer exclusively. Gears 2 I only played because I actually had someone to play co-op with in my dorm. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have bothered, period. Funnily enough, CliffyB says that when Gears fans are polled, they always cite the story as the reason that they play the games. Bad Company 2, never touched the single player. I just can’t be bothered, I know that in the face of my favorite games–most of which are RPGs–these games are rubbish. Admittedly, there are examples of games which can be said to have a good story–Modern Warfare comes to mind. But at the same time you have a franchise like Battlefield, which people buy specifically because of the multiplayer. And games like Modern Warfare aren’t some of the most highly played games on the Xbox because of the single player, but rather because of the immense replayability that the multiplayer provides.

It’s just strange when you stop and think about multiplayer, though: here you are, taking control of the same characters killing the same enemies, over and over again. And in games like Battlefield, where the real point is the multiplayer, it doesn’t matter that the single player attempts to justify, albeit very poorly, spending hundreds of hours online. In MAG, it’s a testament to the war going on in the larger game world, each battle you take part in can give an ‘edge’ to one of the three factions. It just never ends–it can’t, otherwise there would be no game–so it’s literally a perpetual war. In Gears you can have a situation where you’re killing your own buddies from the storyline. What I’m trying to get at here, is that the multiplayer is never justified and it never makes sense.

And it’s not as if ‘war’ can ever really be justified. Being able to justify something like war wouldn’t make this any less morally dubious. I mean, just the other day I made a post about how many ‘deaths’ Bad Co 2 had amassed. The body count, it’s a selling point, a promotional tool. My K/D ratio, something to boast or be ashamed of.

Its ridiculous, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t having fun playing these games. The question, then, would be is there a way to be conscientious about all of this? A way that allows me to have my cake and eat it, too?

And now we have games like Medal of Honor, where EA is consulting actual special force operatives to make the game realistic in the ‘right’ way. Why is this even necessary? I don’t remember games like Goldeneye being wildly popular because they had realistic gameplay. As far as I can remember, Goldeneye was amazing for its time because it was…fun. How realistic or true to real life the game is ultimately has no bearing on how fun the actual mechanics can be. Ultimately making shooting games more realistic just makes the whole genre that much more morally dubious, especially when we consider that developers have moved on from World War II to start depicting modern warfare. This means that we are playing games that depict the very same weapons and locations that are involved in the war that is happening right now.

That being said, how is K/D and bodycount a thing to be proud of?

Interestingly, games like Bad Company 2 do not reward the player solely for getting kills, but also for providing support on the field: repairing, healing, reviving. You can go an entire match in BC2 just going around and reviving people. Hell, you can ‘win’ the round as an attacker on Rush mode without firing a single shot–it’s not likely, but definitely possible. Such mechanics make the game a much more rewarding experience, but I think its garbage that you get just as many points for reviving someone as you do for killing someone. I realize it’s probably a balancing issue, but still, if we were to quantify, isn’t a life worth more than a death?

In an interview with Gamereactor, Splash Damage’s Paul Wedgewood provided context for Brink, citing that to them, the story comes first. “The most important thing for us that no matter how you choose to play, online or offline, there’s a reason why you are fighting against the others in the game. It starts when you create your character and choose which side to play on: Resistance or Security? Resistance are refugees that believe in a society where everything shared by everyone, and that the Security people are violent dictators. If you choose Security you see yourself as someone that are trying to maintain a degree of decency and order in an isolated world that they feel would otherwise crumple into anarchy. For them, Resistance is a group of terrorists. Two very different perspectives. One of ours points with the story is to show how two different groups can believe in what they are doing is the right thing, no matter how terrible and disastrous the result of their actions is”

The clincher comes from a different interiew with Sarcastic Gamer, where Richard Ham reveals that “The important thing to remember about Brink is that there is no difference between offline single player and online multiplayer — no matter how you play the game (solo, coop, or versus)”

And so it becomes obvious to me that there actually is somewhat of a solution to all of this: developers need to fully integrate the multiplayer aspects with the main game. Co-op is the easiest solution to all of this: games like Borderlands and Gears provide an excellent experience in that regard. Brink, however, takes it to the next level and makes the multiplayer completely indistinguishable from the single player. They’re the same thing, grounded in the story. What’s really remarkable about this is that its integrated in such a way that it does not alienate players from picking up the game. You’re getting the same overall package–though perhaps not the same challenge/difficulty–if you play online or offline. As good as MAG might be, they’re still shooting themselves in the foot by making the game online-only.

The danger–and what I think to be the main deterrent for developers in attempting this endeavor–is that it places pressure on creating not just a decent storyline, but one that is complex enough to envelop your multiplayer as well. You can cite the alledged great storyline of Modern Warfare, but I don’t think you can say that it even bothered to explain why you’re playing that death match round. Hell, if this idea actually takes off then the very idea of ‘modes’ would need to be phased out in place of a fully integrated multiplayer component that, like Brink, is indistinguishable from the main game.

Imagine a game where DICE doesn’t get chastised for the shoddy single player–if they figure out how to fully integrate the beauty of their multiplayer mechanics in the world of their single player? MAG had the right idea–giving the multiplayer some sort of context as to why you’re perpetually doing the same things–but in the end, it still ended up as mindless as anything else.

CliffyB says that the future of shooters is RPG elements. I think the FPS community needs to reevaluate if they’ve truly got their heart in the right place.


  1. Fernando Cordeiro

    Bioshock 2 (want to play it, but it haven’t) is said to have a justified (although in my opinion, completely unnecessary) multiplayer.

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