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Choose the Force, Luke February 28, 2006

Posted by joshg in mainstream games, morality & ethics.
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One of my favorite classics is the Star Wars universe game Jedi Knight. In it, you play Kyle Katarn, a rough smuggler type who discovers his Jedi roots just in time to foil a band of Dark Jedi. The series that followed is an interesting example of different ways to approach moral choice within a game.

In Jedi Knight, the player had a Light / Dark rating that was based on how “evil” they behaved during the game. As you gained more ability with the Force, you could choose from various force powers – some of which were neutral, while others were inherently Light or Dark side powers. A “good” character could dabble in the Dark powers, but this would pull them closer to the Dark Side. The player’s Dark / Light rating was also turned towards evil if they killed innocent civilians along the way.

The game has a turning point, where your path is set on either the Dark or Light road permanently. At this point, the game’s narrative branches to one of two paths. Both endings are, essentially, a victory. In this sense, Jedi Knight is similar to Black and White in that it doesn’t frame a moral failure as a game failure. If you choose to be utterly corrupt and evil, the game will still reward you for your behaviour.

Interestingly, it’s actually difficult to get to the Dark Side path. I replayed it specificially to see the alternate ending once, and I had to really go out of my way to blow up those neutral NPCs early in the game to get enough Dark Side to sway the story. So it’s hard to say that the game is neutral on the matter – it’s nearly impossible to accidentally become Dark, whereas you don’t have to do anything extraordinary to end up on the Light path.

The rest of the series didn’t stick to this moral formula, though. In my next post, we’ll take a look at the expansion pack, Mysteries of the Sith.

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