The Witcher 3 is always praised for its immersive storytelling. For me, part of what makes the game feel so compelling is that the narrative is dynamic. In a dynamic narrative game, the story responds to the player’s actions. I have always loved games like this as they require you to really consider the choices before you and how they may impact the narrative as you play. Some of my favorite examples of these types of games are Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the Fable series, and Jade Empire, just to name a few.
RPG Classic, KOTOR (Knights of the Old Republic)
Despite playing numerous titles like these throughout the years, I never considered how a lot of times these games were, in a way, evaluating my morals. In a journal article in Games & Culture titled ‘Training Moral Sensitivity Through Video Games’, the authors engage in a study of 20 different games and how well they encourage ‘Moral Sensitivity’ on the part of the player. Basically, the authors see a game as excelling at employing MS when it successfully pushes the player to make decisions with regard for the moral implications of their character’s actions and how they align with their own values. In the study, the authors point to a specific quest in The Witcher 3 where the player catches an arsonist who attempted to burn down a blacksmith’s forge in retaliation for his working with the invading army. The player is presented with the choice of turning him in, resulting in his execution, or letting him walk free. The authors see this as a fine example of MS because the player is able to immediately see the results of their actions and the moral ambiguity of the arsonist’s motives encourage the player to evaluate the situation. An additional important thing that the authors failed to mention is that this quest takes place relatively early in the game, so in my mind it kind of the sets the stage for the rest of the game.
The arsonist, after being turned in
It’s interesting to think about how games can be bad at compelling moral sensitivity. For me, a game like Grand Theft Auto doesn’t have great MS. When I play that game I act like a madman and absolutely do not consider the moral or ethical implications of my actions. My goal is to just have fun. However, I think it’s important to recognize that Rockstar, the studio behind the GTA series, doesn’t seem too concerned with encouraging MS. Their games are filled with camp, such as cartoon characters and over the top storylines. In my mind, this is all an effort to disconnect the player from reality so they can act uninhibited by their morals or values. This reveals a key distinction in the goals of TW3 and GTA. A game like the Witcher 3 wants to you to get into the mind of the character Geralt and make the character your own by making him act as you would. A game like GTA wants to provide you with a total escape from reality and your own responsibilities.
A player escapes from reality by beating someone up as Princess Peach in GTA
Playing Around With Morality: Introducing the Special Issue on “Morality Play”
Malcolm Ryan, Paul Formosa, Rowan Tulloch
Games and Culture
First Published October 31, 2017