I never believed my moral compass pointed north until I was introduced to the world of “free-choice” video games. Games like “Fallout 3”, “Mass Effect”, and “Red Dead Redemption” allow you to lead your character down a path of good, evil, or neutrality. I can tell you right now, those who pick neutrality have no business playing games like these and need to stick to safe games like “Viva Piñata” or “Pokémon”. “Pokémon” is an awesome game, but there are no moral dilemmas involved. Never has there been an option where you can choose to just bite the bullet, join team rocket and start a Pikachu fighting ring.
Playing these free choice games, you will learn a plethora of things about yourself. If you’re like me and you have trouble starting drama with random characters in a game you’ve been playing for half an hour, then you probably have a heart of gold (i.e. are a huge pussy.) If you are a giant dick to everyone you meet in Makebelieve Land, than you might be a repressed freak who secretly wants to know how people would react to you if you blew up their town or shot a neighbor’s head off just because you felt like it.
In “Fallout 3” when I discovered you could acquire a canine companion, I soon realized that my real life passion for animals translates in the “Fallout 3” world as pathetic and sad. First, I went out of my way to find this dog, who is disturbingly named Dog Meat by the creators of the game. I wasted so much time trying to find Dog Meat and then more time murdering the group of people who were tormenting him. Then, every time my dog would get killed by some asshole raider or mutant, I would pause the game mid-battle and promptly load my last save, because there is no way to revive your dog (which I hope is not realistic). This meant I had to save my game every ten steps because the dog gets killed constantly as it is a dog and not immune to bullets (I had no idea).
The first time my loyal dog was killed by a rabid mole rat, I tried to stay strong and continue playing as though nothing had happened. Something inside me was different, though, emptier. There was less passion behind my murderous cries, less enthusiasm when I looted someone’s dead body. Without Dog Meat by my side, virtual life didn’t seem worth virtual living. Experience points and completed missions were cast aside in favor of reloading the last save point in which I had Dog Meat.
In “Mass Effect”, I discovered that my indecisive love life also translates poorly into the world of video game decision making. I soon found that I had a really hard time choosing which love interest to pursue. For me, it was either the studly manly man, or this weird pansexual alien that I did not find attractive at all. Though I just wanted to be friends with the alien, letting her down gently was one of the hardest things in the world. I think that band 98 Degrees wrote a song about this sort of heartache. Anyway, I kept picking options like, “You’re so cool, I value your friendship…” But then Alien would be like, “So you’re in love with me, that’s so great.” And then I’d just keep trying to be nice and she’d keep not getting the point, until finally I picked a really insensitive option that was like, “I’m actually boning that other dude.” She finally got the hint after I restarted the conversation at least 6 times and got the whole thing right. I thought it was hard for me to clearly define my feelings and articulate my wants and needs in real life, but I never believed that I’d have virtual problems with relationships as well. If I can’t even let a weird alien down without guilt tearing me apart inside, how will I ever tell a real person to get lost?
I’m getting “Fallout: New Vegas” in a week (belated Holiday presents are the best), and I know that my ability to make decisions about being an asshole will again be put to the test. I hope I can rise to the occasion, but I have a feeling that being nasty to people that don’t actually have emotions may still turn me into a total angst machine. Does this reveal deep truths about who I am as a person? Perhaps. Will I further try to examine these truths? No, because I’ll be too busy running around in the Wasteland blowing shit up.