Moral choice in games has typically been either avoided entirely or treated superficially as a “good or evil” dichotomy. One reason is that it’s easier for developers to program when everything is clearly defined.

Action/RPGs usually fall into the avoidance category. Games like Diablo and Titan Quest plop you into the “hero” role and send you off to save the world by disposing of Foozle.

Some games trick it up by allowing you to be evil, but fail at the end, since good or evil, your character saves the world anyway. The original Neverwinter Nights was one such.

There are a few that provide different endings depending on your being good or evil. Might & Magic VII and Neverwinter Nights 2 are examples. M&M VII is actually better, since the choice comes mid-game instead of at the end, as in NWN 2.

However, in all these cases, there is never any doubt about which side is the “good” one and which is the “bad” one. There are no gray areas. There is no need to stop and consider if the faction you’re fighting for is the “right” one. And then there’s Geneforge 4.

What distinguishes this game is the absence of the traditional “Foozle Fight To Save The World”. For that matter, which side – rebels or Shapers – is “right”, isn’t clear, either.

The Shapers control power that is truly awesome: the ability to create and shape new life. They are also narrow-minded, high-handed, arrogant, and dictatorial.

Still, they recognize the power they hold, and have no qualms about exiling or executing Shapers who go beyond the rules. They have restrictions, and abide by them.

The rebels are after that power. They believe the ability to shape should be available to all, not just a select few. By building “geneforges”, they can imbue individuals with the same power as Shapers.

Allied with the rebels are various intelligent creations. Some, such as the Serviles (originally created to do grunt work) just want to live freely and in peace. Others, like the Drakons, have their own plans.

And, lurking in the background, are the Trakovites, who believe that shaping per se is wrong, that no one should have that power. They would certainly agree with the dictum, “Power corrupts, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely”. They are a passive group, yet are hated and hunted down by both sides.

So the war is on, and you come in on the rebel side as a new recruit. Yet that is only the beginning. An opportunity is available to “side with the Shapers” and be their double-agent in the rebel ranks. Or not, as you please.

As you go through the game, you are exposed to different viewpoints. Rebels explain why they joined the cause. Shapers tell you why “shaping for all” is a bad thing, and why the geneforge is a foul device.

Refugees, burned out of house and home by rebels, Shapers, or both, express themselves on the war. Some don’t like rebels. Some don’t like Shapers. Most are just looking for a relatively safe place to wait out the conflict.

Both the rebels and the Shapers are presented “as-is”. Neither side is painted as either “saints” or “demons”. War is a dirty business. No one’s hands are clean in a war. You decide which hands are the less soiled.

The ultimate decision comes at the very end. By that time, you have a good idea of how things will go, based on your actions. So your choice is a matter of who you believe has the right of it: rebels, Shapers, or Trakovites.

I’ve gone into this so deeply to show that a game can be more than just “Kill Foozle”. That “gray areas” can be presented where the player makes choices by ethical/moral outlook rather than “this is the good guy/bad guy thing to do”.

Of course, some players might find that upsetting. We’re so used to the “happy victory, the world is saved!” conclusion, anything less could be viewed as unsatisfying. After all, we do like to win.

Yet such endings are often just too neat, too simplistic, too naive. One fight, and it’s all over. After so many years of “same-old, same-old”, these finales are really worn out.

Sometimes, it’s good to be reminded that war means making some hard decisions, that it’s a grim business, and that every war has its cost. A little more of this in RPGs could go a long way to freshening up a genre that’s been stultified too long.miniscorp