Morality/Play – Being a Baddie in RPGs (aka Evil Is Stupid)

Warning: Contains Spoilers for Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2.

It's like a choose your own adventure!

I’m a good girl. Well, at least in my gaming I trend towards playing a lawful good type character. Most RPGs have some sort of morality decision: play one way and you are a good guy, play it another and you are a bad guy. Pretty straight forward. Typically I play a defensive type of player with a heart of gold, even if I steal your stuff.

But once I am done my “nice guy” playthrough of a given RPG, I try it the other way around and I attempt to break out my bad guy persona, but I find it difficult. My good character tends to be VERY good, my bad guy still is a bit good. Why is that?

I wonder if my reluctance to play a bad guy is cause EVIL IS STUPID.  There are two flavours of bad guy. First is the all out baddie. But let’s face it. This type of Bad Guy just doesn’t seem to have many smarts. They leave the Hero in a death machine –  and then leave, secure in the knowledge that the Hero will escape dramatically die painfully. They weave these intricate webs of deceit, yet can’t seem to understand that if they invested a tenth of that cash into the most conservative investments they would have more money than they know what to do with. You could sacrifice a one thousand year old, loyal,kick-ass warrior for a devious, murderous, sexual predator who is liable to kill off members of your crew. Thankfully, these guys are so stupid that you never play AS these characters. Whew.

Second type of baddie is the “renegade” type of baddie as personified by Commander Shepard in Mass Effect: assuming, of course, you take the Renegade route. This baddie will still ensure that the day was saved, but they are going to shoot to kill, punch out annoying civilians and probably commit a war crime or two. But still, it’s all in the name of saving the day.


Except when they take on every little request and problem that the masses throw at them. You know these side quests. I think of them as “Kitten in the Tree” requests. You are walking by the market when “sniff, sniff… Mister… sniff sniff. Please help. My Kitty is Caught in a Tree!” (Go Save Kitty? Y/N) Of course this is more of a space heist story, so the parameters are adjusted accordingly, but the premise still sticks.

The only difference between the “paragon” (i.e. good guy) reaction and the renegade is that the renegade might be more rude, and may extort a higher reward, but the kitten still makes its way down from that tree. Granted, instead of patting Little Susie on the head, you may punch her in the mouth. But still, this seems to ring hollow. Doesn’t a renegade have better things to do with her/his time?

A true renegade is going to push past the little girl and continue – you know – saving the world from the big bad. But in gaming, there is no benefit to doing that. I only get credit (experience/resources) from doing requests. I can’t get a reward for a non-action, even if a non-action, like not helping save kitty, makes sense to the story and character. And some of these  save the kitty quests are really silly. I am supposed to be assembling the best team in the universe and I offer to find some bigot’s lost credit card. Really? My renegade Shepard is going to spend his time on that?

I wonder if there is a better way. Here’s one idea:

What if as a paragon, I could do all these kitty in tree requests and earn EXP. As a renegade I do none of these. Obviously reality is a blend of the two. My paragon would have an easier time of it through combat scenarios in the real mission. I have gained good karma by helping others, therefore my load is lighter. Fewer grunts to mow down, rooms that are empty. My renegade, on the other hand, would have more combat to get through in the main mission and earn the corresponding EXP.

Basically the payoff is this: more side quests means easier combat. Fewer side quests means more combat. It kind of works: Live by the sword, die by the sword. What goes around, comes around.

Obviously this is fairly simplistic. You could make the kitty in the tree missions interesting, since they often are kind of neat, and you could make some of the combat only scenarios really cool too. Make it more fun than simply more grunts in a room. Certain stretches in combat could be almost puzzle based or something like that. There could be cool and unusual enemies awaiting the renegade Shepard.

What I like is that you can REALLY play the game differently. Currently, with Mass Effect, the only thing that the Paragon and Renegade changes is story events, not gameplay. Some people really like side quests. Some find them a waste of time. This way players can really play the type of game they want to. Two different playthroughs would really be different.

This is one idea. Another is to write it into the story where the universe is more ambiguous. In Fallout 3 and Fable 2, your quest is  selfish: find your father, take revenge for a fallen family member. Yes, you save the day, but the motivations are initially selfish and can be twisted further.

This is a hard one to tackle. How do you make a story that makes sense to be both a bad guy and a good guy?It’s one of the challenges that gaming is sure to figure out in the long run. But what about right now? What games do you believe really make sense to evolve a character as either good or bad? Which ones are doing it right?

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  • SXY BBW  On September 28, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    I’m not sure if I agree with you. My only RPG experience is the Mass Effect series so maybe I don’t have quite a wide a viewpoint as you do. I definitely think there is a difference between paragon and renegade. My normal mode of play is completely renegade. I say what I want, do what I want and don’t apologize to anyone.

    I do see differences in the way the story progresses depending on which route you take. Different relationships emerge. Different people appear in the game because of it. For example in ME1 I killed a lot of the people that I was allowed to in that game. In ME2 a lot of those people aren’t there because of it. My daughter tends to play paragon so I get so see the differences in the game almost side by side.

    Now you are correct that it doesn’t affect the overall game play of ME. You still have to do the same basic missions regardless. One thing that did play a part was the final battle in ME2. If you didn’t gain loyalty of your team not everyone will live at the end. My daughter found that out the hard way. Because she tried to “take the high road” all of the time she didn’t have enough charm or intimidate at a crucial part of the game. The end result was a team mate was not loyal to her. In the final battle she lost 5 members of her crew.

    Now I do wish the differences in game play between paragon and renegade were more substantial. I like your idea of changing up how much combat there is depending on how you play. Perhaps they will do more of that in ME3. I just got my copy of Fall Out 3 so no experience with that one yet. I’ll have to let you know what I think.

  • Tim B.  On September 28, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    In Fable 2 you mission clearly was to own as much real estate as possible and see how many families you could have, lol. Seriously, though, as far as platform RPGs go, KOTOR and KOTOR II were the best. It was so easy to fall to the dark side; force lightning, ’nuff said.

  • 2Belts  On September 28, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    PC RPGs are much more open to letting you play a more ambiguous character. Fallout and Fallout 2 had a karma system but there weren’t any penalties to playing a neutral character either. While I loved KotOR and both Mass Effects you were limiting your character’s development if you didn’t go full light (paragon)/dark (Renegade). Though I did like in Mass Effect that you could earn points on both scales instead of only having the one.

    This is why I loved Dragon Age: Origins so much. Instead of having a quantifiable amount of light or dark you performed actions you thought your character would and those actions would subsequently affect the story and your relationships with the people around you. I really hope this mechanic doesn’t get changed too much in the sequel.

  • Thecommodore64  On October 2, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    I’m glad Dragon Age: Origins has already been mentioned because it’s the clear evolution of the paragon/renegade system. Everything exists as a grey area in this game.
    I’ll give you an example.
    You have to help these wood elves fight these werewolves. Now clearly the elves are good and the werewolves are evil right? Well as it turns out the werewolves were cursed to be werewolves by the leader of the elves… Ah so that guy is the bad guy right? Well as it turns out the werewolves are descendants of humans who raped and murdered the elf leaders wife. Ok now choose a side. Not quite as clear cut as what you would see in Mass Effect.
    That is what made that game special for me. There are good guys and bad guys sure, but even the main villain is a unique character who was somewhat justified in the actions that he took. And choosing to be a “good guy/gal” does not make you universally loved amongst the characters in the game.

  • glamgeekgirl  On October 3, 2010 at 4:19 am

    I usually play nice, so I am lacking some experience to compare. I once started Baldur’s Gate as a baddie, but it totally sucked that every really cool piece of equipment cost you much more. That one is still my only not-yet-finished playthrough of the whole BG series – and I started a lot of them! 😉

    I too would prefer if your choices really changed gameplay. It would probably give me a better reason to delve into my dark side than facial scarring! LOL

  • Falelorn  On October 4, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    I play as both good and evil in my RPG’s and I prefer evil. Good is always so “la-dee-da boring” it seems and evil you seem to have a harder time of things but bigger adventure… I have no problems killing the good guy, or kids, burning down a town, or any thing else which is considered “bad or evil”.

    Most games rarely have a difference between the two choices, which is very lame in my opinion and most of the time when you play a “bad or evil” character you come across more like an anti-hero, than a true evil bad ass who has no problems drowning puppies… or being a politician. Either way its a bit sad that black and white choices is all gamers seem to get at this time.

    If BioWare would let me in to write a Mass Effect or Dragon Age game there would be a larger set of choices and consequences than we see now.

    …many times I have wanted the choice to have Shepard pull out his pistol and shoot someone in the hand, or knee… go all Jack (or Jill) Bauer on someones ass.

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