Thursday, August 23, 2012

Video Game Morality and Love Triangles

Still continuing from some earlier thoughts. Mild spoilers are possible. Read ahead at your own risk.

In my last post, I was talking about the games Infamous and Infamous II, and the in-game incentives to play as either a very good Good Guy, or a very bad Bad Guy.

Infamous also II sets up a situation that might charitably be described as a love triangle, with the main (male) character, Cole MacGrath, associating with Agent Kuo, who brought him down to New Marais in order to increase his power so he could defeat The Beast; and with Nix, whom he encounters soon after arriving in New Marais. Agent Kuo represents the forces of law and order, at the very least, and generally encourages Good behavior: she's the one who compliments you when you interrupt a mugging or stop to heal people, and her missions are oriented towards promoting trust and building goodwill with the general population. Nix, on the other hand, is deeply bitter, and doesn't see why you should care about the ordinary people at all; as far as she's concerned, the people without powers should learn their place. She compliments you when you beat down the police, take blast shards from powerless civilians, and generally impose your will on the least of these.

Now, this particular setup is something of a cliche, though I'm more accustomed to seeing it done with a Good Guy and Bad Boy that a heroine must choose between. Even so, it doesn't really bother me; the female characters are both characterized well enough to be interesting entirely on their own merits. But it's interesting that the game designers chose to set things up this way: not only do you have a little morality meter, but you're also interacting with women who, at least on one level, personify the good and evil paths. Was the morality meter (and its associated powers) not enough to emphasize the nature of the choice between good and evil? Or was this a convenient way to make the super-powered women distinctive? I suspect it's a little of both.

It's probably also worth noting that the "love interest" in the first Infamous game is MacGrath's girlfriend Trish, who doesn't have powers and spends most of the game being estranged from Cole because of his role in the Empire City explosion. Spoiler: she doesn't survive the first game, making her another potential addition to the Women In Refrigerators list. But there is, at least potentially, a troubling subtext there: in order to be a worthy love-interest for MacGrath, you have to have powers, too. For this storyline, Trish can be a sacrifice to build Cole's character, but she can't survive to play a role in the ongoing story.

And... this is still kind of incomplete, but I think I need to finish the game and see the Evil Side ending before I come back to it. So, thanks for you patience.

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