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Note: Mass Effect 3, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Watchmen spoilers below.
A month ago, I made a decision in Mass Effect 3 that I’m still thinking about. It wasn’t how I handled the genophage situation on Tuchanka. It had nothing to do with choosing between the Geth and the Quarians. It didn’t even have anything to do with my big choice at the end of the game, which would affect the entire galaxy. So what did I do?
I just let some C-Sec dudes tap into private surveillance feeds.
It was an easy choice to make. C-Sec thought they could acquire info on Cerberus (a terrorist organization) informants by tapping into private feeds. They didn’t want to alert any civilian agencies, though. C-Sec couldn’t obtain legal authorization to do it. As a Spectre, I could grant them that authorization. I gave it to them with no hesitation.
In a game where Commander Shepard is supposed to be an avatar for the player, this decision ran contrary to much of what I personally believe in. I’m the guy who shakes his head whenever I hear about an increase in government surveillance. But there I was enabling it.
As long as C-Sec catches the bad guys, it’s okay, right? The whole galaxy rests on my shoulders, and without my decisions the terrorists win. I’m sure some people think it’s perfectly justifiable. After all, C-Sec did end up getting the information they needed. It was almost inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Now how did I handle a bigger crisis?
At the end of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I wanted to tell people the truth about how the Illuminati had some control over their augmentations. I really did but not if it meant scaring everyone away from pursuing technological progress. So instead, I broadcast propaganda that blamed the anti-augmentation purists for the chaos that unfolded. I’m pretty sure the wannabe journalist in me would not approve. He’d find it disgusting, really.
I typically just play as a good guy when given the choice. These decisions were different in that they didn’t influence any kind of “morality meter,” and that’s the best part. It wasn’t as simple as picking the blue text because it’s clearly the “right” thing to do.
Maybe these situations revealed my true colors or maybe not. Either way, these games put me in someone else's shoes, and I made choices that I would normally be extremely critical of.
I’ve experienced cognitive dissonance over these decisions, something I’ve never had from reading text or watching movies. Sure, I empathize with characters in tough situations all the time. Have I ever personally felt guilt from observing them? Never. When Dr. Manhattan killed Rorschach at the end of Watchmen, I was crushed. I had to reread the panels several times before moving on. But I didn’t feel any guilt. I had no control over the situation. How could I feel guilty?
I could just be making a big deal out of nothing. Regardless, the fact that video games lead me toward some introspection has to be worth something.
Games should take advantage of this strength more often. I don’t need my button-mashing skills tested anymore. I’ve had enough practice. I want to be put out of my comfort zone. Test my decision-making skills. Put me in charge of a civilian riot, but don’t tell me if I’m on the good or bad path. Make me find my own path. Make me feel something. Make me learn a little about myself.
What games threw difficult decisions your way? Have you ever been surprised with your reactions? Feel free to comment below!