Dark and ‘Dishonored’
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 22:10
The positive effects of the problem solving capacity of gamers has been well explored. In her TED talk, Jane McGonigal speaks about how this capacity could potentially save the world, and indeed is starting to. Games like “Foldit” have already started to do so. But what about games that present moral puzzles, not logic ones? What can a game with an interactive moral consequence system like “Dishonored” offer to gamers?
Morality in games fascinates me. Although many have accused games of inciting gamers to real world violence, the trend in gaming has been a definite shift away from games of pure violence to games like “Dishonored,” which provide opportunities for moral navel-gazing. Morality isn’t new, of course. “Bioshock,” with its double ending, shows that games have been providing moral dilemmas since at least 2007, but “Dishonored” shows a definite improvement of the idea. The Npcs are becoming harder and harder to kill indiscriminately.
For example, “Dishonored” provides many mechanics to give NPCs more of a human dimension. One item, “The Heart,” whispers the secrets of the NPCs it’s pointed at. I make many decisions using this item. In one instance, I was prepared to let a man live after I heard him lamenting about his cheating wife, but when the heart revealed to me that he was a spy who sold out his neighbors, I felt compelled to kill him. Another game mechanic which lends humanity to the NPCs is the dialogue. In one mission, an ally of yours orders you to kill his corrupted brothers. While he is speaking to you, he is taking fast gulps of alcohol, apparently trying to drown his grief. Dialogue between NPCs is revealing as well; you can hear guards plaintively asking each other for a part of their meal, or worrying about the dangers of a particular trap they are guarding. You realize that the guards aren’t mindless evil minions, but hungry men with families and no other way to provide for them.
Although you play assassin Corvo Attano, there is a way to finish every level without killing at all. There is always an option provided to non-lethally neutralize the target. But this introduces new moral dilemmas. Do you let obviously corrupt politicians who have caused so much misery off the hook? If you kill them, aren’t you just as bad as they are?
The most advanced aspect of the game is its shift away from black and white to more grey and complex morality. But as complex as this morality is, one can still see the holes in it. Isn’t it better, many players argue, to kill the zombie-like plague maddened ‘weepers’ who are liable to attack and infect healthy people? Isn’t it putting them out of their misery? In this vein, wouldn’t disabling “Walls of Light” which quarantine plague devoured parts of the city (and the weepers which inhabit them) be tantamount to bio-terrorism?
All in all, “Dishonored” is a great step in the direction of games which can really enhance people’s perspectives by letting players literally “walk in someones else’s shoes.” However, if you choose to play it, it’s a great multifaceted challenge, which will feel a lot more like an experience.