On the planet of Katina, a third level of Star Fox 64, one is tasked with saving the planet by blowing up a giant identified flying object (it was a spaceship). But I had a different task in mind. My goal was to kill Bill.
The progression of Katina is relatively straightforward. You shoot a bunch of enemies until a giant ship appears which opens hatches releasing more enemies. Once you have destroyed the hatches (or in a certain time period after you’ve destroyed at least one of the hatches), a large needle comes out of the center of the ship which will blow up the planet within some time limit that I never got around to measuring or caring about.
There are two interesting things about this level. The first is that the level can go on for a seemingly infinite amount of time as long as none of the hatches are taken down. The second is Bill. Bill is a side character who shows up in only two levels of this game and his sole purpose is to annoy you during this fight, inform you when the hatches have opened, and steal your missile kills in Sector Z.
One day I decided that enough was enough. Bill had to go. So I came up with a plan. First, I needed to take out the more competent members of my team – Falco and Peppy. Slippy, if left alone, was going to die anyways. But I needed to make sure that no one would harm the ship while I chased down Bill.
Now people tell me that Bill is supposed to be invincible and that is probably true. But after what seemed a lifetime of shooting him, I watched his ship spiral down to the Earth and explode. I had done the impossible – I had killed Bill. Then, moments later, Bill’s portrait popped up on the screen to inform me that the hatches were open. And from then on, I imagined that Fox was constant haunted by the ghost of his slain comrade who only says “the hatches are open” at inappropriate times.
I call moments like these “breaking the game” and, for me, they are what makes being evil in a game rewarding. It is about taking the autonomy the game gives you and the perceived goodness of your character, causing him to act in the exact opposite manner, and still being rewarded.
This is my complaint about moral choice systems in games. They are condescending. They take you away from the true wonderfulness of breaking the game. It’s like if you broke lamps because you were angry so someone just gave you IKEA lamps to break. It takes a lot of the flavor out of the action.
But hope is not all lost. Because you can still break the game in a moral choice system. All you have to do is get evil points for doing good or good points for doing evil. For example, say you are in a game where NPCs can be killed by either you or enemies. Now, if you killed the NPCs yourself, you would get evil points and the condescending pat on the head from the game. But what if you had a family of NPCs follow you into the woods where you know there are monsters ready to pounce. Once most of the family has been converted into monster fuel, you kill all the monsters, thereby protecting the loan boy. You may even get points for being good in this situation. And yet all you actually did was force a virtual boy watch his virtual family get virtually eaten by virtual monsters.
If you have any examples of times you or someone you know has broken a game within a moral choice system, please post them in the comments.