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In-Game Morality

Apr 16, 14 In-Game Morality

What does it mean for your character to have morals? At the most basic level, it means playing your character and having them make their decisions as if what they were dealing with were actually happening to them. In tabletop role-playing games, the idea is to role-play. To imagine yourself as this other person that you have created using the rules you have been presented with and experiencing through them the fantastic. Still, no matter how solid the rules or immersive the story, there is still only so far one’s imagination will normally take them. Nothing changes the fact that you are still sitting in a room with a bunch of your friends, telling stories, and rolling dice. This is what makes it easy to slip into “gaming mode” where you start making your decisions not based on what your character would do, but what you would do because this is a game.

Let me give you an example. In Shadowrun there is this sport called Urban Brawl. In Urban Brawl, you send people into a desolated part of the city, you litter the area with weapons, vehicles, and gear, and you give them an objective. It might be a race from one side of the map to the other. It might be to kill every other competitor. It might be to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. I have seen Urban Brawl played out in many different ways. It’s bloody, it’s gruesome, the rewards are always big, and as a game it is a lot of fun to play.

Enter a group of shadowrunners. This group kills when they have to, but for the most part have made it a point only to take lives as a last resort. Most often they fight corporate security goons, you see, and those are just men and women doing their jobs. They have families to go home to. Lives. This team has fought tooth and nail to hold on to their morals and thus far have done a really good job of it.

The Storyteller has an idea for a session in which the characters are hired to take part in Urban Brawl. Their mission is gain information from one of the contestants and the only way to do so is to get in there, find him, and get the information from him. If they also happen to win Urban Brawl, all the better for them as that will yield a much higher payday. Still, in Urban Brawl you are expected to kill. You have to in order to survive. So, what are these characters going to do?

This is where you, the players, need to make a choice. Do you stick to your character’s morals or do you let yourself be taken in by the play. Urban Brawl can be a lot of fun, after all. It’s always full of great action, fun new gear, and a really fast-paced thrill ride. On the other hand, doing so will mean taking lives, which goes against something that has been a major point of your character’s development thus far. It may sound like there is a right and wrong answer here, but there really is not. Both options are perfectly viable. Tabletop role-playing games are meant to be fun and Urban Brawl can be a lot of fun. Whether you would chose to participate in the blood sports is up to you.

As for my group, who came across this exact scenario, they turned down the job. Holding on to their ethics was more important to the characters than the money or the information. As players, this was a tough call, and that was the point. If having good ethics and morals were easy to follow, everyone would. When you chose to play such a character, you will likely have to make some tough calls. This in itself is a very rewarding sort of role-playing. These tough decisions will come to define your character to both you, your fellow players, and to the world your character exists in. Being proud of the decisions that your character has made goes a long way in making that character stand out as a hero.

As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good gaming.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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About 

Joshua is a freelance writer, aspiring novelist, and avid table-top gamer who has been in love with the hobby ever since it was first introduced to him by a friend in 1996. Currently he acts as the Gamemaster in three separate games and is also a player in a fourth. When he is not busy rolling dice to save the world or destroying the hopes and dreams of his players, he is usually found either with his nose in a book or working on his own. He has degrees in English, Creative Writing, and Economics.

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  • Caleb Shaffer

    I have to admit. There have been a great many times, for me, where it’s been hard to get into the role with some parts of a game because my mind constantly reminds me “it’s just a game.” I try to go with what the character would do based on their life and experiences so far in the game, but it’s a struggle sometimes for sure. I’m usually reminding myself “it’s just a game”, so I don’t take it too seriously; because I just want to have fun with my friends.

    • http://blogs.redorbit.com/category/blogs/miracles-of-the-modern/ Joshua Garrett

      Of course, and having fun with your friends is – at the heart of it – the most important part of any role-playing game. There is a balance between reminding yourself “its just a game” and “what would my character actually do” that every player must reach, and it is going to be different for every player. Again, some players really get into the ethical dilemmas and the drama of the game while others remain perfectly content to just kick down doors, kill monsters, and take there stuff. Sure, we all have preferences to which we think is the “better” form of gaming, but honestly both are good. As long as people are having fun, that is what remains most important.