It’s time to Ramble On.
As I sat in a comfy chair last night, wearing my free Dragon Age t-shirt acquired at PAX ’07, and playing through the opening scenes of Mass Effect 2 (my Mass Effect t-shit was, unfortunately, in the laundry) I cringed as a notice popped up about earning +4 to my Renegade rating. I stopped for a minute reviewing the conversation I, or rather Commander Shepherd, just had. I didn’t recall saying anything particularly “bad.” I let the moment of sick panic pass and pushed onward secure my good deeds would erase whatever slight misstep I had taken.
You see in every Bioware game I’ve ever played I’ve always been good. Multiple play-throughs of Baldur’s Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, etc. All good. I’ve tried to play evil. I have, really. But something always stops me short. A sick sensation in the pit of my stomach as I lie, cheat and extort. A cold sweat that breaks out as I exploit the weak or turn my back on the downtrodden. I always abandon the efforts, returning to my goody two-shoes tendencies. With Mass Effect 2 there is a faint curiosity that pulls me towards the glowing orange of the Renegade. Part of it is a function of story. I died. I was brought back. Two years of my life are gone. The world around me has changed. But, have I? Distrust still exists amongst the various races. The Alliance left me for dead but Cerebus, whose scientists I slaughtered as a Spectre, brought me back. The Council sits on its hands unable to act while humanity is threatened. They’ve turned a blind eye towards the threat the Reapers represent. Did my old tactics of cooperation and open handed assistance even matter?
I repeat, I’m only three hours into the game. Maybe it’s nothing Bioware did. Maybe it’s me. But I find myself, more than any other game recently, involved on an emotional level with what’s happening. But I find myself wishing that Bioware made it harder to know precisely how my actions will affect my “alignment.” Perhaps it’s a holdover from earlier games but more so than any other time I could remember I wish the game would let me just choose without the knowledge of precisely what the nature of those decisions might be. Mass Effect’s Paragon/Renegade alignment system is fascinating but the foreknowledge of how your words and actions will affect that scale robs me of a certain level of investment in the preceding. The system is visible, allowing me too much leeway to telegraph my actions to reach the outcome I desire. The decisions don’t really feel like mine.
I still don’t know why I can’t be evil. You see. If you have ever gamed with me at the table you might be surprised to learn about my inability to be even the slightest bit mean. Scratch that. You would definitely be surprised to learn that. Truth be told, you might even refuse to believe me at all since absolutely none of my tabletop D&D characters has ever been GOOD. Ever.