Bad person has taken your girlfriend/spouse/waifu pillow and has her hanging in a potato sack on the perch of one building; also has kidnapped 10 doctors and has them hanging on the top of a different building. You can only pick one group to live and the other falls 30 stories onto the concrete pavement below, which would you pick?
Doing what you want to do and doing the right thing is tricky. You have your own selfishness involved, not wanting to lose something that’s yours, having something taken away from you, but what about the needs of the greater good or the needs of the the person that you want to rescue? What about creating a simulation so you can walk through your choice and see the potential consequences of such a choice?
Real life doesn’t let you play it out. You get only a handful of moments in life that can ultimately change how those around you view you and how you view yourself. While I doubt most of us have to make such a dramatic decision in our lives, we do face conflicts on a smaller scale and we live out the consequences of these choices daily. Do we focus on ourselves or the greater needs of others. Turn the other cheek and forgive or broodingly plan out our revenge.
Games at least let you live out these kinds of choices and the consequences that they bring.
For your choices to matter, they need to have meaning; your choices need to affect the world and how you interact with it, consequence. Your choices need to affect the story or how others choose to interact with you. Many times this is illustrated or coupled with a morality system, something which is debatably useful on many games. Infamous, Bioshock, Mass Effect, bleep blap bloo — so many games use some sort of “morality” to illustrate the severity of your choice, but most of the time your choices had nothing to do with being or wanting evil or good. Your choices were an affirmation of what you wanted for your player-character and those around you and labeling those choices as good or evil is a bit silly because it rarely involved any sinister thoughts in mind. And you’re strictly punished from swaying from any moral inconsistency in these game by locking out ways to make the player stronger, skills and buffs and whatnot.
Being a selfish dick in the beginning means you’re the next Stalin-Kahn ready to conquer China, India and most of the Asian continent so you must always choose dickitry over any other choice, lest you want to be weakened in the end for your inability to stay the course. You can’t sway from being a dick, even for a moment. Cat’s crossing the road must be squashed. People walking in front of you, slaughtered for even thinking of coinciding in the same plane of existence.
If you have a moral position, you can’t falter with your human emotions, or else you’ll never be the person the story expects of you. This is completely how emotions work, right?
If the whole moral system was hidden from the beginning at the game then it wouldn’t be about moral choice but about personality, motivation and intentions.
Take Infamous, for example: at the beginning of the game when you first get your powers, your city is in lockdown and rations from a dropship get stuck at the top of a building. You parkour your way up and get the food and medicine free and are given the choice to horde the spoils for yourself and friends or share with everybody. Apocalyptic Survival scenarios teach many to develop a tribe mentality, looking out for ones own group; but all of these people need to be able to survive as well. No paragon hero super-saint in mind, you’re just trying to look out for you own people. If you choose to horde, your girlfriend scolds you to the point of eternal couchsurfing but when you do choose to share, she praises you for it. Your best friend accepts whatever choices you make, regardless of the consequences. While having someone who unwittingly backs your decisions is nice so you never feel alone in regretting the consequences that your choices bring, but it never feels balanced because you only have a good-conscious and a neutral one. Infamous always pushes your player-character to the “good”-side, because of the inherent idea of good-bad rather than personality-style.
Infamous 2 gave choice less one-sided-ness by having people advocating for both sides of the argument. Listening to either the Angel and Devil on your shoulders meant one was going to hate you for your choices, but the other was going to praise you for it. It not only focused on a you vs the world that the first game focused on, but an Us (Conduits – people with powers) vs Them (Normal people), making your choices have personal meaning instead of only a strongly implied morale one.
Games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect at least have both forms of consequence present in the game, morale and personal. There is good and evil that you can do, but there is also choices that affect your relationship with the characters around you. Do you gain their approval because you talk back to a coalition that they despise? Do you gain distrust from someone looking for vengeance because you would take the diplomatic approach in dealing with a rivaling colony. Your choices aren’t just about morality but about how your choices fit in with the intentions and motivations of those around you.
Or you can say that the current implementation of morality and choice is a statement on just how easy it is to go on the path of evil and good. Being able to take yourself and your motivations out of the problem that makes you the pastor-saint of nobility. Making only choices that benefit yourself when you’re the one with power instead of thinking about what those around you need will lead you to being the next dickbag of the neighborhood/city/country. But that’s a bit extreme, your small choices determining your overall morale standing, don’t you think?