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What Choice Do I Have?

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     I am not a murderer.

     I’ve killed countless individuals, watched them fall with blank eyes and a twisted smirk of triumph permanently plastered to my face. I’ve seen their bodies lie ruined in the wastelands, seen the heat rise from their stiffening limbs and their blood collect with the dirt. I’ve heard their final cries, heard a breath of noise escape lips already possessed by rigor mortis. I’ve looked into their eyes and seen the panic, the *fear* that so possesses them in that penultimate moment of dawning realization.

     I’ve made choices, many of which I shouldn’t be proud of.

     Why, then, am I not a murderer?

     In my hands — not a gun, but a controller. In front of me — not a bomb-pitted wasteland, but a flat screen, those images separated by a wall of hard plastic and fiber optics.

     I am a gamer.

     But does that truly exempt me from any and all moral guilt?


     A while ago, I had the pleasure of, for once, thoroughly enjoying a game, going by the name of *Phoenix Wright: Justice for All*. I was so enraptured by the story, so captivated by the characters, that when it came down for the climax of the game to reach its peak, I was ready.

     I took my time. I looked at the choices that lay before me: Guilty or Not Guilty. I weighed my options: a guilty client, the threat of my partner’s death should I accuse the defendant, the horror of a murderer walking free should I vindicate him. I took the situation as if I were there, carefully analyzing the pros and cons of each decision.

     After a good fifteen minutes, I made my choice. I waited, waited for the consequences or the dismal benefits. I waited for my reward or my punishment.

     Instead, I got [an interruption][1], one that sent the trial in a completely different direction. I realized, then, [how little my choice really mattered][2], how it all played out to the developers’ liking in the end, all happyhappyjoyjoy.

     I lost all immersion I had in the game, and played out the end with bitter apathy.


     The game reviews poured in, and my interest piqued. Dishonored: a suitable title for a game all about your reputation soiled, your life irrevocably altered for the worst. The game, when it was presented, seemed to [revolve around choices][3]: you could sneak in or run in guns blazing; you could slit a guard’s throat or knock him unconscious; you could play good cop or bad cop, so to speak. As your choices piled up, the outcome of the game would shift with the level of chaos you had caused.

     But after playing the game, I found that it wasn’t as complex as I had hoped.

     It’s all based around a point system: the “chaos” measure. The more you kill, the higher the chaos level, and the more likely you’d get the “bad” ending. The less you killed, the lower the chaos level, and thus the more likely you’d get the “good” ending. Once you get down to the basics, the game doesn’t really look so innovative– it’s just kill or don’t.

     The only pang of guilt I ever truly felt was for letting my chaos level get too high. I stepped over slumped bodies with ease, sometimes throwing them into the dark and laughing at their arcs.


     It was night. The bright screen of my laptop filtered through the darkness, a steady constant amongst my moral turmoil.

     I stared.

     [The Batter or The Judge][4]. What a cruel twist, to have my choices given such seemingly light weight by their names. I was practically glaring, trying to find some way out, something that could tell me I hadn’t done what I had just done.

     But I had, and I still had to make a choice. I closed my eyes tight and went with my gut. I felt a sharp pang of remorse, watching the ending I had chosen play out to its bitter end. I felt responsible, like *OFF*’s events were my fault.

     Was it truly better that way?


     “[Choice][5]” is a buzzword for us — throw it out there when presenting a game and you’ve got miles of people waiting on line, a sparkle in their eyes revived from the last encounter. The word is [tossed around so easily][6] nowadays, it becomes difficult to pull out the gems from the pile of fabrications. One particular gem that quickly captured the interests of many is *The Stanley Parable*.

     If you aren’t too familiar with it yet, check out [this flow chart][7]. It lays out all of the possible endings and the pathways to get to those endings. From first glance, the wide scope of choice is clear. But taken at a basic level, *The Stanley Parable* is primarily composed of simple, spur-of-the-moment decisions: the [left door or the right door][8]? The [“Escape” sign or the path instructed][9]?

     Obey or disobey? That’s what it all narrows down to — this, then, must be the game’s purpose, to dare the player to take a different path than what the game wants you to do.

     But that isn’t everything, is it? As you find each new ending and play through all the possible scenarios, you start to piece together an odd portrait and more and more questions arise: who is Stanley? Who is the narrator? What is this game, exactly?

     I could go on for hours, just asking questions the game could answer — but I wouldn’t get any of the answers I’d be looking for.

     That’s the thing about *The Stanley Parable*: it gives you the freedom to choose your path, and through that the ability to ask questions about the game. What it doesn’t give you is any concrete answers.

     Can any one of us truly say, without a doubt, what the purpose of *The Stanley Parable* is? We can debate, discuss, argue, throw things (not [from any stairs][10], I hope), but can we reach a conclusion that satisfies everyone?

     *The Stanley Parable* is a game one must interpret for oneself — you, as the player, must find your own answers. And it’s awfully difficult.


     Shooters are a simple breed of games — shoot, kill, win. Getting down to the basis like that makes it all seem very … primal. But what happens when a moral choice, one that is pure and almost entirely unbiased, sneaks its way into a popular shooter and manages to cause uproar over its controversial content?

     You’ll remember *Modern Warfare 2*, way back in 2009? You might not remember the airport scene, though. No, not the multiplayer map, the *[mission][11]*. You know, the one where you’re with a group of Russian terrorists and you shoot up crowds of civilians?

     Do you remember way back at the start of the game, my fellow *COD* gamers, when a little warning popped up? Looked a little something like [this][12]?

     Why was that warning there, you wondered. What could possibly be so disturbing so as to add an explicit warning about it at the start of the game?

     And why, if all achievements were removed, if the option to skip the mission was given at almost every point before and during the mission, and if, even if you chose to complete the mission, you didn’t have to fire a single bullet — why include the level at all?

     Besides its connection to the main storyline, there was no real need for the mission to exist, besides those (hopefully) rare few who actively enjoyed the murder spree. It’s almost like the mission never existed.

     But it did.


     Torture isn’t something you’d usually encounter in a game — killing, yes. Any and all forms of murder weapons are provided for ease of access in a large number of video games, but torture? Torture itself is taboo, sure to bring on swarms of unsettled and upset individuals to cry out at the mere mention of the word.

     But there is one game where you can find — and play out to the fullest extent — torture at (for lack of a more delicate word) its finest. In a *Grand Theft Auto 5* mission titled “[By the Book][13]”, you are able to choose your method of torture (pliers, gasoline, a sledgehammer, an electrocution device — what variety!) and enact whichever you chose on an unarmed victim.

     I’m not going to link to any videos, as it’s probably distasteful, but you get the idea. Now, the *GTA* series has been known for their tendency to toe the line with a bout of satire, but many have said that, in this case, [they’ve crossed it][14]. But is that the real issue here?

     I’m not saying that their inclusion of a violent torture scene isn’t a problem, but there’s something worse than that:

     You have no choice.

     You *have* to play this scene. You *have* to choose a weapon, torture your victim, keep him alive with adrenaline shots. You are forced into this mission and there isn’t any way to skip it, before or during.

     Who, then, is the true perpetrator: you? Or the developers themselves?


     For a moment, a fleeting, almost ghostly feeling passes through me as I mash the trigger button, always with those blank eyes that don’t — *cannot* care. I watch crowds of bodies fall and I cannot care. I see the blood spurt, briefly, and I cannot care. I run past them, over them, on my way to the next batch, and I cannot care.

     You may call me heartless, but I simply ask why. Why should I care about a constellation of mini-pixels behind a sheet of plastic? Why should I invest any of myself into feeling *guilty*, into feeling *sorry*?

     Should I feel guilt? Should I feel horrified when I press a button and watch a simulated response? Should I hear my heart audibly breaking when a computer-assigned “ally” falls, only to reappear in the next mission without a scratch on their visual code? Should I feel *sorry*?

     Should my actions have consequences? Should a game reaffirm my moral compass, or perhaps shake it to its roots? Should I feel *remorse*?

     *Why should I care?*


     We know the answers.

     It just takes something more to admit it.

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What Choice Do I Have?