I sat, squirming in my seat as one of my many demo meetings petered out, wondering at what we... no. At what they had done! A father, a husband, suddenly gone because of a sick crowd's decision.
EA's Army of Two: The 40th Day demo started innocently enough. Talk of new features peppered the live demo as a room full of journalists and fans watched Salem and Rios running and gunning through Shanghai as distater shook the city to its core. One of the new features in EA Montreal's sequel comes in the form of co-op morality moments. We watched Rios and Salem comes across a weapons locker. As the scene played out, the mercs opened the locker and prepared to stock up on needed guns and ammo. Suddenly, a dumpy security guard scampers in on them, gun drawn, and asks them what they're doing. At this point, the course of action was put to a vote: walk away with no extra ammo or confront the guard and take the guns to empower the game's central characters. We were told that there'd be a negative consequence to the latter option. As hands went up in the air, I piped up to say that the guard was just doing his job and that he shouldn't have to suffer as a result of that. Most people voted to take the guns and the appropriate button was pressed. A tense exchange with the guard ensued and Salem didn't nothing more than swat the guard's gun hand away from them. But that alone caused a shot to squeeze off, which ricocheted off a wall and drilled through the guard's head. He slammed lifelessly to the ground and a brief montage of a grieving woman's hand holding his gun, badge and photo moved across the screen. Shaking my head, I tuned out the ret of the demo. Afterward, I asked EA's Reid Schneider if a further consequence would involve the bereaved woman trying to exact vengeance against Salem and Rios. Nah, he said, the montage was the only in-game follow-through of that horrible choice.
Later, as I watched the Star Wars: the Old Republic demo, deja vu struck. A Sith Lord and Bounty Hunter class character faced a similar plot point: force the starship captian to pursue the larger ship that would likely blast them to bits or kill him and make sure that the Sith Master's wishes were fulfilled. Another vote from me to spare the poor wretch, another tally, another death. The consequences were less dire, as a power-hungry second-in-command jumped into the captain's role and proved herself eager to please. But, still, I felt queasy being in a room where people voted a death into being.
Call it a ripple effect from Bioshock or a sign of a psychological fascination, but it seems like the idea of moral choice has gone from being a rising trend in action games to a staple of the feature set. The problem with making moral choice a widespread mechanic is that morals change and vary according to personality, background–and some might say–situation. The black-and-white polarity may make certain plot beats in various games more memorable, but just may make the cost of extra thrill a little too steep.