05/04/2012

"But why is this dark side? This shouldn't be dark side!"

The ability to make choices, specifically choices that are associated with a moral alignment, is something new for an MMO, even if it was previously tried and tested in Bioware's single player games. Unsurprisingly, it's a feature that's encouraged a lot of discussion... however, I continue to be disappointed by how extremely superficial many of these discussions are.

"What the hell, Bioware? Everyone can obviously tell that you got the light and dark side options in this quest completely the wrong way round. How dare you give me dark side points for doing what is totally and obviously the right thing to do? My reputation as a good human being is forever tarnished just because you can't tell right from wrong. Seriously, your game sucks."

(As an aside, I don't think I've ever seen a dark side player complain about "unfairly" being given light side points for something they did.)

This is pretty much the general tone of many forum and blog posts that I've seen on the subject of light and dark side choices. Personally I feel that they are missing three important points.

First off, light and dark side points are not srz bsns. It's not going to be a black mark on your CV that you got 300 dark side points while levelling. In fact, did you know that once you hit Light V, all your previously acquired dark side points are erased? (I would assume that it's the same for Dark V and light side.) I was actually kind of disappointed by that because I felt that the dark side points that I had gathered while levelling up my otherwise very light side trooper were part of my character's history so to speak, and I didn't particularly appreciate having that history erased. That aside, you can still nudge your alignment back the other way at any time by doing repeatable quests, flashpoints or using the diplomacy crew skill, so getting a few points in the "wrong" column because you preferred the other story outcome certainly isn't a big deal in the long run.

Actually, your light/dark side points are something that has very little effect on gameplay anyway. I mean, they already took out the colour crystal restrictions based on alignment, and I wouldn't be surprised if they did the same for relics eventually. In fact, you could completely remove the entire light/dark side system and it would hardly change the game at all. You could still make all the same choices; the game just wouldn't keep a running tally of how many people you've rescued vs. how many you've killed. It's really not much more than a measuring stick that allows you to easily compare the totality of different characters' roleplaying experiences. Definitely not something over which anyone should fly into a rage.

Secondly, as far as comments about what's "obviously the right thing" go, I'd like to point out that even real life philosophers don't agree on how exactly to define good and evil. That doesn't mean that we can't have discussions about it, but it does mean that automatically dismissing a moral judgement because you know best and everyone else obviously couldn't do anything but agree is at best very narrow-minded.

And thirdly... it isn't even entirely about good and evil, it's about the Jedi code vs. the Sith code. Yes, the Jedi are the good guys and the Sith the bad guys, but it's not entirely black and white. "Being a good person is not enough to be a good Jedi." For example the Jedi disapprove of romantic relationships, which is why smooching people as a Jedi sometimes yields dark side points, even though few people would consider this an act of evil. So before you dismiss a dark side choice as incorrectly labelled because you don't consider it evil, ask yourself whether it isn't instead a question of what a Jedi considers appropriate.

Now, this... this is where I personally think things get interesting. Are the light and dark side gains consistent with the Jedi code? For reference, the Jedi code, as Satele Shan lectures you on it:

There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.

If you read the Wookieepedia page I linked above, it also has a lot of additional tidbits about what it means to be a Jedi, such as the whole thing about avoiding romantic attachments or defending the weak. To be fair, I do think that most of the decisions in the game align very well with this code. Calmly capture the bad guy or chop his head off in anger? I don't think I need to explain in detail why the former option does fit the light side and the latter is firmly dark side.

However, sometimes you come across a quest that makes you raise your eyebrows because something seems off - and that's something I absolutely agree on with the forum complainers! My personal favourite example of this is a quest from the Sith starting planet Korriban. You find the body of a failed aspirant and return it to his father, who is a temple guard. He's kind of down about the death of his son (unsurprisingly), but not exactly surprised. He then asks you where exactly you found the body, or in other words, how close his son did come to succeeding before ultimately failing. The truth is that the poor sod died almost as soon as he crossed the doorstep of the tomb you found him in. However, you are given the option to lie and make it sound as if he did a lot better than that.

Personally I thought that it was very obvious that the light side choice would be to tell the truth. Jedi aren't supposed to lie, and it's not like there were any excruciating circumstances at work here where lying would save someone's life or anything like that. So I chose to be truthful... and received dark side points. Huh?

On Republic side there is another good example of this on Ord Mantell. An elderly couple asks you to keep your eyes open for their missing son, though he is presumed dead. You find him alive, though he's been brainwashed and turned into a child soldier. You would think that the harmonic, truthful thing to do would be to send him home to his parents, who will be happy to see him alive and make it all better. Nope, you get dark side points for that, and he runs away anyway. I wouldn't swear by it now, but I might have received more dark side points for truthfully telling his parents about his fate as well instead of lying about it. What's going on here? Why is trying to help and being honest a dark side thing?

As I encountered more and more of these quests however, I began to spot a pattern, and one that can be summed up in a single word: compassion. Strangely, this is something that seems to be completely absent even from expanded descriptions of the Jedi code. Yes, Jedi are supposed to help the weak, but the main drive behind this appears to be a desire to "serve the greater good". There's nothing wrong with that in principle, but if there's no compassion involved, you can end up with people reciting "the greater good" in zombie-like voices while disposing of dissenters in most gruesome ways. No, Jedi can't be like that. Jedi have to be compassionate, even if they aren't supposed to be emotional. The game drives this home with lines such as: "Jedi save people, not buildings." It's okay to have some "quirky" rules in regards to relationships, but you can't be completely disinterested in other people's feelings if you want to be seen as the good guys.

However, this does conflict with the whole "being calm and placing the greater good above all else" thing... and suddenly I had my explanation for pretty much every confusing light/dark side choice ever.

Why is it a light side choice to lie to the guard about how his son died? Because it makes him feel better about his son's death, like the little fellow achieved at least something. The lie doesn't harm anyone because it doesn't make a difference to anything else. Personally, I still don't agree that this is more Jedi-like than being truthful, but I can at least see where they are coming from.

Letting the kid on Ord Mantell run away is light side because it means you respect his feelings about wanting to be left alone after all the horror he's had to endure, as opposed to trying to impose your (or his parents') will on him. Again, I still don't agree, because how much can you really trust the opinion of someone whose brain was completely addled only five minutes ago? He's hardly in a state to make well thought-out choices about his future at this point. However, I can see how it becomes more a matter of where you draw the line between doing someone a kindness and doing something that would lead to a bigger benefit in the long term, rather than simply seeing completely clear-cut opposing choices.

At the end of the day, we can discuss what would be the right thing to do all day, but Bioware had to pick one and stick with it. I absolutely do think that some of the choices they went for are debatable and even inconsistent in where they draw the line, but I still believe that its worth trying to understand why Bioware made these choices when they did. It might not officially be part of the Jedi code, but I do agree that light side characters are better off being portrayed as compassionate than not.

11 comments:

  1. The way the game sets up light and dark has been on my mind lately, too. Just hit Pure (Light V) on my main, and began dabbling in light-side Sithery on an alt. Terminal boy scout, I suppose.

    It occurs to me that some of the inconsistencies can be better understood if one adopts two models for light/dark, one for Republic and one for Empire. A Republic character follows the Light if they believe in redemption, avoid specific emotional attachment yet remain compassionate. An Imperial character is Light primarily when they act in opposition to arbitrary, capricious cruelty.

    In the Imperial case, one can find oneself choosing the light-side option in the name of operational efficiency and, frankly, maturity, rather than compassion. IAs know what I'm talking about.

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    1. I suppose you could look at it that way too, though I don't think I've run into any Imperial quests yet where the compassion model wouldn't work to justify the light side choice just as well.

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  2. I dunno. I don't think I have ever heard a compelling argument about the light/dark side split over the trooper medicine quest (e.g. retrieving it for soldiers vs civilians). Or how it's a Light side choice for (female) Imperial agents to sleep with a guy threatening to blow your cover, and a dark side choice to flirt with him but turn down the request/coercion. Those two (and a few others) were the kind of red flags that jumped out at me back during the beta.

    You're right that Bioware has to just pick something at the end of the day, but I think consistency is important. Or at least some sort of acknowledgement, as Soresu is saying, that Light Side means one thing to a Jedi and something else to an Imperial Agent - the latter being graded on a curve.

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    1. I think the medicine quest is about protecting the weakest in society (refugees, children etc.) vs. those in charge of their own fates. I agree that doing that with medicine is not the best example since a sick soldier is pretty helpless as well, but I believe the reasoning behind it is that they at least got to choose to put themselves at risk.

      As for the agent, I think you're basically being given three options to deal with the blackmailer: paying him off, distracting him with sex, or silencing him by killing him. I haven't tried it, but I figured that flirting and then saying no was dark side simply because it still results in you having to kill him.

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    2. Double-checking on the IA quest, there is also a light side option to turn him down after flirting. So it's just a matter of turning him down gently or killing him after all.

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  3. I won't be so hard nosed about them mixing up the light side and dark side options around if it wasn't for this terminal bug with regards to it. Note that this bug does occur now and then and there is no quick fix to it.

    What happens is that there seems to be a fixed amount of points that can be earned in the game. It seems that if you happen to earn 10k points in total (light side and dark side combined) what happens is that your points will stop being added to either side. So for example, you have 9700 light side points, and 300 dark side points. This nets you a total of 10k points and a light side rank of light side 4.

    Now say you wish to bring your total light side points up to 10k so you can get your Pure title. So you run your starting instance a total of 3 times, in order to get 600 light side points. This is in order to overcome your deficit of 300 dark side points and to get an additional 300 light side points to reach 10k light side points net.

    What then happens is that the game does not recognize this addition of light side points at all. Note that this bug occurs on a few clients, but not all clients. Nobody seems to know what triggers it. It also does affect the social points being gained.

    So what is the quick fix for this being posted on the forums? well it is to always choose the side that you wish to work towards. This is to avoid encountering the bug at all.

    So yes, it is a bit of a valid concern if you are really looking forward to light side 5 but not being able to do so because of this bug

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    1. Erm, maybe I'm misreading your comment, but when you talk about "them mixing up the light and dark side options" it sounds like you think that the devs simply made a mistake, with the whole point of my post here being that they didn't.

      And while the information about this bug is interesting, my point stands that missing out on one of many titles is hardly a game-breaker. Not to mention that you're then still dealing with a bug and not an issue with the morality system itself.

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  4. Think of that Korriban quest in terms less of truthfulness but of projecting weakness. Sith hate to appear weak, and if you are weak and don't tell the truth, you get light side points due to your weakness.

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  5. Personally, I think a lot of the debates around light / dark side (or paragon / renegade in other Bioware games, which I am more familiar with) is misplaced. There were a few SWTOR quests I also thought were "off". I have seen them discussed, one in particular by Nils, and usually it is possible to "lawyer" a rational explanation out of it.

    But (for me) that misses the point. Whether my character is a good guy, or a bad guy (always a good guy btw), is part of my immersion. When I try to be good, and have done the right thing, and the game then flashes up "YOU R EVIL!", it breaks my immersion. I am less convinced by the game. I feel things have gone out of character.

    This just means a less immersive and less enjoyable game, just as if in a film, if a character did something that appeared very out of character, it would break your enjoyment of the film.

    I think positive and negative points can work well for a faction, or an allegiance, to me that works well. But having played a lot of Bioware games, on balance, I think that trying to "gamify" something as crucial as whether you are a nice or nasty person is possibly bad game design. Maybe that is an aspect that shouldn't be gamified at all, and shouldn't have a score. Maybe it's better just to have all these options, and let the player decide whether he was a "good" or "bad" person. When I play an MMO or RPG, it's my character, my decisions, I know whether I was working for the greater good or not. Sure, give me bad consequences if I make the wrong choice, but don't tell me I had bad thoughts in my head, when I'm as pure as the driven snow (in-game at least!).

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    1. I can kind of get behind that. I haven't played the Mass Effect series, but the Dragon Age games have no alignments associated with your actions and I certainly never missed them. My characters are just who they are.

      On the other hand I can see why Bioware wanted to include this feature in SWTOR because light and dark side is an important theme throughout the movies so it's really something that fits the setting. They could definitely tone down the glowy effect of your choices though; to be honest I find them distracting even if they are the colour I want them to be. :P

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  6. alright to end all of this! this game is based off of star wars. alignment is very important in the game and that is why it is in there. all throughout star wars lore there is fallen jedi redeemed sith and greys. thats that and the end of it. this was about tor so keep it there. secondly, you are looking at the quest all wrong especially on korriban. in star wars it doesnt matter what you personally see as good or evil, but what "the force" is defined as. the force is a unique form of existence that can be manipulated in many ways. there are so many force traditions that it would be annoying to count, and they all have there different tenants to live by. simply put, the moral choices in this game are like in real life, based on how someone lived their life will base how they see right from wrong. if you are a soldier from birth to death you will see violence different than a hindu. so it is for us to assume as non imbeciles that all people still have varying degrees of morality. i have played most of the way through each race and based on what i have played, if you are a jedi your ls/ds will be based on the jedi code, a sith will be based on the sith teachings or traditions, a trooper will be based on what they were trained is correct and so on and so forth. that is all you need to know. role playing is more than having all of your characters think exactly as you do and to think they do is ignorant. when making a character picking a class is picking a background. follow your characters future while remembering the past you gave him and it will make the game more fun and give more interesting develpoments.

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