Life and Death Choices & Consequences

So… I’m probably kinda weird in this, but I really like games that don’t assume you’re ok with killing people, and instead actually give you the option to avoid it if possible. I know there’re a lot of different ways of doing this in mainstream games that often are really gimmicky and gamey, but I specifically want to talk about choice games and interactive fiction, because without graphics or conventional styles of gameplay these games can only really create a sense of verisimilitude through their story telling.

Most games have different choices between a more or less violent approach, using various nonviolent means to achieve the same ends. Some even explicitly give the option to avoid killing an enemy combatant should violence occur. What seems to be particularly rare though, is when making a choice determining the life or death of an NPC has actual long term consequences for the story. I can understand why this is the case. If you choose to spare an enemy and then they go on to be a significant character in the story you’re basically writing something that anyone who doesn’t choose that more merciful option would end up missing entirely. It’s a lot more work that will be wasted if people don’t bother to replay your game. On the other hand, this adds massive value for people who do tend to replay games. They go through a second time only to find out that the choice they made actually did in fact have a significant impact on the story.

There’s also of course a middle ground, like in Hero of Kendrickstone where the choice doesn’t ultimately significantly affect the plot but does give you some nice extra dialogue later on.

So yeah, what do people think about this subject. I’m not a writer myself, so I don’t really know how much work goes into these different things. Obviously in an ideal scenario I’d love for the choices I make it games to have a significant impact, after all, if you kill someone then you can’t ever interact with them again, whereas if you don’t you can, and if they’re some desperate bandit robbing people to make a living it’s obviously going to be a very different scenario than a hardened soldier full of conviction or a mercenary sent to assassinate you. But on the other hand if you’re not trying to tell a story specifically about that choice, it’s a lot of extra work to do, I would imagine.

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I am okay with that it goes with the plot. If you are playing a game about being a killer or a slayer not kill will be plainly foolish.

I normally hate when many games do think by default that I am reluctant to kill and I am really sorry for the Generic npc.
When my stats are 100 Evil and i have burnt-out villages.
If the story is not leaning towards a moral spectrum The player should be presented with a variety of choices to reinforce the player agency,

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Takes a deep breath for a long all over the place rant, as usual

There’s two different questions here:

From a design perspective, it’s limited to how much individual authors are capable of themselves. While I’m confident that most and myself included would love to give players all possible options, the scope of what’s feasibly doable has it’s limits. It’s easy for writers to burn out where they overextend with too ambitious projects, which is something I’m guilty of myself.

As a moral stand point…that all depends. Not everyone is born with the same value system. What some people may see as morally wrong isn’t necessarily going to be how everyone feels. Which is my biggest problem with most moral systems since a lot of the time it feels more of what the author considers good than what may objectively be good. If I was going to impose my own value system it would be something along the lines of:
1 Loyalty above all else.
2. Justice is more important that sparing the evil necromancer, just because he pinky-promises not to do it anymore, or just because he has a tragic past. It doesn’t change the fact his actions until that point did have real consequences and were harmful to others. All sparing the villain really does, is inflate someone’s own ego so they can hold onto their ideals of a good person, when in actuality, they are still indirectly responsible for all the wrong doing that person does because they gave them the opportunity.
3. Justice and kindness are almost always mutually exclusive even if they are both considered traits of “good” people.
4. It’s actually okay to refuse to help the token asshole party member, if all they’ve done is be the destructive, rude, and over-edgy member of the group. If they didn’t want help before, they aren’t getting it now just because they need something. That’s not friendship.
5. Party members should be allowed to get revenge on the person who did something in their side quests. Games always want to tell you that they are wrong for doing it, and yet the mc wasn’t there to actually witness any of the events or how much they hurt that particular member, but it’s just assumed they should always be willing to forgive all of it.

The point of that list, isn’t about whether or not people agree with it. I actually expect most don’t. That’s the point itself. Their might be one or two points that they can agree with, but most aren’t likely to be willing to get entirely behind my way of thinking. Which there in lays the issue.

It’s worth mentioning that I follow taoist beliefs, so I don’t really buy into a morality system for the real world. The general belief is that everyone needs to be left to draw their own conclusions and follow what they believe in and we aren’t required to understand what it means to them. Clear cut morals for everyone don’t exist. Definitions are always dependent. Death in itself isn’t even wrong. People themselves apply the meaning to it, to make it evil.

And for those especially curious, I fall under chaotic neutral according to online quizzes. I don’t know how neutral I am about most things, but most can’t argue that I am very chaotic.

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In fact, I don’t share absolute any of your morality as a game design (not real life) Because of that would mean Only roleplay tied hardcore lawful characters when I role absolutely all contrary and have absolutely no fun play lawful characters.

And that’s key that if we are designed a game that includes agency and RPG moral style.

We should make a balanced system except for the game being based on a fixed character with determined past. If that is not the case game should be neutral and allow a balanced myriad of choices.

Because no single person play exactly the same morality so give a little agency will double the player attachment with the gamebook

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Ideally, all choices would lead to potentially interesting consequences, but as you noted, that has to be balanced against how much author effort can be put into the game. So I’d use a couple of guidelines:

1: Don’t invalidate a player’s choices. There can be bad choices (and, okay, maybe a couple of clear joke choices - like killing Lloyd at the beginning of Star Captain) but all choices should be workable in a potential path through the game. Sometimes that path leads to death, of course.
2: Ideally, in a choice like “kill or spare,” create interesting consequences for either option. If you kill the guy, he might have relatives who want a word with you later! Make as many minor branches as there are options.

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Well as far as killing/murder affecting a protagonist, it depends on the character of course. If you’re starting the person out as genetically engineered super soldier, well killing isn’t going to affect them too much since it’s supposed to be as natural to them as breathing.

If the protagonist is a normal person (or at least not prone to large scale murder) generally speaking I try to write how it affects them mentally. Regardless of whether it was self defense, accident or even on purpose they might go through shock, throw up, find a thrill, etc. and typically coming to grips with what they did in between whatever else was going on that caused the scenario.

Of course as they say it gets easier with practice so of course if the protagonist does it again later it doesn’t necessarily have the same impact and by the third time it’s not even worth mentioning.

As far as killing other characters off and it affecting the story long term (or not killing them off). Do that all the time. I don’t consider it extra work since it’s something I want to do for the story anyway. I want to create a path where X lived and a path where X died, so I just go ahead and do it.

Not necessarily limited to death though, sometimes just like in real life, people drop in and out because of your various actions. So because your protagonist stayed in City A they maintained a relationship with character X (for good or ill) if they moved away to City B then they didn’t. There’s two different branch changes right there that can impact the story significantly.

The matter of fact is that in most rpgs the protagonist is some kind of adventure, which means that by trade the protagonist is a mix of…

sellsword,
assassin,
thief
robber
conartist
and graverobber

as such I find forced moralizing over murder to be really, really out of place.

Kill or spare often don’t lead to big consequences, because the difference between are character who are there versus a character who is not is huge writing hurdle.

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I’m pretty sure at least a couple of our games have “no blood” achievements. I can’t remember which, off-hand. Maybe Blood Money?

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Yep, there’s definitely one in Blood Money, and I think one in Stronghold.

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There’s also a “Pacifist” achievement in The Eagle’s Heir.

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@Hex Everything after your first paragraph is certainly pretty interesting to discuss, but also completely off topic. This thread isn’t about morality, it was about the consequences of life and death choices.

@DreamingGames I mean, being ok with killing people is just as much forced moralizing as not. You’re imposing a moral stance on the player, and again, this isn’t about moral philosophy, but tangible consequences.

@EndMaster Yeah, I made this topic because when I think about most games killing someone generally has very little consequence. You kill people in droves and it’s considered completely unremarkable even if it makes very little sense for your protagonist to be fine with it. It’s generally just treated as successfully overcoming an obstacle and nothing more, when in reality every person has connections with other people, and their own experiences and personalities. Their not being alive anymore has ripple effects throughout society that will never be recorded in any history book. But we don’t live in a history book or a legend we live in well, life.

Someone being alive means they’ll potentially do all sorts of things they wouldn’t otherwise do if they were dead, so even if someone isn’t “important” when the protagonist meets them, they might just become important specifically because the protagonist interacted with them and the protagonist’s experiences are by necessity the most important to the story.

@Mary_Duffy @HannahPS Ah…heh… Blood Money… That’s… unfortunate. It was the last game I closed beta tested for… And just like the last few before it really wasn’t my thing at all, and I ended up forgetting to finish it to turn in my feedback. Achievements are kinda the opposite of what I’m talking about though.

I guess I’m not making myself very clear but I’m not sure how to do so.

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I am okay with pondering about it when the protagonist (as in, for example, choice of rebels) shift from an an ordinary (or as ordinary life as it can be) life towards an action life. It is worth noting how the protagonist deals with the shift and the morality of it.

But in most of these games we are ‘adventures’ by trade. In AAA games especially the sheer number of mooks we can kill is so high that the protagonist must have already made their peace with that part of their life. (Or they couldn’t function as an adventure.)

Now choice and hosted are different due to being text so the writers could rely less on filler combat. Still combat is so often a part of the games and the protagonist is often experienced enough that they should have either made their peace or found another proffession.

That said, I would like more games where killing is just not an option or a very rare option. I think that text games has the potential to actually giving it the gravitas as it deserves, but it demands that people design their games differently with a lot less filler combat.

Is this subject really so uninteresting that people have to keep trying to switch to the topic of morality and feelings? Like… I mean… I thought I gave a pretty explicit example of what I was talking about in my second post but still you’re talking about whether or not someone is desensitized to killing instead of the actual topic of consequences for the choice too kill.

I mean, the whole morality thing is an interesting topic in it’s own right like… I would argue that most of the mass slaughter in AAA games is actually ludo narrative dissonance… But that’s not the topic of this thread.

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If you are talking about consequences of killing beyond ‘‘Its morally wrong, you get trauma…you can’t sleep…you have depression…’’ but more on the lines of ‘‘You kill someone, their relative hunt you down…or you kill someone…and your actions ripple trough the ages…what could’ve been a prosperous familly…become a leader of criminal…who pass down actions you did in the past’’ .

I think the issue, is that both morality and consequences are too close to each others . You can’t speak of one without mentioning the other . After all , its up to the player to decide if killing is okay or not .

If you are looking for games where you can see your actions (or someone action) have consequences , then Planescape Torment come to mind . And Mask of the betrayer (Nwn 2 expansion) .

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You are not understanding that your topic is full of morality territory.

You are trying to punish players that kill people using the butterfly effect theory.

But that is a clear morality state point many bad game masters shares (not referring to you,)
." Like I don’t like when I play myself kill characters, I will punish hard any player in the party to the have to or quit or play like I want"

The balance should be the key to games with no set on stone characters.

Kil doesn’t have to punished to point O you killed a homeless well now C empire will declare total wa

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For context, folks, I believe Shoelip is looking for arguments on the practicality side: “Writing impactful decision-to-kill is hard you have to xyz,” or “it’s not as you can handwave it a bit.”

I’m on the camp of “it’s hard,” though. Anything that makes you write more always makes things harder.

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I sort of already mentioned I do this all the time in writing anyway. There’s tons of times in a story where I’ve written if you kill this person or don’t kill this person, X happens or doesn’t happen later on.

As I said, this isn’t really limited to killing someone though, your protagonist moving away from a particular location can affect things.

The main thing for writing in this way is you virtually have to have an outline or timeline of “events” that are going to happen no matter what the character does along with a list of potential events that will occur according to what the protagonist does.

I can give a simple example.

City A - The government will increase its security over time. (Set events)
City B - The government will suffer several internal issues over time (Set events)

You go to City A, join a gang.

Gang does okay, but finds it a lot harder to pull off capers as the years go on due to increased security and the leader’s ineptitude. You eventually have to figure out what you’re going to do.

  1. Take over as leader to run the gang better.
  2. Leave City A and go to city B
  3. Carry on as normal

Killing the gang leader obviously has the consequence of you either ultimately doing a worse or better job depending on your choices afterwards. Make the right choices (And presumably kill the right people), the gang survives.

Not killing him ultimately leads to the gang (and you) getting wiped out by the city guards.

Leaving City A results in the gang getting wiped out still, but you obviously survive since you got out of there in time.

While all this was going on, City B was having a faction war and ultimately Faction Z won. Faction Z winning may or may not effect things in another path depending on what else the character is doing, but obviously the protagonist not being there to kill/save certain people made a difference.

However had you chose to initially go to City B, in THAT path you could of had the option to join one of the various factions and kill various leaders to determine an outcome that didn’t result in Faction Z winning due to you not being around. (Or maybe you help them and they win with even better results)

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Yeah, so this and what Endmaster has been talking about is sort of what I was trying to discuss. Although I’m not sure how much experience Endmaster has with choice script as most of his games/stories I’ve seen are HTML based, and that might change things.

It feels like character death is generally treated as mostly inconsequential in a lot of games, when they realistically absolutely wouldn’t be. It’s not just that player character doesn’t get greatly affected by the deaths, but that no one else seems to be either. And not killing someone can have even more potential consequences.

Just as one example there’s the fairly popular trope of the Star Crossed Lovers on opposite sides of a conflict. Usually a trope like this seems to either be the main focus of the story or some side story not directly about the protagonist that ends up being heavily based on Romeo and Juliet, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

In common action-adventure RPG, killing is rather “commonly rampant” since it’s one of its core mechanics. Of course, you can tie it with consequence such as Undertale’s pacifist/genocide path (where killing = crazy murderous hobo killing for fun) or MGS4’s adapt mechanic where going through certain method on accomplishing objectives will have the enemy soldiers adapt to it (night raids = more night vision. Sniping = mortar outposts. Headshots = everyone wears helmet).

Granted, RPGs are usually focused on its fight-and-loot game loop that adding killing-consequence may add unwanted burden to the devs, so it’s more of the author’s planning and willingness, imo. That’s why, if it’s not the focus, it’s usually don’t get added.


In CS games, I’d imagine that sparing view of your robbers can increase your fame as this “sparing fighter who gives mercy,” which could translate into either a good thing or a bad thing. Another would be the divine’s favor over your behavior.

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In a CS game I’m not sure why it has to be that abstract. There’s no simulation involved so everything that happens has to be explicitly scripted by the author. Unless the game has random repeatable encounters that’ll inevitably become a LOT more repetitive than a more simulationist game would there are only so many characters you can meet over the course of the story. Each of those can be treated with different levels of individuality based on the choices written by the author.