When Alignment Doesn’t Matter

Many games try to make character development interesting by allowing you to make good and evil decisions throughout the game. Here is a thought exercise: what do you get when a character makes a good choice, then an evil choice, then an evil choice, then three good choices? SW:TOR and many others will tell you this is a good character, completely eradicating the fact that at some point the character was evil twice.

Alignment systems with one axis are pointless. They lack the sensitivity needed to create interesting characters because they only indicate the winning opinion and can’t remember the number, pattern, or frequency of opposing opinions.

If you’re only using one axis to keep a tally of good vs evil, there’s only one interesting decision to be made, once, at the beginning of the game. Will this character be good or bad? Once you’ve made that decision it makes all the calls for you in the future. If you decided to be an evil character then at all decision branch points the evil choices are positive points and the good choices are negative points. If you mistakenly choose good choices your character ends up not evil enough.

There are two-axis alignment systems. Dungeons & Dragons back in 3.5 and earlier used to let you mix and match from a morality axis — Good/Neutral/Evil, and an ethical axis — Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic. Some interesting play styles arose like a lawful evil leader who uses his legitimately acquired power for personal gain or a chaotic good assassin who freely breaks the law to end political corruption. They flattened the system down to one axis in 4th edition, likely to simplify the game. I don’t disagree.

The conundrum then is that if one axis is pointless and two or more axes are complicated how many axes should your game’s alignment system have? The correct answer is none. Counter intuitively, when a game isn’t tracking alignment you end up with more interesting characters. Tell me about your Fallout 2 character. What about your GTA 3 character? This will likely take time as you describe the game moments that felt seminal to your character. What do you have to say about your BioWare character? He’s evil because you like the special powers evil characters get? Cool story, bro.

2 thoughts on “When Alignment Doesn’t Matter

  1. Mannerheim

    Hi, can you please help us gamers to save and fix your game Battalion Arena, battle maps haven`t been working for 3 weeks, only co-op maps are available for play. Please can you do something, atleast check what`s going on Battalion Arena.
    I guess you can be busy, but help us if you can, thanks.

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