Choosing to be the good guy in video games

Many gamers choose the path of good when playing video games.

Fall is video game season. There’s a long list of games coming out in the next few months,  many of which let you decide if you want to play as a good guy or a bad guy. Do right or do wrong?

The choices aren’t new. What is: a game that tracks and publishes the choices players make.

"The Walking Dead" is a series of games set in a post-apocalyptic zombie world.

"In one choice you could decide in a dialogue whether to tell the truth or lie, in another choice you decide who gets food and who doesn’t get food, and in the kind of the ultimate choice you decide which characters to help in a life threatening situation and who’ll live and who’ll die," said Dan Connors is the CEO of Telltale Games, which makes "The Walking Dead." He said it turns out most players want to do right.

"In the game we have a young girl character named Clementine and she’s kind of the conscious of the gamer and very few gamers want to do anything to put her into harm’s way or to threaten her."

Connors said they’ll make these decisions even if they aren’t necessarily in their best interest. They’re less vindictive and less violent then they could be. "In one example, at the end of the episode there’s a group of people that you met that you thought you’d be safe with, but actually had plans to turn you into dinner because they had resorted to cannibalism, you had the opportunity to kill them. And most players wouldn’t take that jump to actually take these player-characters lives."

So, why? Why would gamers choose to do the moral thing, when they could choose to do anything without real life trouble?

"I think we tend to use video games to play out roles or fulfill needs that need to be met that aren’t being met in our real lives," said Christopher Ferguson, a professor at Texas A&M. "So most people have jobs, where on any given day, they don’t get to be the hero. They don’t get to do something life changing or world shattering. Video games are a way to get out the needs to be the hero, be the good guy, help out other people."

Video games allow us to try out different ways of being. They can test out our morality.

"To use a little psychology lingo, it’s really a chance for us to self actualize to some degree," said Ferguson. "To be the person we want to be rather than the actual self that has to go through our daily lives."


Many of this fall’s video games are big-budget, blast-'em games. But there’s a crop of indies out there too, some paid for by the crowd funding site Kickstarter.

"In a number of industries the creative economies don't work out all that well for creators," said Yancey Strickler, Kickstarter’s co-founder. "Generally to get any sort of work funded you're having to give up some ownership of it, probably some creative control, and you are having to fit an idea of a market rather than say, your own vision."

He said this year, people have pledged more dollars to games then any other category -- $50 million to be precise. And the money isn’t just going to video games. Turns out a big piece of it is for new board and card games.

"Board games we think of as something we dust off when we go to the beach or something and play Trivial Pursuit for four hours," he said. "But it's a really, really alive category with a really big community."

Apparently we’re all looking for something new to play.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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Where I agree that users may play video games 'to be the person they'd want to be', I believe 'choosing to be the good guy' depends on the story-line of the game. While most understand the general idea of humans in zombie apocalyptic stories, it's pretty unclear from the zombies' points of view. Fans of the Walking Dead most likely would feel comfortable reenacting the plot that they know and enjoy. I'm curious if these statistics would be consistent for a game such as Batman, if users could potentially play as the Joker or other villains.

When I play RPGs or moral video games I strongly trend to the "good side". I have played the bad guy a few times though. Each time I tend to feel bad. Not just about my choices but actually my attitude is generally worse, I'm more aggravated at others, and I am generally just in a bad mood. Play the good guy does make me feel better. It is really amazing how an entertainment medium is able to provoke such strong emotional reactions.

I really enjoyed this piece and look forward to what emerges from Kickstarter. On Monday when I saw Dr. Ferguson he was working at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, not Texas A&M University in College Station. We love Chris and are proud to have him as a colleague.

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