Star Wars: The Old Republic challenging consciences
Leave it to BioWare to draw this sort of reaction out of people. Online gamers are typically profiled for being rude, offensive, and often vulgar. Take that M16 out of their hands and replace it with a blaster riffle and suddenly the world is seen differently. Sure your world may have stopped as you were handed a light machine gun and were told to shoot up the airport in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, but did it make you start over entirely?
Through personal experience, infinite Tweets, editorials, articles, and water cooler-esque conversations with co-workers and friends, there seems to be a common theme arising in their Star Wars: The Old Republic game experience. This theme is the challenge of the conscience. Note: If you are the player that mashes spacebar during every conversation and just looks for the conversation choice that has the most Dark Side points, this editorial is not for you.
There are a few elements at play here. What drives you? What are your motivations? Do you act upon what will make your character stronger, what is for the best for the planet, what is best for your faction, what is the best for your wallet, or what is best for your companions?
SWTOR not only tempts you with evil, but tests your ability to DO evil. Do you have the stomach to be Dark Side V? How sadistic can you be? A great example is with the Twi’lek companion Vette for the Sith Warrior. The companion is gifted to you as a slave girl with a shock collar around her neck. You have the option to shock her for Dark Side points nearly every time she talks. Sometimes you do it to ‘keep her in line,’ sometimes it is to shut her up, and other times, you just do it for fun.
All companions have an affection bar which most players strive to make positive, but others have different aims. With Vette, I’ve seen competitions where players try to see just HOW negative they can get her affection. Companion’s affection can be raised through gift giving and though making dialogue choices they agree with. Negative affection can be gained though abuse and making dialogue choices they do not like. Vette steers more towards Light Side choices so true evil choices makes her like you even less.
By no means does being a Sith Warrior mean you have to be evil and strive for Dark Side points. You can be a Light Side Sith Warrior. You don’t have to treat Vette like garbage. In your first personal dialogue with her, you have the option to remove the shock collar. If you are male and bring her affection high enough, you can even marry her. So through Vette alone, the diversity of how you deal with her can affect your gameplay tremendously.
How much do companion characters affect your gameplay / decision making though? Bounty Hunter characters receive a companion name Mako. There have been incidences of someone starting Dark Side but shifting Light Side just to boost her affection. Likewise, Sith Inquisitors are known to take more of a righteous path once they get the goodie goodie Togruta that speaks about the Jedi code and what is wrong and right as a companion.
The question arises, is this min / maxing at its finest, guilt, or compassion? A higher affection does mean that your companions work faster for their crew skills. So having a high affection for all of them is a bonus. Is it guilt from interaction with these characters that make you want to change your ways? Or is it the classic sex driven desire to treat these companions courteously?
Don’t get me wrong, there are companions who steer towards the Dark Side as well. Jaesa for the Sith Warrior is an example. She strives for cruelty and hates honor. It is just as easy to strive for cruelty to win affection as it is to pick butterflies in a field. Each companion is different with differing likes. Looking back at Vette, you can still be Dark Side V and not treat her like she’s worthless while keeping her at 10,000 affection.
Are your drives more patriotic in nature? Do you live for the Republic and not care if the consequences get you Light or Dark points? Do you feel sympathy for certain planets and not care about Light or Dark Side points OR your faction? Do you just want everyone to suffer under your boot? Whether you are an avid role player or someone who avidly makes fun of role players, in SWTOR there is a fair share of role playing. It is both corny and cliché, but SWTOR puts the RPG in MMORPG.
The final question -- is BioWare’s storytelling abilities changing how you play your character? Are AI driven pixels changing how you originally wanted to play your character? Are moral choices of whether pixels live or die making you feel guilt / pride? I’ve read tweets the last few weeks talking about how people rerolled their characters because they felt too bad about what they’ve been doing or simply that the Sith was not for them. Even though these characters are just computer graphics, the choices challenge your conscience.
If a game is making you feel emotions, it is doing it right.