The ethical and moral decisions in the Mass Effect series fundamentally shape the play experience—from beginning to end. Will sparing a race of sentient androids sow distrust among their creators? Will releasing the last member of a potentially hostile species create tomorrow’s ongoing war? Is there justice in destroying information gained by torturing innocents? Answering such questions is seldom made easy. In fact, many of the series’s moral conundrums reflect some of the difficult decisions that we, as a species, confront in our own family circles and on the political stage. There are rarely easy answers and Mass Effect‘s depiction of repercussions create a unique and compelling example of moral systems done right. In many ways, playing Mass Effect is a powerful learning experience.
Even so, the series does not deviate far from the traditional binary decision-making paradigm. However, one recent educational game seeks to experiment more directly with the question of moral and ethical decision making in games and in real life. Quandary, by the Learning Games Network, is a piece of interactive fiction of sorts that targets eight- to fourteen-year-old children, encouraging them to play alone, with family, or in a school environment. Instructors are encouraged to let kids play the game’s scenarios and work through the decision making process as a team. Of course, abstracting any complex issue is no easy task, so naturally the game’s choices lead to several interesting arguments regarding decision making. Quandary also offers some potentially useful strategies for traditional game designers seeking to model decision making in games.