In the “Grand Theft Auto” series, players engage in missions like gang wars, bank robberies, assassinations and other morally despicable activities, but the real chaos is in the total freedom between missions. The open world design of “Grand Theft Auto” titles often leads to players driving around town aimlessly shooting cars and people, stealing tanks and jumping off buildings while raining grenades down on the streets below. While “GTA” storylines are often about bad men doing bad things for various reasons both good and bad, the free-roaming time in-game is without real narrative to connect the immoral actions players may take to any greater meaning. “Grand Theft Auto” was once heavily criticized for its violent, criminal narrative but has always received near-universal acclaim from gaming critics, with its Metacritic score settled at 97/100.
There is an appeal in the lawless freedom that “Grand Theft Auto” presents. Devoid of morality or judgment, the “GTA” series presents stark criminal storylines alongside the anarchic and cartoon-like violence that players are capable of. Morality is an afterthought, and the worst thing that can happen is the player is captured or killed by police and re-spawn a few dollars poorer.
On a smaller scale, not every game offers its players total control or freedom to commit senseless, immoral acts. Rockstar Games' “LA Noire,” while very similar in gameplay to their “GTA” series, restricts players from running over pedestrians and issues fines for all the damage caused on their missions.
Similarly, the developers of Battlefield Hardline, which emulates the look and feel of modern cop dramas, decided that they would not allow players to shoot anyone with his hands raised in the game. By limiting this ability, game developers are making players question their own impulses and start conversations about gaming storytelling's current state.
Choice and Outcome
We've come a long way from the assumption that playing violent video games causes violence. In fact, a study published in the Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking journal found that that committing immoral actions in video games causes players to experience feelings of guilt, and often makes players more morally sensitive to these behaviors in the real world. Anyone who has been confronted with a difficult decision in-game knows how emotionally troublesome it can be. In games like the “Mass Effect” franchise, these difficult or morally gray choices are a narrative device that shapes the fate of the player, his or her comrades and the galaxy. These choices are often major plot points that serve as crossroads for the player as they decide the fate of millions.