Lemme Say This: InFamous 2 & Morality
Thar be spoilers in them thar articles!
Morality systems in games are often rather lopsided: the good choices make you a saint, and the bad choices make you puppy-raping Ghengis Khan (you thought I'd say Hitler, but I'm far more original than that!). In InFamous 2, Cole Macgrath is must use his powers as a Conduit (think mutants from X Men) to decide the fate of the human race.
By the end, his best friend and a large number of the population are dying from a new plague, and he must make a choice: use his powers to activate a device called the Raysphere to possibly cure the non-Conduits and kill the Conduits in the process ("good karma"), or use a method to kill non-Conduits in order to create new ones, who are naturally immune to the plague ("bad karma").
Four characters are worth mentioning here.
Cole's best friend, he is revealed to be dying of the plague in the latter half. He is a bit of a skirt chaser, but is also something of a moral compass for Cole. It is his plight that spurs our hero to use the Rayshpere, but also the one who stands against him should he choose to destroy it.
Zeke represents what you have to lose no matter what choice you make. Either you watch him, and the rest of the normies, die a slow death/kill them or you sacrifice yourself and all other Conduits, saving millions but condemning plenty others without them even being aware of it.
On top of that, choosing the former means going against natural selection, the method by which species develop, but I'll get into that later.
In the "good" ending, he is saved by Cole's sacrifice, and honors him as being the most human of all, Conduit or no. In the "bad" ending, he attempts to sabotage Cole and John's plan, and even shoots Cole, determined to fight to the end. Cole is forced to kill him to destroy the Raysphere, an act which rocks the Conduit to this core.
An agent who worked with Cole in the previous game and was seemingly killed by a malfunctioning Raysphere, only to return as a powerful Conduit. He possesses (amongst others) the power to awaken dormant Conduits by killing non-Conduits in the surrounding area, much in the same manner the Rayshpere originally did.
John in this game is the embodiment of violent change. He is the catalyst that can bring about a new age for the human race, and unlike the modified Raysphere, which is untested, John's method is proven not long before the final choice must be made. He could be compared to Magneto in the sense that he wishes to create an ideal world for his kind, but unlike Eric Magnus (good name by the way), John's actions can be seen as more morally ambiguous, as he is in fact saving lives in the long run by ending several more.
In the "bad" end, John can no longer keep himself to together and transfers his powers to Cole before exploding, awakening nearby Conduits one last time.
Another agent who once worked with John, but is kidnapped fairly early in the game and turned into a Conduit, at which point her powers are copied on to a group of mercenaries. She acts as the "good" partner through the game, until the end where she chooses to side with John's plan.
Kuo acts as your voice of selflessness, encouraging you to help others even if you don't always benefit from it, at least immediately. The benefits come from receiving more aid from the locals at the cost of having less raw power, but the rewards are fairly balanced.
She sides with John in both endings out of a combination of cold reason and personal fear, but in the "good" one, after John is beaten, she states that using the Raysphere is the right choice, and that even Nix made the right call. Sobbing, she accepts her fate. In the "bad" one, she becomes Cole's right hand woman, helping him in his quest to awaken Conduits throughout the world, at the cost of the rest.
Kuo represents the duality of human nature; our ability to reason and rationalize against our animalistic fear and desire to do whatever it takes to ensure personal survival. In the both endings, she seeks to assist the radical change partially as means of saving herself, motivated also by the fact that the Rayshpere's ability to cure the plague is unproven, while her actions in the other ending show her initial rebellion and rejection of what she once preached, followed by her acceptance of the greater good.
What can I say about Nix? Sociopath. Orphan. Pyromaniac. Her only friends are mutants she creates. She's the "bad" companion for most of the game, until John kills her "babies" and she seeks revenge against him by any means necessary, even at the cost of her life and all other Conduits.
Nix represents selfish abandon and chaotic freedom. She cares only for her own needs and will do anything to ensure that she gets what she wants. In "bad karma" missions, she encourages Cole to destroy everything that gets in their way, ignoring the consequences of such actions. This results in Cole obtaining more raw power, but being reviled by average citizens.
Nix also has the ability to produce monstrous creatures, sometimes from other people, who she lovingly dubs her "babies." These are the only things she shows affection for other than flirting with Cole, and their loss at John's hands devastates her, pushing her to seek revenge against him, even at the loss of her own life.
Up until this point, Nix is extremely self-centered, acting as a foil to Kuo. The shift of both characters near the end is reflective of how circumstances can change people in an instant, even people who seemed to have a very firm stance one way or another.
And now for the meat of this article:
By labeling the endings as "good" and "bad," the developers seem to want the player to follow Spock's creed of "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few," but is this necessarily the case?
During the main game, morality is depicted as fairly black (red) and white (blue), in that helping people good, knocking people around with reckless abandon bad. That said, the first half of the game revolves around the ever-looming threat of the Beast, later revealed to be John. At the time, all we and the characters know is that a powerful Conduit is coming to make shit real, and you need to be ready for it.
Helping people is great and all, but if you're not strong enough to stop the threat once it arrives, what difference will it make?
This is a slippery slope of course, since you could use that train of thought as an excuse to abuse others, but at the same time, you have few apparent options to start with.
The endings merit extra attention, as they show Cole sacrificing himself as inherently good, and him becoming the catalyst for a new age as evil. To this I point to two examples of why this may not be the case:
The Black Death killed half the population of Asia and Europe within the span of a decade or so, and I think we can all agree that death on a grand scale is bad, m'kay?
However, look at where Europe (at least) was before the plague; regular famine due to overpopulation, huge imbalance in the distribution of wealth, and a pitiful diet range for peasants and other lower classes.
After the plague? Less people means more value for work. More room to plant new crops, meaning peasants can afford to eat fruits, vegetables, and even some meat. The failure of the Church to appear competent in a time of crisis lead to more free thought and the Renaissance that followed.
The other example is more of a question; is it better for things to remain unchanged and for any hope of change to be snuffed out in its favor, or do you seek to change the world at the risk of destroying all that people know and are comfortable with?
Wrap it up!
Like with true morality, there is no right answer here. No matter what choice is made, the price will always be too high.
It just kinda bothers me that the choices are presented in such stark contrast.
If I had to sum up this whole affair in one word it'd be this: conundrum.