Mass Effect ’s moral decision system avoids hard issues

URDNOT WREX DEBATES terms with the Turian Primarch for the assistance of the Krogan on the Turian homeworld.

As far as I have played, I have thoroughly enjoyed the Mass Effect games; at time of writing, I am very close to the ending of the third game. As such, I have decided to write this as a look back on the series as a whole and discuss a few places that I think it has misstepped. This will contain some spoilers from the first two games, so if you haven’t finished them and don’t want to know, go finish them now, then come back and read this.

The main problem that I have with the series, as a whole, is with the moral choice system. From the start, each big decision the player makes in dialogue has one option that is labeled as “good” and one option that is labeled as “bad,” and, sometimes, a neutral option. In the mechanics of the game, each “good” choice gives the player paragon points and each “bad” choice gives the player renegade points, and this works pretty well for most of the game.

Throughout the games, there are a number of decisions the player must make where neither of the two options given are good. One such choice is whether or not to rewrite the beliefs of a race of artificially-intelligent machines, the Geth, in the second game. The two options are to rewrite a belief that these machines have, thereby subverting their free will, or to destroy them. This choice actually made me stop and think for longer than I care to admit. If this were a dispute between two groups of people, and you had to decide between these two alternatives, which would you choose? Should either of these be labeled as “good”? Should one of these choices even be labeled as “more good” than the other?

The Mass Effect series is littered with these choices on topics ranging from medical ethics to genocide and covering everything in between, but in none of these decisions are both choices considered bad. This is not to say that the series is bad; I think it is phenomenal. However, by reinforcing that, in some cases, there is no good answer in the choices given to the player, I think the series could have been much stronger.