BioWare is famous— perhaps infamous, even— for its conversation wheel. It’s the game mechanic that allows players to mold and shape their experience as the story unfolds by choosing responses to NPCs via conversation/RPG cutscenes. In the first Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Origins, and the Mass Effect series, such responses determined your moral alignment for the most part. You were either Light or Dark, Paragon or Renegade, Lawful or Unlawful.
I’ve talked about the conversation wheel before, applying it to instances where it’s necessary to stave off knee-jerk reactions to incendiary comments and the sort— the classic “Think before you speak” mantra. I begged Blizzard for the opportunity to give Garrosh Hellscream a piece of my mind through a similar mechanic in Cataclysm, though it wouldn’t have worked out.
So, now that I’m playing The Old Republic to fill in my gaming time before Mists of Pandaria, I’ve been seeing conversation wheels a lot again. But, in addition to receiving Light/Dark Side points with some choices, you can also gain or lose affection with various members of your crew. The catch, however, is sometimes your moral choice may not coincide with your companion’s desires. As I smashed and hacked and sliced my way through the galaxy on my Sith Warrior, there were times when I’d hit the ESC key to stop the conversation and essentially ask for a redo, all because I had lost affection with whichever companion I had with me at the moment. I became even more careful with my conversation choices while pursuing my warrior’s romantic interest.
Then I honestly made myself stop and asked, “Why am I doing this?”
I realized, with a small bit of shame, that I was succumbing to virtual peer pressure. Instead of relentlessly forging my own path, I was allowing the “affection” of others shape my choices and responses. More than that, I was letting my warrior relinquish her values in order to impress the cute guy with the accent! Here was Tela’vari, a powerful Lord of the Sith Order, with exceptional command of the Force and combat prowess while wielding two lightsabers, who willingly mocked her master and befriended “lesser aliens”— and she was acting no better than a giggling, empty-headed teenage girl.
Sure, my warrior could have continued making decisions that made others “happy,” but it would have meant forsaking my convictions. When my Light-Sided decision to exercise compassion and mercy made my companion frown with a whopping -30 affection, I said, “You know what? Screw that, and screw you, too, buddy. It’s my decision and I know it’s the right thing to do.”
I was also reminded of various dailies that I did in order to gain reputation with non-aligned factions in Warcraft. A lot of times, it was just a matter of, “Collect n amount of x,” or, “Help us defend against this thing,” which made sense. But there were also moments when I wanted to say, “No, I will not kill or sabotage the opposition’s livelihood in order for you to like me.” Even if it meant an extra day of dailies to reach exalted, I didn’t care.
To commit atrocities and wrongs in order to gain exaltation and esteem— “affection,” in a sense— would be hollow, empty. That’s something Garrosh Hellscream is going to learn very quickly in the coming days.
And, as a parent, I started thinking about when my daughter becomes older and starts facing similar decisions in her life. Will she remain steadfast in her convictions and beliefs? Will she join her friends in taunting a schoolmate, or will she take the path of compassion and mercy, even if it’s a harder road to travel and those so-called friends may forsake her?
Moreover, I want to teach her that doing the right thing should be done for the sake of it being right in both deed and purpose. I can’t count how many times I’ve volunteered for the Salvation Army during their Christmas toy “shop” and saw people whose hearts were not entirely in the moment. When I was in high school, there were my peers who either wouldn’t let themselves get excited— because that would be “unseemly” and “uncool”— about spreading Christmas cheer, or were clearly annoyed with the physical labor, the cold, the fumes, and the people because they felt forced to be there so they could fill their quota of service hours. Then, there were the people who didn’t care how silly they looked in light-up reindeer antlers, or if they sang “Hark the Herald Angels Sing!” in very off-key voices. So long as they put a smile on people’s faces and knew they’d warmed another person’s holiday and heart, it was worth it.
Now that I think about it, it’s the same lesson Krodan Bloodbane blurted out to Toriah at the orphanage in the latest chapter of my story.
I’ll see you all in Pandaria next week. Winds be at your back!