Infamous and Ethics

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Infamous was an interesting game. My son and I played through it over the last couple of weeks. A couple of quick ideas:

1. There’s no gore but the game does go for grit.
2. The game play is pretty tame though the combat can be psychologically relentless.

Gameplay in Infamous is driven by an interesting ethics or choice narrative. Cole, the protagonist, can move through his goals taking good or evil actions, thus calling attention to why Sucker Punch designers deemed one action good and one action bad. When I was first confronted with the decision fork, I chose good action, that is to attack a group of soldiers inhibiting escape off a quarantined island by avoiding harm to civilians. The evil and easier method of fighting would have been to start the battle shielded within the crowd, thus keeping the focus of fire off of Cole. The notion of the human shield is pretty thick throughout the game.

As the player moves through the game in the process uncovering information about several conflicts, some personal, some environmental, the player takes on a pattern of ethical behavior, hence establishing player “character.” It just doesn’t seem right to run down the roads healing people with your healing powers and then deciding next day to leach them of their life force. The later action is an “evil action.” The fictitious space, demolished after an explosion, is comprised of three plague infested islands. Nothing in the behavior of the survivors or the strange enemies compels good or evil choices from the player. In other words, to beat the game, the player can ignore ethical risk, but in my case I felt compelled to follow the ethical chain, so, at the end, I made what felt was the right choice given my behavioral habit

I could go back now and play the game in two additional ways and consider how outcomes might change: take on an evil persona or mix the personas.

In any event, character in Infamous is what I would describe as novelistic, as it takes time for Cole to emerge as a fictional being. There was one ethical scenario where Cole emerged as a character separate from the player, which is what’s interesting about play. We learn a lot about characters in story and novels by learning how others react to them or how they affect others, though we can’t affect any of these relationships. What’s different about the game is that what appears to develop is an observational third, the persona who watches the avatar and the player from a distance, the persona who says, “How will I play such and such a scenario; how will I direct Cole?”


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