Moral Dilemma: Free Will

Does free will even exist? I could start today by pulling some of my Philosophy 101 knowledge out and dusting it off, but I won’t trouble you with that. So, on the pretense that we do have free will: is it morally wrong to take the free will of another we consider evil and forcing them to do “the right thing?” Are they really doing the right thing if they’re being forced to do so?

This train of thought left the station when I heard Superman’s Injustice 2 comment, “you’re going to make the right choice, or I’ll make it for you.” To me, it’s the kind of thing you’d hear from a supervillain, not a superhero (I haven’t been terribly involved in the DC universe outside of Teen Titans and Raven specifically, so please don’t write a blog about my Superman ignorance). His comment got me thinking: does this happen a lot in video games? Do you, the supposed good guy, do a very villainous thing like brainwash another “for the cause?”

Think back to 2010 – specifically Mass Effect 2. Remember Legion? I do. I freakin loved that Geth dude. Anyways (SPOILER ALERT), you go with him and Tali (or was it Liara?) on a loyalty mission and, lo and behold, the reason many of the Geth revolted was in part due to a programming error/virus (look… I’m a little foggy. It’s been like 7 years) and you have a chance to fix the issue and set them free of their aggression… sort of. There are two ways Shepard can go about fixing the issue: you can choose to rewrite their programming and basically brainwash them into not being rebellious and murderous anymore, or you can kill them. Just wipe all of the violent Geth out the galaxy. It seems like an easy choice until one of your team mates mentions that reprogramming them would be like death to them. They wouldn’t be the weird, violent, sentient AI robots that they were, and the error/virus is like an extensive line of mutations that makes each organic species unique. Suddenly, the choice becomes difficult. Give them real death, or a life where they might as well be dead. Real, or metaphorical? I chose to reprogram them, but I often wonder if it was the best choice or not.

Sometimes we as gamers are given the ability to brainwash as a tool and nothing more. It’s not placed into the game as some moral dilemma to add interest to the story, or rouse questions and create empathy in the audience. Sometimes, it’s just a mechanic. Shadow of Mordor does just that. You (Talion) eventually gain the ability to dominate Caragors and Uruks to aid you in fights. This soon does lead into the story, but not as a moral dilemma: you have to build an army to fight alongside you. Some of the Uruks that you come across don’t need to be dominated, but the majority of them will. So you take your new ethereal powers, dominate a few hundred bad guys (who, by the way, you can kill with the press of a button. All of ‘em. All at once.) and go off to fight for the Bright Master, Celibrimbor. Are they really fighting for Celibrimbor though? After all, Talion holds this insane power over them and is able to kill them with no real effort, and even if they hadn’t basically been brainwashed this power alone is enough to convince them to do your bidding.

Sure, these guys are just the bad guys, right? I mean, as long as you, the protagonist, the good guy, get the desired effect, right? Or, does these actions simply being a means to an end make you the bad guy?

Who knows, maybe I’m overthinking this.

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