Ethical Escapades of Arkane Studio’s Dishonored – Part 4

After Lady Boyle’s party reaffirmed that Dishonored and its designers do not value women as anything more than their ability to be sexualized and objectified, it makes me think that there was little to no female involvement in the development of this game. As we learned this past unit, lack of diversity on development teams often leads to a lack of diversity in the games themselves. I do not believe that the designers of Dishonored set out to be a game with horrible female representation. Game director Harvey Smith said himself that the lack of strong female characters in Dishonored “was not our intention. When something like that pops up, you can get defensive if you want, or you can say, ‘Guys, let me just ask this: Did we mean that?’ And the answer is no, we did not mean that.” But I’ve covered that in the past game log so I digress.

The next few missions of Dishonored are “Return to the Tower” and “Flooded District.” They feature a few moral dilemmas which give the choice some pretty binary choices, not a lot of grey area. The player is tasked with taking down the Lord Regent. It’s revealed through a conversation with the propaganda officer that there’s a different way to take down the Lord Regent then killing him. The player learns of several corruptions in the Lord Regent’s governance which if told to the public would certainly be his downfall. The player can still choose to kill the Lord Regent, or simply broadcast his crimes and have him removed through public outcry. This is a pretty black or white decision with not a whole lot of nuance to it. The player can murder someone, or reveal them to be a corrupt leader and let the public decide how to deal with him. It seemed like a no-brainer to me, I exposed him.

In general, I would say the moral dilemmas encountered in Dishonored are rarely deep or complicated, merely follow a “Do you want to be a bad person or a good person” approach. I wish there was more thought needed, I wish I didn’t know which decision was obviously leading to the “good” and “bad” endings. Real life decisions aren’t as black and white and capturing the dilemmas which have no positive outcome would be incredibly interesting. The “morality system” within Dishonored isn’t shown to the player in plain terms like it is in other games like Mass Effect and Knights of the Republic. The “good” and “evil” is shown to the player through the reactions of other characters, treating Corvo more coldly and cautiously if you play through doing a lot of evil. The more people who die also affects how many rats exist in the later levels, and more rats mean more plague which means more weepers, poor and homeless residents of Dunwall who couldn’t afford house or protection from the plague. This environmental storytelling makes the “morality system” feel much more meaningful than the simple red and blue bars of other games. I just wish the decisions that affected this morality system were more impactful and less obvious.

Published by Stephan N. Reilly

Freelance writer and designer.

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