The 10 Hardest Moral Choices In Video Games That Are Wrong Either Way
We’ve all been there - weighing up the pros and cons of a binary choice, with both options firmly stuck in a moral grey area. Normally, that was reserved as a norm for everyday life, but video games have been playing with our brains and hearts with impossible decisions like this for a while now.
They come out of nowhere, put you in an infinite loop of self-debate, then leave you with the overwhelming thought of “what if” when you make a choice. It’s an incredible move in storytelling that makes a game more than a game - turning it into a talking point.
But what’s even more special is if that choice comes with a sinking feeling that choice was merely an illusion. Either you’re left with no consequence for your choice, or the same thing happens. Some call that lazy writing. I call that a neat little meta commentary on the binary storylines of games today.
So, out of all of the times games gave you a moral choice, which are the hardest ones to make? Let’s go through my top 10 (or don’t, but that’s a decision for you to make).
Spoiler alert for a whole bunch of games, by the way!
1. Stand up to Ramsey Bolton - Game of Thrones
And so, we start with one that involves the death of a child… Positive vibes indeed! As Ethan Forrester, heir to the throne of House Forrester, you get an unexpected visit from a certain Ramsay Bolton. You know of his reputation as a torturous human being, brutalising and murdering people for the sake of power.
In your moment with him, you have two choices when he torments your sister - stand up to him and risk your own life, or let it quietly pass and protect yourself. Unfortunately, no matter what you choose, the resolution is inevitable, as Ramsay walks up and stabs Ethan through the throat with his knife. Well, that’s Westeros for you.
2. Love, Sacrifice or Wealth - Fable 2
After a long, sprawling journey of love, loss and fortune through Albion, you get to the end of the game and are faced with three choices. Three cards giving you a moral choices. You’ve got “Sacrifice,” which brings the thousands of innocent people killed by Lucien Fairfax back to life.
Next up is “Love,” bringing your family (and the insanely cute dog) back to life. And finally, there’s “Wealth,” giving you a cash prize of one million gold pieces. To me (a dog person), the choice was obvious. But when I spoke to my friends about it, it seems like everyone made different decisions and none of them were really the right one.
Each one gave you a small sense of victory for making a decision, but you had a lot to think about.
3. Vault 34 - Fallout: New Vegas
A list like this can’t exist without a mention of Vault 34 - probably the most morally challenging choice of what is already a morally ambiguous Fallout series. The Vault is leaking radiation into the water, affecting nearby farms, which in turn is killing the crops off and causing widespread famine.
Heading into the vault, you see a bunch of people alive and trapped inside. So, what would you choose? Deactivate the reactors - save the farms but doom the survivors to a long, drawn out death in the darkness of the vault, or reroute the controls to the trapped people - enabling them to open the doors and escape, but completely wiping out the crops and ensuring the famine is permanent.
There is no right answer here, and the game knows it, neither adding or subtracting any Karma whatever choice you make. This one will linger on your mind for a while.
4. Leave the island or kill your girlfriend - Far Cry 3
When this decision is put to you, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s an obvious one. As generic travelling douchebag Jason (I resent that…), you’re not going to kill your friends, brother and hot girlfriend after coming so far to save them.
But the more you think about it, the more difficult it gets. You’ve become a murdering machine during your time on this island - do you really think you have these friends when you get out of there? Or do you believe there’s any chance of you actually re-entering normal society after all of this?
But whatever you pick, the decision is a wrong one, as it either ends in your death after having sex with Citra (don’t kink shame the man), or Citra dying and you mourning her loss (much to the bamboozlement of your girlfriend). Love hurts, am I right?
5. Chop off your arm - Walking Dead season 1
Let’s head back to the moral challengers that were Telltale Games and their break out hit, the original season of Walking Dead. At the end of episode 4, you are bitten and all seems lost.
That is until you find your way down into a hospital’s morgue and see a saw. The choice is left to you - leave the arm attached and accept your fate, or cut it off and take the chance to stay alive. However, once again, much like the Ramsay Bolton decision in Game of Thrones, this was just a false flag of optimism.
Either way round, the infection has spread around your body and Lee dies at the end. I’m not ashamed to admit the scene brought me to tears.
6. Use White Phosphorus - Spec Ops: The Line
One of the more harrowingly poetic moments of a war game, you keep being presented with the choice of taking out your enemy easily with the terrifying White Phosphorus, but the more you continue to not use it, the more you continue to fail until the choice is taken away from you.
Phosphorus mortars are fired, but as you go to explore the scene of mass death…you realise they weren’t enemies. They were innocent civilians. You are left a broken gamer through the finale, walking across charred corpses, paying particular attention to the bodies of a mother and a child in her arms. Talk about emotional gut punches.
7. Stormcloaks or Imperials - Skyrim
This was an interesting one… You had a simple choice, but one that has been the source of many-a-heated debate in plenty of YouTube comment sections and subreddit posts alike. Do you join the Stormcloaks - the prototypically protagonist side of the story, who muddy the waters of being good guys with their racism and thirst for power.
Or do you go with the Imperials - a Nazi-esque power who went all out to ban the Talos worship - essentially solving the whole religion vs politics problem many-a-society has today? Whichever you, the Dragonborn, chooses, the game’s story isn’t impacted - it’s just a slight difference in gameplay mechanics. But you will propel that side to victory, so choose wisely!
8. The Two Brooches - Bioshock: Infinite
From the first Bioshock, your trained to think your decisions matter - leading to several endings of differing moralities. That is why when you’re told to decide between brooches for a freed Elizabeth, you really think about. One depicts a bird, whereas the other is a cage.
This is not an easy choice at all, as one represents her imprisonment, whereas the other is her prison guard - a big ass bird. The choice toys with you and you wonder if it affects anything…turns out it doesn’t. In fact, in the final scenes, Elizabeth isn’t even wearing the brooch. Your decision doesn’t change the story in anyway.
9. Fate of the Drug Dealer - Heavy Rain
The stakes of your moral choices are already pretty high (so long as you look by the rather weird moments or the repetitive screaming of the name “Jason”). But things are taken up a notch when you’re tasked with killing a drug dealer to save your son. A difficult decision, made nearly impossible when you realise he has children too.
10. Golden Butterfly - LA Noire
Finally, we have probably a forgotten moral choice when it comes to other sites have tackled a ranked list surrounding this topic, but we go to LA Noire. All of the cases have a harrowing darkness to them, but none are really quite as thoroughly agonising as the Golden Butterfly.
It starts the same as many cases you had to look over, with a murdered woman and you being set with the task of finding a culprit. As you whittle the list of possibles down, you’re left with two suspects - the victim’s husband and a pedophile.
The moral choice is a hard as nails one, as it looks like the pedophile is not the murderer and the husband is looking more and more questionable in his interrogation. Follow the rule of law and you’re forced to convict the husband. But in a bigger twist of self-loathing, it turns out none of them were the killer.