There’s some spoilers for Infamous: Second Son in this article, so I’d avoid it if you actually care about the largely quite rubbish plot in that game and come back when you’ve finished it. I wouldn’t worry THAT much though.
Very few games get actual decision making right. At their best, they’re something like Far Cry 2, where at no point does it tell you ‘THIS IS DEFINITELY THE GOOD/BAD THING TO DO, SO DO THIS’ and just allows you to make your own choices as you move through the story. You provide the moral barometer and you - as in literally you, sat in your pants in front of your console - provide the stance on whether or not something was an act of good or evil.
Most of the time, it is like Mass Effect. You’ve got an obviously good and an obviously bad choice, and if you’re lucky you’ll get a couple of ‘flavour’ choices and some neutral options. It isn’t the worst system, it is just usually painfully binary. Occasionally, a game will twist this basic formula, like The Walking Dead or The Witcher, to give the decisions you have to make a greater feeling of consequence, but it is still the usual list of choices to make.
The weirdest one I’ve seen recently is the moral choices you have to make in Infamous: Second Son. Essentially, Suckerpunch have decided that murder is a much lesser crime than selling drugs in this future Seattle (which is odd, as marijuana was recently decriminalized in Washington state), and they’ve made this a big part of how you advance your character down the good or bad path. It is weird, because the developers have essentially made the moral choice for you, by taking a very conservative stance on narcotics. Regardless of what you think, Delsin’s politics have been set for you.
Second Son shows its true colours pretty quickly. You find a group of armed dudes standing around a large bag and upon approaching them you’re greeted with the message ‘Drugs are bad and destroying them will get you GOOD KARMA’. Right. Other than showing a powerfully bull-headed approach to the selling of illegal drugs, these guys are all painted up as categorically BAD. It is almost as if no one involved in the creative process behind Infamous: Second Son has ever had a smoke of something less-than-legal, which is almost certainly bollocks. If you’re playing the game, aiming for a good karma playthrough, you want to be finding all of these drug gangs and murdering the fuck out of them. Go in all powers blazing, chuck them off buildings, blow them up - these guys absolutely must die, so say the rules of good and evil in the Infamous universe.
On the other hand, there’s the Russian Akuran gang, a gaggle of anti-conduit dudes who want nothing more than ‘your kind’ to be killed or locked up. Killing any of these guys gets you BAD KARMA points! This gang of dudes who are just as armed to the teeth as the drug peddlers, but for some arbitrary reason, killing these dudes is an act of TOTAL EVIL. Get this, I even jumped a gang of these Akuran fellows and ONLY used my powers to neutralise them, rather than killing them. Nope, still an act of pure evil.
Infamous’ stance that dealing drugs is way worse than actual murder is further compounded when you meet Fetch, the assassin who has the ‘neon’ power you acquire and make the game exponentially better in the process. Fetch has got an issue with drug dealers because she killed her brother when she was going through a withdrawal from what is implied to be heroin. Obviously, this murder was the fault of 'the drugs'. Since then, she’s been hunted by the police as she is essentially a serial killer, leaving little calling cards at the crime scenes, where she’s usually crucified some guy who was dishing out smack or something. You track her down, and after a particularly tedious boss fight, you’re given an option as to what to do with her. It should come as no surprise at all to you that what Suckerpunch deem the ‘good’ thing to do is to team up with her and go on a crazed dealer murder spree, cumulating in a firefight at the docks where there’s a body count of at LEAST one hundred men you laser your way through.
There’s some dialogue between Delsin and Fetch, where Delsin essentially talks her into only knocking the drug dealers out, which would be something if it wasn’t for the fact that outside of this token scene to make Delsin seem a bit more reasonable than this rage fuelled girl, you can send him about the city firing smoke missiles into packs of dealers like it’s a fucking act of charity.
This shouldn’t surprise me. Games have had a pretty strange relationship with violence since day one. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bulletstorm, Hotline Miami and even truly dumb stuff like Postal 2, but because ‘killing loads of dudes’ is pretty much THE gaming standard, violence just doesn’t seem like a thing to take note of. In fact, the only time it is ever noted is when people are making a fuss over say, the torture sequence in GTA V, the ‘surgery’ in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes or almost all of Manhunt. Hilariously, they’re all games which have shown an unflinching realism to the violence, not just an action movie consequence free kill spree, and everyone got really upset. “There’s no room for torture in games!” people tweeted. They may as well have been saying that they’re writing off games as a genuinely artistic medium where more uncomfortable issues can be explored, and to let them go back to their Call of Duty now please.
Let’s be fair, how on Earth was your average Infamous buying gamer EVER going to buy into a game that had a reasoned and interesting take on the ‘war on drugs’? Maybe we’re still asking way too much, hence the broad strokes used here? There’s no denying that Infamous has a very childish attitude to things, but then, games are still for the most part aimed directly at those who don’t want their stances to be questioned.