11/07/2020

It's Not Easy Being Mean

I have long struggled with playing dark side characters in SWTOR. If you look at my characters page (which I actually haven't updated in quite a while, meaning that a couple of my newer characters are missing, but what's there is still broadly accurate), you can see that the vast majority of my characters are light-sided, and even those who aren't are generally described as neutral or at worst "moderately" dark-sided, meaning that they still make light side decisions pretty frequently.

I have started more than one character with the intent to make them evil, mostly whenever I felt inspired by comments about how this or that story twist is particularly engaging if you're dark-sided, but it never lasts very long. I always slip up and start drifting towards light side decisions, mostly because so many of the dark side decisions, especially in the base game, are flat out insane. As someone who always puts at least a little bit of herself into all of her characters, I simply don't want to play a psychopath.


There are some dark side decisions that I'm fine with making on my (supposedly) evil characters: Killing an enemy instead of sparing them after defeat, insisting on payment instead of simply helping someone out of kindness, or getting physically violent in the face of annoyance are but some examples. Sure, those are all bad things, but they are all based on basic human impulses (such as greed or anger) that everyone's at least familiar with, even if we do generally try to fight them in our everyday lives.

A lot of dark side options though simply do not make sense unless you are playing a psychopathic mass murderer who enjoys watching the world burn at every opportunity, such as when someone actively helps you out and at the end of the interaction you're basically given the option to say thanks or kill them just because you can. It's just... WHY.

My most recent attempts at living the dark side life have been the Assassin and the Juggernaut that I created back during the DvL event as I've finally been working on their class stories. Fortunately the built-in light/dark toggle introduced in KotET makes it easier to deceive myself about their alignments, because even if I make some light side decisions now and then, the constant trickle of dark side points awarded from simply having the toggle set to dark side easily drowns out any friendly or merciful impulses. I genuinely seem to have had some success sticking to my guns though, as evidenced by me running into some amusing conversation options that I hadn't encountered before (when you're only fighting with words, dark-siders can be quite funny, I'll give them that) and occasionally getting exasperated with the results of my own decisions.

A prime example of the latter occurred during the inquisitor story on Alderaan, where you're supposed to lure a Jedi onto the planet by having his former fiancée from many years ago contact him. I don't remember how exactly the light side version goes, but you can be nice to both of them and try to get them to reconcile after all those years (I just don't remember if it works). Playing dark side this time around though, I basically just bullied the lady into making the call, and when she expressed some nervousness about seeing her old fiancé again, I chose a conversation option that outright told her that I didn't give a damn because I was just going to kill him anyway. This - understandably - upset her, so she got mad and attacked me, causing her to die before the guy even arrived on the planet. Khem Val approved, but I seem to remember sitting back and actually saying out loud: "God, I'm such an asshole."


For the longest time I felt like a bit of an oddball for feeling so bad about playing dark side. It's just a game, right? I remember in the early days it seemed like all the big content creators were playing evil Imperial characters as their mains and poking fun at Republic wimps etc. at every corner. I actually got some comments from readers who said that they were impressed to meet someone that was so open about being a staunch, light-sided Republic player because it seemed quite unusual to them.

Recently I don't get as much of these same vibes anymore though. The current biggest SWTOR content creator, Swtorista, is a trooper main like me, and Vulkk mains a Sentinel from as far as I remember. The dark vs. light event four years ago surprised me by concluding with a pretty firm light side victory, even if the final result was still pretty close to a half and half split. Three years ago a SWTOR Facebook post revealed that 76% of players going through KotFE/KoTET had decided to save/redeem Arcann instead of kill him - admittedly that was only one specific choice, but I was still impressed by how strongly that skewed towards one end of the spectrum. More recently, I can also say that anecdotally at least, the dark vs. light "state of the galaxy" on Darth Malgus seems to see the light side winning about three times for every dark side victory. That's quite a contrast to the dark side winning within an hour of the feature's initial introduction.

A few months ago, a former Cinematic Designer from Bioware also commented on Twitter that in Mass Effect, something like 92% of players chose the "nice" options - which is a different game, mind you, but I still think a lot of people were surprised that with so much effort put into letting players choose their path, the vast majority went for the exact same goodie-two-shoes options anyway.

It has given me some comfort to know that there are more people like me who just enjoy playing the good guy most of the time - though it does make me wonder why SWTOR got such a reputation for everyone wanting to play an edgy dark-sider to begin with...

11 comments :

  1. I struggle with "evil" or "dark" options in almost all games. Partly it's because I feel uncomfotable about doing "bad" things even vicariously but mostly it's because games developers seem to think "evil" is a synonym for "rude".

    Seriously, what is the problem? It's not as if fiction isn't bursting at the seams with examples of suave, sophisticated, charming villains. I'd happily play one of those. Instead, what I get offered are boorish thugs with the manners of a football hooligan. They're just too embarrassing to play.

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  2. I'm so glad to see someone else struggles with being "evil" in the game as well! I keep contemplating intentionally making at least one Dark character, but I always decide otherwise really quickly. I've probably only made a handful of officially "dark side" decisions across all my characters, and each one really felt like an agonizing moral choice. I think I overthink this game a little too much :-).

    That's also really fascinating the information you've found about overall light and dark both for this game and others with moral choices. I would be truly interested to get full statistics from the developers about percentage of characters per faction, percentage dark vs. light, percentage chosen for each major decision, etc. And how they interact - for light side characters, how many are Republic vs. light side Empire? And as you allude, since one can get plenty of LS/DS points from the alignment toggle, how many characters' decisions actually line up with their stated alignment?

    Thanks for giving us an article with a lot of fascinating food for thought!

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    1. I love hearing numbers about almost anything in the game, but I understand why they don't like providing them... all too often they can be spun in a negative way. Makes me all the more excited whenever they do reveal anything at all though!

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    2. I find it maddening, tbh. I have a Operative and a Sorc, both are currently light V - and both finished their story as neutral. Having them "turned LS" when they weren't bothers me.
      Not to mention, it must be VERY HARD to get the darth occlus title these days, one must be constantly watchign their toggle.

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    3. Yeah, I do miss the option to be neutral a little (though I've grown someone used to the way it works now). Makes me glad that I got my Darth Occlus back when it was easy.

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  3. I think that in the early days more people said they wanted to play Dark Side Imperial characters because they really liked Darth Vader and viewed the Empire as really cool badasses. (I suspect most of the good PvPers still subscribe to this idea. ^_^) Because of the game's rating they never really had to be evil -- no killing children like Anakin did in the movies -- just some snarky comments or force choking/lightning some people.

    I would suspect that over time people got their fill of the Dark Side and Empire and gravitated to the Republic or Light Side characters simply because that's where their natural tendencies are. I do wonder what faction has the larger player base and which of the Dark Side / Light Side is more played these days.

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  4. I struggle with a lot of dark-side options because they are stupid, not evil, so most of my dark characters make a good amount of light-side decisions.

    I wouldn't let them alone with a puppy, though.

    SnarkyAgent

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  5. Although I'm quick to praise the conversation wheel compared to the paltry/non-existant options most MMORPGs present, the dark side options really needed some more variety and nuance. Three options weren't enough I suppose and the evil option was usually pretty out there. My Bounty Hunter was dark side but not by a large margin because there were some very unprofitable dark side choices along the way. Same with my Agent for the reason he wouldn't do anything so blatant or stupid. I haven't played a proper evil sith to really try the full on evil for evil's sake angle, someday...

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  6. I would say that this is because Dark Siders are loud and love to show they're edgy.
    Also, kids. Really, most extreme DS I met were the younger ones.

    I agree that it is quite hard to be hardline-DS, funny at times but most of the time just plain-stupid (then again, works with storylines that depend on you taking mandatory stupid options such as SI and JK). Anyway, I find some of the DS choices easier on KOTFE/KOTET as they are less stupid - some are even logical.

    unrelated: wanted to send you a dm on twitter and noticed it was not possible; just to say that... well, between haters and men who think it's cool to act like its 1950's, idk what is more useless ^^'

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    1. Oh, I guess I need to follow you for you to be able to DM me? Feel free to let me know your Twitter handle if you want to exchange more messages there.

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    2. @adsinmalgusland - I thinkit may be the case, and I never knew about that setting! :D

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