virtualvoyages: an old worn book on a black back ground, a glow at one corner of the book (Default)
[personal profile] virtualvoyages
I've noted a time or two already that the factions of SW:TOR do not tidily break down to Good (the Republic) vs. Evil (the Empire).  Which is actually kind of nice and, at least in my opinion, better than the Protagonist-Centered Morality Good vs. Evil of the prequel movies.  (It's even better than the Good vs. Evil of the original movies, especially if people are going to be playing both factions.)  But I've noticed some odd things about it.

The Republic, as presented in the game, is terribly corrupt, fairly prejudiced against non-humans (though semi-quietly), filled with incompetents, and incapable of keeping peace on its own homeworld (okay, the Empire's got a little trouble with that, too).  It is also filled with people suffering in poverty and despair, most of whom are a) non-human and b) being completely ignored or abandoned by their government.  On the plus side, the Republic wants to see itself as the Good Guys and does, on paper, have good ideals.  But we see very little evidence of it living up to these.

Two of the Republic class story lines are put in motion by the Republic abandoning their own.  And that's not counting all the other abandoned groups of people you encounter in the game.  You find Republic - I think they're Republic - military people making people on a war torn planet run sadistic games for food and supplies, and you have no confidence that the ethics officer you report them to will do anything.  Other Republic military people have little power games going on inside the military and kill off people who disagree with them.  The Republic keeps building super weapons and then misplacing them.  They're willing to throw away lives to rebuild Taris as a PR stunt (to the point that the planetary governor has trapped people there).  And I haven't done more than finish Chapter One on my least Republic attached Republic character and get a few other Republic characters to Taris.  The Force only knows what I'll find in the rest of the story!

Yes, the Empire, as presented in the game, is evil.  I'll just put that right out there.  It's a totalitarian government bent on expansion and led by an evil religious cult.  There is plenty of in-fighting, back-stabbing, and utter disregard for sapient life in all branches of the government.  People are openly anti-alien, slavery is legal, torture is widely used, and, frankly, the only reason my Light Sider Imperials (particularly my Agent) are even alive is because they've got Plot Armor.  So I am not going to try and claim that the Sith Empire is actually the Good Guys.

But... we see the Empire being evil.  Their actions match our expectations and what it says on the tin.  Though, you do meet quite a number of NPCs who seem to be Light Siders, or at a minimum, neutral.  You meet military officers who care about their troops, even to the risk of death (like the captain of the Black Talon), and who care about the civilian populous as well.  You meet mad scientists who hope their inventions will be used to help people.  You meet trainee Sith who mostly just want to stay alive.  Yes, these good or normal people stand out rather against a background of people who want to blow up civilians, don't care about the people they command, and are generally you're expected raging jackass evil folk.  Overall, the Sith Empire is presented as an Evil Empire that is not filled with Evil (or even evil) people - though it has plenty.  They are the wrong side because the government is dedicated to Evil principles, but one is left with the impression that a regime change might fix quite a lot.

What we don't see is the Republic being good.  It isn't the mirror to the Empire, it's an utter mess filled with mostly rather objectionable people who are very much morally compromised.  There are a few shining examples of Good Republic people - Miel Mwun leaps to mind, but they're few and far between.  The Jedi seem rather focused on their order, most of the senators you meet are corrupt, the military is full of Dark Siders, and the citizens are either left to fend for themselves or trying to fix things through morally questionable means.  Where's the background of Good?  Would it have been that hard to convey a basic goodness even if there are bad people in the Republic?  I mean, I walked away from Alderaan feeling like the Organas were good.  I think Duke Whasisface is the only NPC my Smuggler's met and liked who hasn't turned out to be evil or gotten killed.

The lack of goodness in the Republic bothers me when I play Republic side.  Somehow the game doesn't acknowledge it enough, or doesn't acknowledge it in ways I'd expect it to.  I mean, when my Agent gets chewed out for being a decent person, of course he's just going to take it and then go off and do something else good.  He knows his government is evil and he'll just do the best he can to minimize that, help people, etc.  When, say, my Trooper gets chewed out for being a decent person, why in blazes can she not come back with "WTF is wrong with you people!?  What about our supposed high ethics, you asshole!?  Have you seen the freaking mess everything is!?  To hell with you all, I'm going to find that reporter and tell him that you ordered me to kill civilians!"  *stomps out*  I mean, her government is supposed to be good and a democracy and not some kind of police state where you can't do that.

And that's not even touching Chapter Two of the Agent story which promptly makes the Republic look even worse (at least if you're playing a Light Sider).

But, oddly, quite a lot of people are willing to buy that the Republic is Good, simply because that's what it says on the tin.  I'd kinda like to see that, too, guys, not just take it for granted because I've read the box.

Date: 2012-04-21 10:45 pm (UTC)
doomhamster: chibi death knight (Default)
From: [personal profile] doomhamster
*sighs* Sadly this seems pretty prevalent in games. I've met a lot of people who insist that in WoW, Alliance = Good and Horde = Bad even though they're pretty much even for morally questionable actions - but hey, the Alliance care about public image and presenting themselves as the good guys, the Horde just do what they want in general.

Date: 2012-04-22 02:25 am (UTC)
nebelstreif: The smuggler Nebel, relaxing on Coruscant. (Default)
From: [personal profile] nebelstreif
This is a really interesting post, and I want to think long and hard before truly responding, but I did want to say: I don't agree with the idea that "siding with game!Republic is siding with movie!Empire, since one becomes the other." That's like saying that the actions of a great warrior in Sumer eventually come to contribute to Saddam Hussein's regime. Yes, my example doesn't encompass the fact that, in the Star Wars universe, technology seems to be in a (rather advanced) stasis, but I think my point generally holds. Furthermore, even if this Sumerian warrior's activity did in some way contribute to Saddam Hussein, he shouldn't be held culpable for what happens in history, thousands and thousands of years later -- especially if our legendary Sumerian was just and honorable.

Date: 2012-04-22 06:19 am (UTC)
nebelstreif: The smuggler Nebel, relaxing on Coruscant. (Default)
From: [personal profile] nebelstreif
Okay, that makes much more sense!

No, you're absolutely right. People are treating them the same way, and I think that's sort of intentional. (For example, Bioware explicitly choosing to make very Clone Trooper-eseque armor for Troopers.) However, it isn't necessarily a bad thing, and I think the rather-similar characterizations get at something -- any pan-galactic organization is going to have major bureaucratic and logistical issues that open it up to corruption and nepotism. (Not that you disagree, far from it.)

Date: 2012-04-26 06:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] loquat.myid.net
This is definitely one of the things I appreciate about both Aion and Rift - both games essentially have two equally good player factions fighting a civil war while also fighting off an NPC faction that's out to destroy the playable races. You might see players arguing that, say, Asmodians in Aion are meant to be evil because they've got claws and black wings, but the official game lore doesn't support that at all.

I'm very curious now about Bioware's story-writing process. Like, did they start out wanting to show the good side of the Empire and the seamy side of the Republic, and then the seamy side just got out of hand? Or did they start out saying, "you know what, the Republic as depicted in the movies would actually suck for most people living under it - we should bring that out in the game"?

Date: 2012-04-27 02:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] loquat.myid.net
You would be amused by the new Aion expansion if you had a level 55 character - one of the new zones is centered around an NPC city, and the intro cinematic is basically the city leader metaphorically smacking both player factions upside the head and telling them to put their civil war on hold until the Balaur are defeated. Which means you can't PvP in that zone at all, which is good for leveling up to the new cap without getting ganked.

Is there really a lack of people wanting to play the "evil" side? I used to play Warhammer Online, where the Chaos faction was pretty solidly EEEVIL, and they never seemed to have that much trouble coming up with players on my server. Mind you, the Greenskins were EEEVIL in a cartoonish and hilarious way - names like "Boogersnot" are 100% in compliance with Greenskin lore, and it's just plain fun to run around shouting "Waaaaagh!" - so that may have made up for it.

Date: 2012-04-27 03:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] loquat.myid.net
I almost think Aion does a better job in that particular area of lore than Rift does. Both games have the factions blaming each other for starting the civil war, but Aion places the starting incident so far in the past that the truth of who struck the first blow is pretty much unknowable, and over the centuries it's turned into one of those simmering ethnic feuds that's virtually impossible to end.

Meanwhile, Rift's faction split takes place only a few years before the in-game present day, but we're told virtually nothing about it. Somehow the Eldritch Horrors conquered the capital and killed the king, and an agent of theirs manipulated both factions into blaming each other, but that's literally all the detail we have. To be sure, the factions have good reason to be separate - they have very different policies on religion and technology - but I think the rationale for the civil war leans a little too hard on the Guardians' desire to stamp out heresy.

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