Split-Second Pop-Ups
By Anthony Casperson

Games that involve moral decisions have always been some of my favorites. Do I play as a selfless protector of the people? A selfish hooligan? Somewhere in between?

Typically, I play these games in such a style that my character stands for all that is good in the world. The stalwart champion who might understand about shades of gray, but maintains their pure stance of goodness. I might be tempted to do something less than good, but my choice of standards keeps me from succumbing to the temptation.

Just under a decade ago, when Mass Effect 2 came out, I found myself in a situation where the call to cross that line became very tempting. This video game introduced a new mechanic to the series’ perspective on this system: moral interrupts.

During cutscenes, when my character was talking with a person, a little symbol popped up for a split second. If the result would be more loving or selfless, a blue (Paragon) symbol would pop up on the left of the screen. Pressing the trigger button on the left side of my controller would then cause my character to act in that manner.

However, if the result would be more selfish or violent, a red (Renegade) symbol would pop up on the right side of the screen. Then, pressing the right trigger button would allow my character to act accordingly. In either case, not pressing the trigger button would cause the conversation to continue to its end.

Even when playing the purest of paragons, those renegade options beckoned with seductive calls. The council that were the bane of your existence in the first game? It would be so fun to hang up on them when they try to tell you how to do your job. Just press that trigger. That reporter who misrepresents everything you’ve said? Everyone’s talking about how funny the scene goes when their characters hit her. One quick press, and you get to experience it too.

Time and again, those little red symbols made me re-think the standard I’d set for myself. “I’m still a relatively good guy if I pull that right trigger every once in a while,” I’d say to myself. “I’ve pressed every paragon trigger and helped so many people. What’s the difference if I press that right trigger this one time to shoot a guy before he obviously tries to trick me?”

Even the placement of the buttons shows they want you to experience the renegade options. For a right-handed player, the right trigger is more natural to press than the left. And you’ve been pressing that right trigger all game to fire your gun at the enemies. You’ve been trained to press it. (My point is all the more proven when you realize that the PC version of the game flipped the sides of the screen for the interrupt options, making the renegade option be chosen with a press of the left mouse button. The button which we use more often on a mouse.)

It’s so easy to go against the standards that we set for ourselves. So simple to say, just this once. We justify our choice with carefully worded excuses. We’re still relatively good. We’re still better than this other person. We’ve done so much good. How could this one thing hurt us?

And we cross the line that our standards should never allow us to cross. Or worse, we move our standards to fit this new choice.

For a little while now, I’ve been dealing with the call of temptation to move some of my standards. It’s not about one of the sins we’d consider a “big” one. It’s more about making something easier for myself. There’ve even been excuses that it would be better for me. That a “small” change would allow me to experience good things that I’m supposed to have. And it would be FAR less stressful for me.

But “one time” often becomes another…and then another…and another.

It’s not the big things that catch us most of the time. Those, we can see coming. We can get out of the way, or set ourselves in a firm stance. It’s those “small” things, those split-second pop ups, that tempt us. “Just this one time.”

But if we give in, we give up on the character that God is working in us. It may be more difficult. We might feel all alone. Darkness and death may seem our close companions. But the path God directs us down will leave us with the best ending. An ending of maturity that lasts longer than split-second gratification.