Illustration: Christian Cashman

I have played games like Fallout and Mass Effect over and over. I keep coming back to them, but I can only play as an evil character once.

I only go down that path so that I can say that I played the game as fully as possible. In doing so, I do get a richer understanding of a game’s universe, of how my actions affect the world around me, and sometimes it’s nice to be a little snarky instead of being a perpetual goodie-two-shoes. But if I were to fall so far and join Caesar’s Legion in Fallout: New Vegas or go so renegade in Mass Effect that you punch out a journalist for asking basic questions, I feel a knot in my stomach form. It is my conscience viscerally attempting to stop me from going further along a dark path.

I understand it’s just role playing that has no affect on the real world, but much like how parenthood changed how I enjoy horror films and games, it’s hard for me not to put myself in situations presented. The fact it’s just a simulation doesn’t prevent me from feeling terrible when I force myself to visit pain suffering on others, even virtual ones, just so that I can get the “full experience”. The only time I don’t immediately regret my choices is when the deed is so over-the-top that it doesn’t get fully processed until later. The more outlandish the act, the more time it takes me to feel its impact. Detonating the Megaton nuclear bomb in Fallout 3 is so comically villainous that I have a flash of wonder before the aftershock of guilt washes over me. I made the mistake of trudging back to the small town’s remains. Seeing the devastation and a ghoulified Moira made my heart sink.

I’m a completionist. I have an overriding urge to explore every nook and cranny in a game. When it comes to an RPG, the same is true in regards to its moral outcomes. I just hate being evil.