BioWare is a video game developer based in Canada which is currently owned by EA (Electronic Arts). It was founded in 1995 by Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk--"the Doctors"--along with Augustine Yip. Bioware is best known for creating games that allow the player to create their own morality in-game, driven by how they respond to choices during the course of the game that are seen as more evil or more good by the other characters in the game. Because of this, Bioware's games have serious ethical considerations. Besides their games having been designed to test user’s ethical values through choices, the company also tested their own ethical values, which stirred up many controversies dealing with the audience's responses to games and content.
Morality in BioWare Games
Starting with their Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series and continuing with Mass Effect and Dragon Age, BioWare has developed a binary morality system that alters a player's character based on the actions they perform.
In the aforementioned games, the user is presented a "dialogue wheel", where dialogue choices that are aligned generally along a chaotic, netural, and lawful paradigm affect both the flow of the player's conversation with a non-player character (NPC) and the ensuing gameplay. In the Mass Effect series, for example, the choices a player makes can determine the life or death of a squad mate and the chance of success on a critical mission.
There is some criticism regarding the limited definitions BioWare provides to determine a player's morality. The Dragon Age series may have responded to this criticism, as the dialogue options in those games feature a variety of personalities--leaving morality out of the picture--with which your character will respond. Eventually, your character's default manner of speech will assume the personality type that you've chosen most often.
In Miguel Sicart's "The Banality of Simulated Evil", Sicart addresses Knights of the Old Republic--along with Fable and Fahrenheit--as an example where ethics are programmed into the gameplay. By assigning actions and speech to various pre-determined moral positions, these games restrict ethics to the "procedural gradient", which removes the interpretation of morality from the player and instead places it on the machine. Thus, these games are ultimately banal in their treatment of ethics.
Sicart advocates instead a game design philosophy in which morality is evaluated on a "semantic gradient", i.e. by the player's reflection on ethics of a game's events. BioWare continues to employ a ludic alignment system for their games, calling into question whether they are ethically relevant.
Use of Artificial Intelligence
In Mass Effect, many types of neutral and hostile AI are implemented in different situations. On the Citadel, the game's central hub of intergalactic government, there are AI's that provide any information you ask concerning directions on how to get to specific locations within the Citadel and then transports you without questioning your motives. Whether you need directions to the medical ward to interview a survivor of an attack or need fast transit to the lower wards to kill a traitorous soldier, the AI performs tasks as programmed.
The Geth are introduced in Mass Effect as a completely autonomous and non-organic race created originally as laborers and soldiers. As the storyline progresses, the Geth become sentient of their inferiority and turn on their Quarian creators. After driving the Quarians out of their home planet, the entire galaxy has turned to caution in implementing AI in their societies for fear of similar attacks of the Geth on their own peoples.
In Mass Effect 2, BioWare introduces an AI on the ship the SR-2 Normandy called EDI (Enhanced Defense Intelligence), that not only helps the pilot "Joker" maintain the functions of the ship, but provides information to the player upon activation. Although many of the passengers on the SR-2 Normandy question the use of an AI in controlling the ship, EDI maintains its moral responsibility by functioning as programmed - following the orders of Commander Shepard and doing its best to protect the lives of all of its passengers.
Controversy in BioWare video games mostly deal with the graphical violent and sexual activities a player can experience. Mass Effect allowed players to have interspecies and same sex sexual encounters and Dragon age 2 allowed players to develop same sex sexual relationships. BioWare confronted the critics that complained about these controversial relationships and the neglect of their main demographic of straight males by releasing a state on March 24, 2011. David Gaider, a BioWare staff member, stated “The romances in the game are not for “the straight male gamer”. They’re for everyone.”
Mass Effect 3 launch/Ending
BioWare released its third installment in the Mass Effect series, Mass Effect 3, on March 6th, 2012, as the final chapter to Commander Shepard’s story. The first half of the controversy was the launch initially had free on-Disc downloadable content (DLC), but in the weeks leading up to the launch date, it was retracted to be later release on Xbox live. Many fans took this action as a cheap way for the company to gain extra money, which this practice is well practiced already throughout the video game industry. The ending of Mass Effect 3 resulted in the most criticism, as it was claimed that the various endings lacked any variety. A significant amount of users complained about their experiences and labeled it false advertising.
BioWare responded to these criticisms by supporting their writers and the endings that were created. The company continued on not being responsive to these claims for about a month. In April, Bioware admitted to the scale of backlash and announced the release of the DLC titled Extended Cut, which expanded the original endings to meet the concerns of the players. The DLC was released on June 26th, 2012.
BioWare has been known to have scenes with intense and violent game play. Some games have raised concern that it could add to desensitization towards violence, as in many other game systems. However, Bioware has raised the idea of addressing different audiences and not requiring gory combat scenes as a part of the core gaming experience.