In the original Neverwinter Nights campaign, I slaughtered every civilian in the starting town before ever beginning the real adventure. I did so because it provided me with a lot of extra loot and xp (I even levelled up before leaving town...before my first mission outside the introduction). I tend to act similarly in many games, though not all.
The assumption of many game designers is that the reward of roleplaying good is simply the roleplay value of being a good character. That seems a just reward for many gamers, but not for all.
For myself, I guess there’s too much moral disconnect between reality and the game fantasy.
Being good in reality is about love…a desire to be with/together, as closely as possible, other persons or Persons (God). If the game’s NPCs are too flat or distant for me to care for (to “love”, so to speak), then the reward of their well-being or praises and congeniality toward me is hollow and ultimately worthless. If togetherness is the extent of my reward in such a game, then I will roleplay an evil character, because that is rewarded more substantially.
So a goal of designers should be to make NPCs loveable, as much as possible. Or, if that’s not possible, reward good roleplaying with more than just verbal appreciation.
How do we make NPCs loveable? That's a whole 'nother can of worms.
Looking back at my NWN experience, Lady Aribeth had some character depth and explanation, but I still didn't connect with her enough to consider her praises and well-being a significant reward. I think part of that was the distant 3rd-person view I usually played in. Another factor was the dialogue and voice-acting, which was somewhat melodramatic (the style typical of fantasy games). And yet another factor was that the game's introduction act had not sufficiently encouraged me to perceive Neverwinter as a place of personal value. I'm sure there were many other factors involved as well.
As general guidelines:
- The settings/environments must have emotive or mythological (truth) value to the player.
- The player must be provided with enough time and quality interaction with NPCs before being expected to associate personally with the NPC. Implying to the player that "you should care because this NPC is important to the story" is not enough.
- Sanctions for the player's behavior must be continual, rather than momentary, for the player to critique his or her own actions on moral grounds. Bitterness, ostracism, avoidance and other such social sanctions have some longevity. If an NPC say "Oh my! I can't believe you did that!" and then interacts with me exactly as before my offense, then that's not much encouragement to regret my offense.
What else should be added to this list?