Some people who play The Outer Worlds will make only the most righteous choices, bureaucracy be damned. Others, like TheGamer’s very own Eric Switzer, will choose to kill every single NPC in the game.
And then there are those of us who will weigh costs and balances to make decisions that serve only our own wants and desires.
In the real world, these are politicians and celebrities who tear down others to get ahead. In the game, it looks more like doing favors for people but expecting something in return. No, lady… I don’t care if those are your last bits. I got your 40-something-year-old son to return to you to explain why he joined a cult. Pay up!
Initially, I went into this play-through thinking the self-serving choices would be obvious, putting my inflated ego at the front and center of every decision. But I quickly realized there's an inherent contradiction: Often, helping someone else is the most self-serving choice.
Ethics, Altruism and the Fate of Humankind
In Objectivism, a philosophical school of thought that emerged from the works of Ayn Rand, there’s a concept that rejects altruism. Grossly simplified, it boils down to the idea that helping others is self-serving in its own right.
In a world where killing as many people as possible has no actual real-life consequences, ethics go to the raptidons. It’s all about getting the coolest weapons and gear, banking a ton of bits and taking over the world in this strange neo-Capitalist regime.
The ethical choice and the most self-serving choice usually don't line up. Ethically, you’d rarely have a good reason to steal or lie to someone. But in putting myself first, I constantly stole things, talked down to people and lied my way out of situations. (As an aside, Objectivism rejects that people should lie, cheat and manipulate others to achieve their goals.)
But when it came down to NPCs, there was rarely an instance where helping someone wouldn’t give me some kind of an advantage. This might mean more XP, bits, weapons or important information. So, I helped as many people as I could — for a price.
Let’s be clear: I did absolutely nothing for the greater good of humanity. Everything I did was for the greater good of my character, Bojack.
Reflecting on Consequences
Some choices may have had consequences of which I’m not fully aware. When I had the choice to retore power to either Edgewater or Botanical Lab, I chose Edgewater. After all, the fellow over there had money the deserters didn’t. Ultimately, I couldn’t convince Adelaide, the leader of the lab, to go back to Edgewater. Spoiler alert! She eventually died. The mayor of Edgewater buried her under the Saltuna factory. But she’s dead, so who cares where she’s buried? It was her choice to forgo the chance to return to Edgewater, not mine.
One of the characters that joined my journey, Pavarti, asked me to perform a number of tasks for her as she got ready for her date with another engineer. I found her asks truly annoying and thought about telling her to leave my crew. However, her engineering skills and ability to help me carry extra weight were worthwhile in the long run. Give a little, take a lot.
One of the pivotal choices in the game hinges on whether to help Phineas Welles, the scientist who resurrected my character, or to work with the Board to capture him. In his effort to resurrect humanity, Welles performed unethical experiments on frozen bodies and killed several innocent people in the process. On the other hand, the Board wanted to save all of humanity by freezing the sick and dying residents of the universe as a form of population control, replacing the thousands of still-frozen humans lingering in pods from Earth. Only the people of Byzantium would remain unfrozen as they attempted to develop solutions to reinvigorate the worlds.
I played both sides of the questline, pledging my allegiance to the Board but also taking time to rendezvous with the weirdo scientist who brought me out of a cytogenetically frozen pod expecting me to save the universe.
For what it’s worth, the Earthlings floating through space are frozen and, more importantly, not me. So, I didn’t really care much about turning them into a bunch of space corpses. But the people of Byzantium sucked, so my self-serving choice was, “F them.” I opted to save the passengers from Earth, though any notion of utilitarian ethics played little role in this decision.
Empath or Sociopath?
Taken together, these motivations are markers of a sociopath. However, it also illustrates why a self-serving attitude may, at a surface level, present itself as altruism. Frequently, I completed quests for people and only then would bully them into paying me. I also tried to kill as few NPCs as possible, as I didn't know who I might need to manipulate in the future. Plus, if someone asked me to kill another person, it was easy enough just to lie to and tell them the person they wanted dead was, in fact, dead.
Selfishly helping all those people actually came back to benefit me in the end. My fake altruism provided a bonus at the end of the game, when crews from the Groundbreaker and other folks I’d met along the way supported my prison break on Tartarus.
I did kill some NPCs. I killed the leader of the Iconoclasts, who I felt was a total s***head. I killed the leader of the Board, because for as self-serving as I was, I couldn’t imagine having to spend eternity answering to her.
No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
I’m not sure there’s much of a moral here except to show there’s truth to the adage that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Everyone always wants something from someone else, just as we always want something from them. At the end of the day, we're all just looking out for ourselves.
Lest you wonder, I got a pretty good ending. One of the game’s last dialogue options asked what I plan to do next. My response was something along the lines of “What I’ve always done: Whatever I want.”
With self-interest at the core, this is precisely what one would expect my character to say. If there's a core takeaway, perhaps it's that it's okay to be self-interested as long as enough other people benefit because of it.