What Does Being a Paragon or Renegade Say About You?

Mass Effect 3 comes out in about twelve hours, and as such I thought I’d try to touch on a subject that is about to confront many of us as we play. Outside of Reaper slaying, one of the core premises of the series is what kind of Commander Shepard you are. Are you a tough talking, no nonsense badass who isn’t afraid to skirt morality to get the job done? Or are you a smooth talking charmer who manages to keep a cool head to get the mission done within normal constraints of the law?

But it’s a question that isn’t limited to just Mass Effect. A moral choice system exists in a huge quantity of games these days, and you usually have to make a decision between “badass and straight edge” but almost more often between pure “good and evil.” The most extreme example of this would be a game like Fable, where if you saved all the orphans you could, a halo would appear above your head. Conversely, if you slay townsfolk like cattle, you would sprout literal horns.

Poor life decisions.

The question I have for you today isn’t just about whether you play as a Paragon or Renegade in these games, but rather it’s why you do so.

I’ve come up with a theory that the way you play a game with a moral choice system says something about your personality. Though it’s probably not the type of psychological study that’s going to get a whole lot of funding devoted to it, I think there’s something to the idea.

There has to be a reason that no matter what, I’m always a paragon in every single one of these moral choice games I play. Yes, I usually play through twice and make all “bad” decisions the next time through just to see what happens. But my first character, the one I identify with, always goes down the “good guy” route.

Shoot Wrex? I would never!

As for me in real life? I’d love to claim I’m some sort of hard-edge badass, but I’m not, I’m a Paragon personality through and through. I get along with practically everyone. I’m always acting as a mediator between conflicting parties. I try to go out of my way to be nice. I almost always stay in bounds of moral codes and laws.

As such, there are rarely times where I can bring myself to go against my personality in a video game that gives me the choice. Contrastingly, I’ve watched my more hotheaded friends start murdering freely in moral choice games, racking up more evil points than Satan himself without even a second thought.

I supposed there could be someone like me who wants to use a video game as a release. To let loose a portion of his aggressive side that lurks deep beneath the surface, and will probably never see the light of day in real life. But crossovers seem like they’d be rare, and I think even more scarce would be real life “Renegades” who suddenly want to button up their shirts and pretend to be straight-edge in a video game.

Though to be fair, some games don’t really give you a choice.

I could be wildly off base here, as my sample size isn’t that great, so that’s why I’m looking to you guys to see if you could support my theory. I’m not suggesting that you’re “evil” if you play that way in a game, but I think it does bring out certain aspects of your personality, some that you might not even acknowledge are there. I never really viewed myself as a goody two-shoes, but self-reflection has taught me that this is the case, whether I want it to be or not.

Now, how about a separate study on those who play opposite gendered characters? Kidding, kidding. Sort of.

Anyway, let me know your thoughts on the Paragon/Renegade debate in the comments, and we’ll publish a scientific journal about it when we’re done.


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  1. I find myself being a complete pansy when I play the morally good Shephard. But as soon as my Paragon meter is full to diffuse any needy situations, usually just in time to tell The Illusive Man to suck a big one, I go full on badass to set the tone right for the ending. It’s reasons like shooting Wrex and other related things that I tend to stray away from full being a full blown ass wipe.

    More importantly, how come you haven’t been posting about the Mass Effect 3 Demo or raging against that $10 “From Ashes” DLC announced before the game was even released. I’m kinda relying on you to tell me if it’s worth my while.

  2. I’m with you in real life, I’m paragon all the way. But I really have to wonder is that because I truly am that way in my heart and soul or is it I’m afraid of jail time and enjoy my anus as a purely “exit only” orifice. Who knows. As for gaming it truly depends upon the game. In a story based game such as Mass Effect or SW: KotOR I will play both ways seperately just to see the effects of my actions on the story. In a game with a truly open world (i.e. Fallout 3, Skyrim, etc.) I will play as I see fit. If there is a character that bugs the hell out of me, that person is as good as dead and their belongings are mine. If I see someone I can truly help by killing bandits for them, those bandits are as good as dead and their belongings are mine. But, in a game such as Grand Theft Auto or Saint’s Row… well lets just say that if Saint Michael judged us for our behavior in video games the list of horrible things I’ve done in both of those games would out-weigh anything I’ve done in both real life as well as other video games.
    For example. In GTA IV I made it a hobby of “my character” to sleep with prostitutes, bludgeon them with a bat, run over their body, park the car on top of the body then light the car on fire. In Saint’s Row, I supplemented my income in game by taking the passengers of cars I stole hostage until they paid me money, then I would drive as fast as I could into a wall so the ragdoll physics would launch them out the windshield. Then I would go find another car with passengers and repeat the process. My wife refuses to watch me play those games anymore. She doesn’t understand why I do it and neither do I.

  3. I actually commented this elsewhere, but in games like Fallout 3/NV and Fable and such, I tend to go down the evil path, simply because I find it fun to do so. The game is still playable in most, if not all aspects, and sometimes you even get new missions and gameplay from the actions you make. Since there’s no reason I can’t be a cold-blooded psychopath, I tend to go for it, probably because it’s at a polar opposite from my actual life, where I normally try to be a pretty nice guy.

    However, when it comes to the Mass Effect series, I have a huge beef with playing Renegade. After playing through ME1 and 2 as a Paragon, I went back to play through ME1 as a Renegade, and I found that instead of being a badass vigilante like Garrus or Batman, for example, I was just a racist jerkoff that blamed everyone else and pushed them away. I never got finished that playthrough, because it just broke every strain of immersion that I had, and I only play games for the story more than anything else. There was no point playing a Shepard that didn’t make sense to me. He wasn’t a badass, but a jackass. Not a hero, but a bully.

  4. I play Paragon only because I don’t want to miss on any quest. Saying ‘fuck off’ to NPCs tend to make them leave and not give me their quest 😛

  5. First play through, I answer how I would answer regardless of paragon/renegade. I usually end up in the middle. Second and third play through’s I will go as far as possible each way.

    I think most people tend to go bad ass as they can’t in real life, and the only thing it says about you irl is that you are a good guy ^_^

  6. I try to go paragon for the 1st run, but i end up make the choices that i would make in those situations.
    On my 2nd play though, I go evil and start killing all the ‘younglings’

  7. I used to go for what I would do and end up in the middle ground. recently I’ve changed my approach and I prefer to play as a character. ln ME2 I was much more aggresive and got the job done whatever it took as inside I was bitter at losing everything because of the reapers. telling the galactic council to stick it up their ass was one of my favourite moments in the last game. I found it more fun to make believe I was this hard ass than just be me again.

  8. I play paragon but mostly because playing as renegade doesn’t feel right in the context of the story.

    Actually I just finished listening to this podcast which discusses the potential of the choice/consequence of the Mass Effect games.


    I think there needs to be more compelling effects to your actions instead of listening to a news report on your latest paragon/renegade action.

  9. I have to be honest, When playing mass effect, i always go paragon. but when i played 2, i found myself using ALL of the interrupts, both paragon and renegade. I watched my friend play a renegade character, and i wanted to smack him for how much of an asshole he was being. but the interrupts were more badass than asshole, especially the “You talk too much” from Mordin’s loyalty mission. I tried to make it so my Shepard was a hero: He was a good guy who got things done by the books, but when the books didn’t apply, he wasn’t afraid to act brutally and lethally. He wasn’t perfect, but he was damn close, and he should be just as feared by enemies as he is respected by friends.

  10. I play as renegade every chance I get because, why not?
    The reason we are who we are in life are because the rules that govern us. I admit I would do some things that would qualify me as a renegade if I wasn’t wanting to spend the next twenty years in jail. So when I get the option and the freedom to, it’s all down to why not?

  11. I kinda hate the moral choices because I worry about what my choices will end up producing or eliminating. I simply want the best and most content that my choices will make, so more often than not I refer to an faq to see the ramifications. Now if they made a game that you couldn’t reload saves or predict story outcomes, if I had to make a choice and live with it, that might be pretty cool.

  12. Okay, first off, whenever I take an alignment quiz I either end up with True Neutral or Chaotic Neutral. I find that the character that I play as in my games naturally follows along these lines.

    My character is usually a girl (what does that say about me?) that is a no-nonsense, get things done, end justifies the means kind of gal. However, I’m not about to go around being a dick to everyone I meet because the option is there. If people are friendly with me, then I’ll reciprocate. I’m not above punching out a reporter for giving me shit, though.

    I think this brings out a point that I don’t think has been really addressed in these games.


    For example: having high points in either Paragon or Renegade allows you to unlock special dialogue options. That essentially forces you to pick a side if you want to pass the harder speech checks.

    Also, people usually get punished for going the renegade route. Maybe not too much in Mass Effect, but definitely in Bioshock (which was highly touted as a game with huge moral choice)

    The answer to that choice (for most people) ended up being “Whichever route gets me better swag.”

  13. While I never played Mass Effect (I know), I’ve always tended on the side of renegade in any game I play with a “moral” element to it.

    My favourite was KOTOR 2 as you could corrupt your allies to be as dark side-y as you were. I found it a specific kind of challenge to try and convince the more light-side leaning characters to be evil. You had to be really positive about them, and let them hear what they wanted to hear. I once got all the force-sensitive followers to join the dark side.

    In Skyrim and others I follow more a “me” character, but this still errs towards the darker elements of the game. I kill anyone I don’t like or think has something I want. But, I try to be careful, getting bounties in cities is just stupid and unnecessary. So I don’t kill indiscriminately, but I steal if I can get away with it, kill people if it suits me, and just generally act as I see fit. I also seek out the Daedric artefacts, because who doesn’t need an unfair advantage?

    I don’t really think this says too much about my personality. I don’t act like that in real life and wouldn’t given the choice. But that’s sort of the point of a game, to express things and play out actions that you wouldn’t in real life in a safe environment. The best games allow you true freedom of choice and demonstrate the consequences of those actions.

  14. Andy basically summed it up. I usually end up playing a paragon just because taking the paragon route tends to lead to better rewards and easier objectives.

    The majority of games really do try to make it a distinct “Are you good or evil!?” kind of choice. It bugs me when the games try to quatify how good or evil you’ve been. Killed 3 children? Well, that’s 5 evil points for you! Of all the “paragon system” games I’ve played recently, I think Deus Ex: Human Revolution has been one of the best. And the reason for that is because it specifically doesn’t measure your “goodness/evilness”.

  15. @Andy

    I don’t think a reward for going the middle is really the solution. I say this because nobody wants to play a game where every choice they make is the neutral one, what people want is to make the decision based on what they would do in that given situation, which is the real problem with these sorts of games. When people really make their own decisions in the dialogue, sometimes it’s the “good” choice and sometimes it’s the “bad” and on occasion people even make the “neutral” choice, if you reward all three paths then you make the choices meaningless because no matter what decision you make it nets you a positive. Now I’m not saying the the way they do things now is fine, I’m just saying that the “middle of the road reward” won’t fix it.

    In my opinion, there need to be more permanent negative outcomes when you make certain decisions over others, they should make it impossible to complete every mission, gain every item, or in the case of ME2 make every character loyal by having a high enough good or bad “alignment”. I remember when I played that Zaeed DLC and on the loyalty mission I decided not to let the miners burn to death, which should have cost me his loyalty but nope… I paragon persuaded his ass and he became loyal, which is just bullshit. I was so pissed I reloaded the mission, made the same choices, and didn’t chose the paragon persuade option. So in the end I let him be disloyal which meant he died in the suicide mission but fuck it, those where MY choices dammit and I accepted the consequences.

  16. @MZC

    What people want is to make the decision based on what they would do in that given situation”

    That’s actually what I meant by “middle of the road” i.e. a mixture of good, bad, and neutral, depending on the situation. Basically, not playing to either extreme the whole game. (Neutral included)

    I’m sure there’s a more accurate term to describe what I meant, but I’ve been out of school for a while and my brain has started to atrophy.

  17. Ugh, double post.

    I actually felt that Dragon Age: Origins touched on this problem in a way that I liked.

    Each party member had a different personality, and each choice you made affected their attitude toward you.

    You never had some overall morality meter, just the individual opinions of your party members. Which, IMO, is really how things seem to work in real life. There is really no such thing as a “good” or “bad” person… just how that person is perceived by others.

    They didn’t really do much with it in terms of gameplay and there were ways to game the system, but it was an interesting idea that has potential.

  18. I don’t know. I always play as paragon because I feel like I miss out on some things playing as anything else.

    Personally speaking, I am a nice person, but I’m extremely pragmatic. So if I played as a mirror of my personality, I’d say a majority of the paragon options, but probably take a lot of the renegade trigger options (the ones that help me in combat, not the ones that involve punching a civilian).

    Another reason I don’t think your game choices reflect you as a person is because I know someone who always plays on Renegade, but just because he thinks a lot of the choices are funny (like in fallout, how you can plant a grenade while pickpocketing). In reality, he is polite and helpful and a really good guy.

  19. I go renegade all the way (except for shooting Rex, no way am I killing off the best supporting character in video game history, plus he’s like the perfect side-kick to a renegade bad-ass). Honestly while I always try to be polite, ect in life I would have to say that I am very angry and cynical person so you may be on to something.

  20. i usually play as the bad guy because in my teenage mind i associate villianism(call it terrorism if you want) with power. the only game that i’ve ever had to force myself to be a good guy in was infamous because in that game the civillians throw rocks at you if you’re bad

  21. I always go Paragon/Light Side my first time through a game, and often the second and third time. It took me till two years ago to finally go full Dark Side in KotOR, some of those decisions just feel wrong to me. In Mass Effect, I have one Renegade character (to see what happens if I decided to throw that guy through a window), but I’ve recently been playing through getting one of each moral stance for each gender (six characters total) as well as each separate class (I have time).

    In real life, I’m pretty chill, and if I don’t make a Paragony choice it’s either because I was a little too late, or didn’t have the resources to do so at the time. I used to say I go through my first playthrough of a game making all the choices I’d make in real life, but I just ended up going full Paragon/Light Side :\

  22. @Andy

    You make good points with the middle ground and what DA: Origins did with their morality system. When I think about how my own personality relates to that of the characters in a game, I usually break it down into the D&D alignment system. I think I’m “neutral good”, because I want to be a nice guy but I don’t want to be a doormat, I can get pissed off at certain people, and I also understand that while our law and order system is necessary, it is also flawed and those flaws can and will lead to the necessity for going badass just to fix things and I’m totally down with that. Now in games like Skyrim on the other hand, replacing the morality point system with a realistic “crime and punishment” system instead, it’s a lot more flexible and believable. Like with my current character, a female dark elf assassin. I have determined that in order for just one character to complete every possible quest in that game, there’s only one psych profile that would fit: sociopath. For games that are “one way or the other” like the Mass Effect series, I’ll do anything at least once for an achievement/trophy, but the rest of the time I do my own thing, which usually amounts to being mostly paragon with a healthy portion of renagade on the side.

  23. I always go the good guy.

    I intensely dislike it when I accidently do a renegade chat option. Shephard because I want the character to be a hero in every meaning and association of that word.

    Can I just add though, the dialogue is much funnier and wittier in the renegade options.
    Eg something like this

    Alien dude: “Please, I don’t want to have to hurt you..”
    Shephard Pushes him off a building
    Shephard: “I didn’t feel a thing”

  24. I have determined that in order for just one character to complete every possible quest in Skyrim, there’s only one psych profile that would fit: sociopath.

    I noticed the exact same thing. It was enough to take me out of the experience a couple of times.

  25. i had two characters in ME1. my male shepard was as much of a take-no-bulls**t badass vanguard as i could make him and my femshep was a pure paragon sentinel.

    i made the female shepard my main b/c i liked her class better, so i figured i’d continue the paragon path in the next game.

    what i found in ME2 though was that the lines had blurred a bit. i think my Shepard left all her f**ks to give in the grave. i found myself using almost every interrupt (good or bad), and telling a lot of people where to shove it (particularly the illusive man). in the end, my scales weren’t maxed. i even missed a couple of the charm/intimidate options later in the game b/c i didn’t have high enough charisma on either path. Zaeed’s loyalty mission was probably the only place where i struggled with the decision though…i had a hard time choosing between having a disloyal squad member and leaving people to die.

    we’ll see how that mixed personality carries over to ME3 though. i’m going straight after work to pick up my preorder!

  26. In rl I’m a good guy, at least that’s what I like to think. I’m not perfect, but I’m certainly not an asshole 24/7.

    I usually can’t bring myself to be consistently evil in games with a moral-choice system. I mostly play very good and good, with the occasional neutral and even evil choice thrown in, if I know the reward is worth the consequences.

    The consequences are usually pretty harsh in BioWare games (Dragon Age, KOTOR, Mass Effect) and less harsh in Bethesda games (Oblivion, Fallout, Skyrim), so I tend to be purely good in the first ones and neutral good in the latters.

    The last game I tried to be evil in was KOTOR 2 and I failed miserably. I always have this nagging sensation at the back of my head that compels me to not make the evil choice I am offered, so I changed my style a short way in and since then I haven’t tried to be purely evil again.

    What really excites me are situations in which there is no black and white, just shades of grey. Those are the situations where I really have to think about my choice, weighing the pro’s and con’s and how they appeal to me, instead of simply taking the morally right choice.

    A prime example would be the choice of side in the civil war raging in Skyrim. Do you help the Imperials, imperialistic dogs, trying to keep their realm together to stay strong in the face of a powerful enemy, or the Nords, a racist bunch who want to free their homeland from a nation they feel betrayed them?

    Another good example would be the DLC “The Pit” for Fallout 3, which I won’t go into in any detail for fear of spoiling it for anyone who has yet to play it.

  27. I “lean” paragon… but sometimes less then others. Depending on the situation or my mood, but I would hardly say I am the beacon of paragon purity.

    And I don’t intentionally go neutral, it doesn’t benefit you too… it’s just how I “role”… lol! What sucks was being completely powerless to Monrith’s advances, and needed Samara to come bail me out. Which she promised she would… but I trust the cultural hegemony asari’s word about as much as I trust a collector.

    Which was another thing… seeing the magnitude of the threat the collector’s posed, I handed everything to The Illusive Man on a silver platter. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I believed humans were the superior species and destined rulers of the known universe. But I would say that the asaris could afford to be knocked down a peg, most of the “good” races were rejected from the citadel council. Albeit if I had known the fluff of the specter before playing ME2, I would have flaunted it everywhere. Nothing says chutzpuh like being a secret service agent, and putting all these redneck state discrepancies in line…

    I hated kelly, God I wanted that slut to die. Admired the krogan and there should have been an option to help combat the genophage.

    Saw the collectors as the ultimate evil, didn’t ask too many questions when it involved The Illusive Man, and since didn’t play ME1, pretty much had no idea what a reaper was. Which ironically probably would have been a lot how Shepard would’ve acted had his memories been shattered during them bringing him back to life.

    From what I know about ME3, it would have been a very hard decision to tell The Illusive Man no… on one hand I sincerely doubt anyone could control the reapers, even indirectly. On the other hand it would be setting progress back billions upon billions of years to close the mass relays. The Illusive Man always striked me as “the best option we’ve got”.

    Which in turn… sounds like a neutral, leaning paragon option.

    Also, ironically for hating the asari, Samara was totally my bromance. I would not have banged her even if I could have. I was just glad to see someone other then me talk about “mu’h honor!” and have a sense of self purpose transcending man-made laws or some hokey religion. No one could tell Samara what to do, and she had a firm grasp of what she wanted to do with her life, and make the world better in her eyes… Samara was the ubermensch.

  28. I always made my FemShepard paragon XD
    I play all 3 games as a Paragon. I just don’t like being a bitch and I mirror myself to my character. There are times I pick renegade choices if I believe in it.
    After my 8th playthrough, I finally decided to be renegade and it’s difficult as f**k for me. I keep feeling guilty lol XD

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