The “Star Wars” films blend a classic story of good versus evil with modern special effects and a sci-fi setting. They explore old themes of growing up, love, betrayal, and redemption in a new world of light-sabers, Wookiees, and the mysterious Force. Like the films, the game Star Wars: The Old Republic is set in the Star Wars universe. It’s a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) from Bioware.
Set thousands of years before the events in the movies, The Old Republic gives players the choice to be part of the new Sith Empire or the stalwart Republic. Regardless of faction, the game pushes players to confront a myriad of difficult ethical choices—much like the characters in the movies. In addition to the great storytelling and cooperative gameplay, Star Wars: The Old Republic is a great option for parents and kids to play together because of the ethical issues it brings up and the questions it raises about our own world.
Star Wars: The Old Republic was released in 2013 and is now free to play and available for Windows PC. It was rated T for Teen by the ESRB for violence, mild language, and sexual themes. The violence and language is about on par with the Star Wars movies. The sexual themes discussed in the game are more risqué than the Star Wars movies, but nothing more graphic than a kiss is portrayed on screen.
The game’s primary strength is in its storytelling and, as with any good story in any medium, chances to discuss and learn with kids abound in Star Wars: The Old Republic.
The choose-your-own-adventure component of the game focuses on “Light Side” and “Dark Side” choices, although the lines between the two sometimes feel blurred. Often one can feel that the Light Side option is crueler than the more direct Dark Side. At other times, the Dark Side option seems merely easier rather than evil. The choices can really challenge players to think about the morality and rationale of their decisions. Many times I have asked my fellow players why they made the decisions they did and what narrative they sought to create through their choices. The variety of how players see their characters and their choices is proof of the game’s strength in the narrative department.
Within the game, players must choose to be a part of the infamous Sith Empire or the idealistic Republic. Within these factions, however, a Republic character can turn to the Dark Side through using evil means to help the Republic’s noble cause. Likewise, Imperial faction characters may be good people living within a corrupt, power-obsessed society, or they may seek to gather great power themselves in order to use it for good.
The game also brings up relevant moral choices for the player that can challenge the player’s thinking in the real world. For example, players may have to make the decision to either confront injustice in ways that may imperil their personal goals or to ignore the evil. Issues of torture and first-strike tactics also come up. Unlike most MMORPGs, this game allows players to team up not only for combat but also for the scenes where important decisions are made. Characters can disagree and win the last word by random draw. Since these decisions impact how some of the narratives will progress, disagreements over dialog choices can launch interesting conversations between players.
One of The Old Republic’s strongest points is the wide range of characters and perspectives the player encounters. The Old Republic feels more real than some other games because the heroes and villains are not all cut from the same cloth. Just like the heroes and villains of our own lives, the characters encountered in The Old Republic come in any gender with any appearance. Even when the villains are cartoonishly evil, or the heroes straight out of a fairy tale, Bioware imbues the characters in the Old Republic with idiosyncrasies that help make them more unique. The grand heroes and villains are of any gender. They are different races, different species, and different body types. They might be born into their august roles, or they may be ordinary people at the right place at the right time. The characters have believable motivations and avoid falling into stereotypes or tired old tropes.
The Unasked Questions
The diversity of characters that Bioware has used to build this virtual world within the Star Wars setting gives the impression of a world that is, in some aspects, nobler than our own. Despite the warring and grabs for power over the universe, even the Sith Empire recognizes the foolishness of prejudice against any gender, race, or orientation.
Perhaps more important are the questions that do not come up in The Old Republic. For all of their savagery and atrocities, the Sith Empire and the Republic feature a diverse leadership that is not limited to any race or gender. In addition to questions about war, friendship, loyalty, and the pursuit of power offered by the game, parents and kids can also try to answer “Why is the ruthlessly amoral Sith Empire, in some regards, more ethical and open than our own society?”
The game presents cultural prejudices, but these too are presented as absurd and short-sighted. Even loyal servants of the selfish and uncaring Empire can find themselves fighting for members of an oppressed culture. In a game where nearly anything can come up for debate, the bigotry we commonly find in our real world is universally dismissed or unworthy of mention.
A Good Fit for Your Family?
There are many other games set in the Star Wars universe, but The Old Republic is definitely a top game when it comes to storytelling. The gameplay might take a little getting used to for players new to MMORPGs, but the game is fairly forgiving at the start.
The player community for The Old Republic, as one might guess, tends toward the incredibly geeky. It is not unusual to find the relative coolness of Boba Fett hotly debated in the game’s public chat, for example. Perhaps because the game is an immersive roleplaying game, players seem to get into their characters more than in other MMORPGs. This roleplay can range from very casual interactions performed in-character to whole guilds interacting to form their own stories together as a group. There are Republic faction military-style guilds that play the role of legions within the Republic army. I played within an Imperial guild that presented itself as traders of weapons and secrets. Other guilds created factions of smugglers or secret Jedi or Sith enclaves. This sort of community builds the game’s ambience. There’s no requirement that players roleplay, of course, but if parents and kids want to get creative with their characters within the game, the community is very conducive to that style of play.
The Old Republic is, most importantly, a Star Wars game. The experience is cinematic. If the story were rated alongside the movies, it would come within the top three, in my opinion. If parent and child are into Star Wars, giving The Old Republic a look is a must. Even non-fans of the franchise can appreciate the storytelling within the game, and the free-to-play aspect makes giving the game a shot risk-free.
Who knows? If you’re both willing to game through the Old Republic together, perhaps you could together soon rule the galaxy as child and parent!