I think that it’s a little too much to say that all of the good stories have very clear good and very clear evil since, while certainly plenty of good stories come out of that, good stories -can- occur with moral ambivalence so long as the moral ambivalence does not seem to be something added solely for that feel of ‘sophistication’. That is, moral ambivalence works so long as it is truly deeply connected to the story as a whole and is written to speak toward humanity rather than the artist’s own, personal musings that are likely way off base, especially if they are aimed at ‘sophistication’.
As an example, I feel Shakespeare dealt with moral ambiguity really well and, in terms of video games, the shin megami tensei series, including their spin-off persona games to a lesser extent (each tends to only have one such choice), tend to have a good handle on it. Mainly because when they do it, it all feels entirely in-character for the NPCs and you, as the main character, are allowed to make the ambiguous choices. In SMT3 you’re dealing with the reconstruction of the entire world with the four choices being: 1) everybody gets to make their own ‘fake’ matrix-like world to inhabit 2) the world is at one, everybody is at one, true nirvana 3) might makes right, a world where only the strong are allowed to live and rule while all others die 4) make the world exactly as it was 5) dive deeper into the devil’s lair in search of knowledge and ultimately become part of his army, destroying and taking over all worlds that exist. In these games this is all right-out and part of the game’s world and characters from the beginning. SMT’s YHWH and his angels are almost decidedly for (3) while Lucifer is for (5) so there is some ‘clear good’ and ‘clear evil’, but even that is made somewhat ambiguous since YHWH is more the old testament YHWH who is ‘good’ and the ‘one true’ because he’s the strongest, the one who leads the Israelites to victory by wit and strength, destroying and rebuilding the world and his people once they grows weak and fall into sin. And the lure of siding with Lucifer is that the deeper you go into his lair, the more knowledge you gain of the world’s universe as a whole, which is modeled after what originally tempted humanity in the first place!
What most of the ‘sophistication’ games do wrong is introduce the ambiguity as a ‘plot-twist’ or as a kind of ‘oh, okay, guess they weren’t meant to be bad after all’ after a character death. More often than not, it is ambiguity based on ‘intention’, which can sometimes pull at the emotions but more often than not just isn’t interesting or even really believable when it makes those who aren’t easily won over by emotions say “that character is just dumb, that’s just dumb”.
Another problem is ambiguity is usually placed into the universe itself, rather than existing as something in only the viewer’s heads. That is, the ‘ambiguous’ characters -know- they are ambiguous when that -should not happen-. The games and other media that get it right, or at least more right, have each side view itself or at least market itself as an absolute, the ‘ambiguity’ assigned or not assigned by the viewer’s own views. None of that wishy-washy anakin stuff where “I’m evil now, but it’s all for the good of the galaxy, let’s be good people and rule it together!” And then him -killing- his family was just completely dumb and out of nowhere, since his strongest value was -protecting- his family; it all felt forced, like Lucas wanted us to think he was ambiguous. What was more interesting was Darth Vader who was portrayed as evil, yet still a father throughout. That is, he is still definitely on the side of evil, and even wanted his son to join him, but his character trait of ‘father’ never goes away and that -might- make him ambiguous given the ending, but it’s not ambiguity for ambiguity sake, but rather ambiguity out of “that’s just how he is, and even then the ambiguity is only there if you think it is”. Viewers can make arguments either way, which is good and promotes interest/discussion about the piece of entertainment. Things are much less interesting and even terrible when it is very obvious the writer is forcing the issue of ambiguity.
Though, that’s just a rule about good writing in general. Good writers never hit the reader over the head with what they want them to think about the story or the characters. Instead, the story and characters just exist in the cohesive way they were meant to exist, readers left to argue over and discuss their thoughts based on that. I will never understand why JK Rowling actually came out and said “Dumbledore is gay” rather than letting the fan base continue to discuss and argue both sides, since her original work did a good job of writing it in a way that fit the characters without beating us over the head with “Dumbledore is gay”, which she essentially added to the text permanently. Perhaps she had a good editor who had her write it to the character instead of to her own personal thoughts, but then after release and sales she ignored the editor’s advice and added what she had wanted to from the start. In either case, maybe video game writing needs better editors rather than Hollywood writers.
No one is going to be reading J.K. Rowling a century from now (and maybe not even a generation from now). Rowling is one of many past ‘pop’ writers who you don’t hear about because no one reads them anymore.
As for Shakespeare, it is very clear who is evil and good in the plays. King Richard III is clearly the villain in Richard III. Hamlet’s uncle is very much the villain in Hamlet who poisoned the king. In Othello, Iago is clearly the evil one who is even called a ‘demi-devil’. And when the evil isn’t obviously defined as certain characters, it becomes defined as certain traits. For example, ambition is the evil in the play of King Lear. There is definitely good and evil within Shakespeare’s world.
I suspect the incentive to remove clear cut portrayals of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is because some think it is ‘simple’ and that others will think they are ‘simple’ if they do it that way. People want to be seen as smart to other people. And people don’t like being mocked.
What I want from a video game is for me to be the hero and defeat some monstrous evil (you can’t be heroic without toppling some sort of bad guy). This is not simple. It shares the style of the most ancient myths and operas made in Mankind. And the mass audience likes it.
What is ‘stupid’ is intentionally doing things that create bad sales but declare yourself a genius because the ‘stupid masses’ didn’t like your product. If the masses are so stupid, why is it so hard for you to sell to them?
Maybe the masses aren’t as stupid as believed.