Fallout: New Vegas lead Josh Sawyer has answered some fan questions concering the topics of reputation systems and video games as art. Check em out:
Q: Every Obsidian game has some kind of Reputation or Influence system. What makes that heavily abstracted, numerical system preferable to, say, tracking specific statements or actions that can have a more concrete effect on a relationship?
A: I don't think these sorts of systems need to be used for every character and group. In some cases, the number of inputs is so small, and their impact so large, that using quest variables makes more sense. Abstracted, finely granular systems make the most sense when the player has a lot of ways to influence a character's or group's opinions. If a character speaks to you often, or if you have many opportunities to perform actions that can influence the character's opinion in small ways, using a reputation/influence score is easier, more flexible, and generally less of a headache.
Q: Do you think that the view of video games as low art, or not art at all, might stem from the fact that despite being mass-produced, their media value is entirely Cult as opposed to traditional art which is non-mass produced with high exhibition value?
A: When a person classifies something as art (or not art) of any grade, the reasons are arbitrary. I don't find any value in speculating on the source of those reasons or attempting to argue against them.
Ultimately, I would rather spend my time making something new that a another person may or may not consider art than argue with them about why they definitely should consider what I've made before to be art.
Q: Connecting to the reputation/influence question, Obsidian's games always had a visible feedback, e.g. the '+1 reputation with XXX' pop-up in Alpha Protocol. Some would argue that this breaks immersion, what's your opinion about it?
A: People have different expectations of feedback clarity/immersion. Because character/faction influence often builds over time and cannot show immediate results, letting the player know when small increments are being made is a way for the game to indicate that yes, something changed based on what you just did.
Health bars can also break immersion, but being able to see health bars helps the player make tactical decisions. Some players would rather see the health bars and lose the immersion. Others would rather lose the health bars and retain the immersion.
Because I believe that game play should be the primary focus of a game, I will always push for more clarity/certainty if the mechanics of the game are inscrutable to the player.
Go and ask Josh a question yourself.