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The Choice is Yours
You have a choice.
The phrase itself brings to light one main fact; that you alone have multiple options, and whatever you choose will have consequences.
While choice has always been a factor in gaming since the beginning, it’s the idea of a narrative-bending choice within a game that has become a major selling point of titles in recent history. The idea of choices affecting the outcome of the story has seemingly graduated from gimmick to major convention within a successful game formula, crossing over genres as it bleeds into all types of games, be they action platformers to the heaviest of RPGs.
Of course, a game does not necessarily have to incorporate choice in order to be considered good, but I’d like to argue that it is certainly one of the most immersive qualities a game can have.
But what is it that we like about choice? Why does it entice us and pull us into a game’s narrative?
In reality, modern life can be very, very mundane. While it differs depending on what you have going in your own view of the world, we tend to settle in patterns that help us navigate our weeks, years, and even our lives. We go to school, we get jobs, we work, we pursue our own little hobbies, and we structure our lives accordingly around order and flow.
But everything changes in games. In a game, we suddenly become something great, a standout figure around whom the universe literally revolves. Typically, we’re the hero, and all of the power, ability, and know how is exclusively at our disposal, the fate of the game’s virtual universe placed in the palm of our hands.
This is where choice suddenly becomes so powerful. When we’re in the heat of the moment, when we have to make a quick decision that will affect the world and the characters around us that we’re so attached to, suddenly, we feel accountable, responsible, even, for making the “right” choice so the consequences pan out according to how we’d like to see them. When we’re in charge, when we’re the one person everyone looks up to, we sit in a position of near omnipotence. This becomes empowering to us, a break from the mundanity of real life that doesn’t allow us such a godlike status.
Think to a game like Mass Effect, where choices you make have consequences that not only affect you and your team, but the way you are viewed by species, political factions, and leaders across the galaxy. That kind of decision power weighs heavily on us and forces us into a position where we feel the need to choose correctly.
Of course, on the other end of the choice spectrum is the moral decision. Morality is something inherent in all human beings, individual to ourselves based on a number of factors, including how we were raised, what we’ve learned, and our life experience. Think of all that society considers “bad” or “taboo”, or the things you avoid doing because it goes against your own morality.
There’s a certain stigma within the idea of Good vs. Evil. “Good” is always equated with positive results or feelings, while “Evil” is faced with scrutiny, a negative moral path. Within moral choice-based games, however, there is a moral vacuum; morality doesn’t exist. There are no setup laws or norms that govern how you act and interact with the world around you. Good and Evil have no meaning or preference other than the fact that they may change gameplay, depending on how you act. In games like this, suddenly, you have license to cross over to the other sides and test the waters a bit, playing around with good and evil options in ways you might never normally try to do in real life.
This is what makes games like Fable or Grand Theft Auto so compelling to us. In these games, we can literally do whatever we want, be it good or bad, and the only consequences that await us are the reactions of the NPCs and the shaping of the world around us.
That being said, there’s something fun about being completely evil or completely good, or even walking the line between the two. It’s the games that give you these options and allow you to be flexible with your morality that not only give us the satisfaction of playing around without consequences, but also, in a small way, teach us a little bit about ourselves.
So, how do you make decisions in games? What types of things do you consider? When given the option, do you act in a “Good” or “Evil” way?
Whatever you choose, the beauty of it is this; in games, there is no right or wrong. The choice is yours.