Unexpected Charm

Robert Ian Shepard from Adventure Rules had a series of “Charming and Open” posts, during which he asked questions posed by his readers, and in turn asked each one of them a question to answer in return. I liked the spirit of “Charming and Open,” so here we go!

*PS Do not do a Google image search for “charming and open.” I expected pictures of cute coffee shops and that was not what I found…*

Anyway, his question to me was, “Do you prefer games with a set story path or those with branching paths affected by your choices?”

Hooray! Someone asked me about choices in video games.

One of my favorite things to talk about!

As you all know, I’m an RPG fan, so the answer seems pretty obvious as to which camp I’m usually in. But I’m going to take a step back because, really, the answer is, “It depends.” I’ve had great fun following linear stories, and I’ve also lovingly agonized over choices that I just knew were going to affect the game later. I think it comes down to how well each is executed. I’d rather play a linear game than think a choice-riddled game is still progressing down the same track as if I wasn’t there. I wrote a whole article on the illusion of choice in video games that talks about this in more detail, in fact.

I think at the end of the day, having two very different storylines/experiences is hard to accomplish without fudging it a bit. So when I play a game that has choices in it, I don’t want to know where the game has faked it until I play through the game again and make different choices.

**mild spoilers for Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect 3**

For instance, Dragon Age: Inquisition did this when it forced the player to choose between the mages and the templar. To a certain extent, Mass Effect 3 did this with its endings. Would you know that the rest of Inquistion plays out similarly or that all three endings look alike unless you played through the game multiple times? But in the moment, the choice feels momentous, because our brains have filled in the details. The mages and templar are so different! Control, synthesize, and destroy have drastically different consequences!

**end spoilers**

…but, the first time you played, you never knew. All the smoke and mirrors the game provided left you feeling like your choice had world-altering consequences, even if the reality was slightly different.

deal with it shepard

But I love feeling that the things I’m doing and the words I’m saying matter and make a difference on the world I’m inhabiting in the game. Even though it can be stressful, I find it to be a nice type of stress, forcing me to think about things in a more global way because I know something will be different after I make my choice, but I don’t know what.

And then the part I really like to think about: am I playing as myself and answering questions/making choices as I, Athena, would do, or am I trying to role play and get into the head of the character? This gives an extra layer to my decision, because I – with my gamer knowledge – might think that one option might be the best, coming off of the hundreds of hours I’ve dumped into RPGs, but the character is faced with a dilemma like this for the first time. It’s wonderfully difficult sometimes and I love it.


On the other hand, there’s something very comforting about playing through a game where my morals aren’t tested, my diplomacy/lack thereof doesn’t matter, and I can simply step into the life of another person for a while and experience their story. I do love a good role-playing game with their tough choices and consequences, but being drawn into another person’s life and having the responsibility of world- or story-building taken off my shoulders can be nice, as well.

Ah, just the fate of Middle Earth to worry about, here…

Honestly, what I like best is knowing what I’m getting into. In a game like Prey, for which I just played the demo, I wasn’t really expected my choices to have any real impact on the story, and that was fine. I’m expecting Horizon: Zero Dawn to offer some consequences, like how people interact with Aloy, to arise from my decisions, but will ultimately experience the story the writers provided. In a game like one of the Dragon Ages or Mass Effects, or even The Witcher 3, I know that making certain choices will close off avenues of play or result in characters dying and I’d better pay attention to what people are saying. And I think all of these are great, because they are consistent within themselves and within the rules they gave to the player.

So my preference is that a video game knows who it is and what it wants, so players aren’t left fuming about how all the so-called world-altering choices they made were for nothing.

Thanks for stopping by, and-

Y U no give us straight answer?

Okay, okay… You got me! I love games that have branching stories based on my choices. I think they’re interesting and add a nice level of depth to my game playing experience, and I love sitting and thinking about the “What if?” of the choice I didn’t make. You can stop twisting my arm now! 😉

What about you? Do you prefer games in which your choices matter, or do you like games that tell you a story? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~ Athena

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      1. Are we smelling a paradox (not sure if it’s the right word) here? We have the illusion of free will (according to some) in real life, and we get the illusion of free will in a video game, created by us. This is some Jared Smith stuff right here

        Liked by 1 person

        1. In that case… It’s an illusory portrayal we created and know to be fake based on illusion we have created and believe is real. It’s all an illusion, and yet it also actually happens, so it’s real. A parodox, indeed!

          I think you’re on to something!

          Liked by 1 person

  1. It’s hard to say for me. I like games with different endings and branching paths/sidestories. But I don’t necessarily want every individual dialogue choice to change something. I like the Telltale games, but it becomes overblown when everyone will remember everything I do. I just want to live out the game without feeling judged! Short answer: it depends for me too. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah…Like so much else, it has to be done well (either branching stories or not!). I heard Andromeda is like that, too, that the people will remember what you say and reference it later, but I haven’t really tested that out… Eep. haha

      I love the “it depends” answer… it’s very safe haha (and very true!)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I tend to lean more towards games that require less thinking on my part. But at the same time, the games that have had the biggest impact on me are the ones that forced me to make tough decisions.

    I remember playing one of the Streets of Rage games (I forget which) co-op with my brother. When we got to the end boss we were given the option to betray each other. Obviously I turned on him because I’m a dick.

    I’m still haunted by that decision today!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think my preferences towards games with a linear direction void of big choices is something that came with age and less gaming time. If I had infinite time? I like a game to give me a few big choices to make. Not necessarily “minute to minute” choices, but either taking a path towards good and evil.

    Where I take issue is when the evil route makes the game impossibly difficult – I think having more games incentivize you to be evil (like really evil, Dungeon Keeper “torture heroes to turn them into vampires to fight for you” evil) would benefit the industry good. Too much goodness in the gaming world!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good point. Sometimes a few, well-designed choices can be better than a thousand little ones that don’t really matter. It would be great if they balanced it out like that… make it really tempting to be bad, instead of making it harder, or making it so gamers play the game twice and have the same experience, except now they sound a little crankier and are the color red.

      I can certainly empathize with reduced time swaying which types of games you are able/willing to pick up!


  4. I do like it whenever choices matter because I feel it complements the medium more effectively than having a static plot that only barely acknowledges that it’s in a game. Indeed, most of my favorite story-heavy games have multiple endings and branching paths. I know some old-school journalists point out the dangers of spreading the plot thin with each branch, and one even insinuated that it’s the reason CYOAs aren’t taken nearly as seriously as standard stories, but that’s only when it’s done poorly. When it’s done well, we get works like Undertale – a game that simply would not have worked with a linear plot or, indeed, any other medium.

    Ultimately though, I think the best choice a designer can make is to just own whatever mode of storytelling they go with, meaning they should know the dos and don’ts beforehand (i.e. don’t judge the player morally in a linear plot; you’ll just come across as ungrateful of your audience).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely agree. Knowing the rules of whatever storytelling method you’re using is key to utilizing it well. There are a lot of choices that can really just muddy the waters, but like you said, when they’re done right, they can be absolutely fantastic and really add to the whole experience! This rarely happens, but I like when games have different choices/endings that flesh out the world, and that the player doesn’t get the whole story until they play through it a few times.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post! Thanks for answering my question and participating in the event!
    I totally agree with your answer here. As long as the game owns up to the choice it is making and executes it well, I’m satisfied. After playing a lot of one approach, I often find myself pining for the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for asking such a fantastic question and for involving your audience! That’s a great point; any genre can cause burn-out, so they each have their place. I’ve started to appreciate playing shorter games in between RPGs, even if they’re choice-heavy (like Life is Strange), because going from 80-hour game to 80-hour game is intense!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Honestly, I don’t think I have a preference. It all depends on the story “quality” to me, I guess. If I get pulled into the game’s world and care about the characters, it really doesn’t matter if my personal choices affect the overall outcome or not. Though I admit my inner obsessive completionist wants to see ALL the story branches, if there are multiple ones. That’s not so good on the old gaming backlog, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha but there’s nothing wrong in seeing how different choices affect things! (looks at own back-log before shrugging) Just think of the stories! Quality is definitely important, and I’d say that’s most important. Of course, good characters also help quite a bit 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great topic! Part of the reason I became a gamer was because of games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect. I like the choices you can make and seeing how they play out. To a certain degree, the rest of the game won’t be that much different because the writers/developers still have their specific vision on how the game should end. That’s fine. But I do love the initial thrill of what happens next if I choose A, B, or C? I’ll play all those games as long as they keep making them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, thanks for commenting (and the follow)! Dragon Age: Origins immediately skyrocketed to my number one favorite game, so I can see how the deadly combo of Dragon Age and Mass Effect would bring you over to the gamer side of the world 😉

      You’re right that the similarities of each “path” don’t really come to light without multiple playthroughs, but I like the excitement of wonder “what will happen if I…?”

      And me, too. Me, too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I kind of like both. Sometimes I want a game that tells me a story and takes me on its journey, sometimes I want to be knee deep in the action and chart my own path. And sometimes, like in the case of The Last of Us, I wish I had more autonomy because the character I’ve been controlling, and ultimately experiencing their story, does something counter to how I saw the character.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good point. It really depends what you want out of the game at that moment.

      I’ve heard The Last of Us has a pretty interesting twist of events at the end. I’ve only heard about it, but it seems like they forced the player to make a choice about Joel being selfish or not. If that’s what you’re referring to, that’s a good point! It’s on my list of games to play, because from what I’ve heard the story is fascinating and the characters engrossing. But that’s a good heads up!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is what I was referring to, although there is no choice, you are just given this action, which leads to another action in the ending that, for me at least, went against how I portrayed Joel. It felt like it went against the character and that rubbed me the wrong way but others liked it so… it all boils down to what you want out of a game and its story.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m story all the way! This may be because I started life out as a big reader and realized I was going to be a writer early on (like around age 5-6), and this was probably what drew me to games like Final Fantasy. For the most part (besides some minor things), your choices as a player don’t matter in the grand scheme of the narrative. I suppose in a way it’s more like playing an interactive movie with side quests, which turns some people off, but I love narrative heavy games.

    Though I think I have to agree with your “it depends” a little, but I love Mass Effect. While the end is pretty much the same regardless, there’s more variation of that illusion of choice. Who lives and who dies, how people interact with you depend on the choices you make, though all of them do lead the same inevitable end (if I’m getting this wrong, feel free to tell me as I defer to your expert knowledge of ME!) It’s also possible that that is the reason these “minor” choices are put in, to show us that paragon and renegade don’t really matter in the grand scheme, and the end is going to be the same no matter what. It’s a bit nihilistic when you think about it like that. A very spoilerific thing happens and the final ending scene is the same final ending scene. Hm, if it weren’t almost 4 in the morning where I am, I’d ponder this more.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on Adventure Rules and commented:
    We’re almost done sharing the posts from the first Charming and Open event as part of Adventure Rules Remastered, and this one comes from Athena over at AmbiGaming Corner! It’s an excellent post on player choice that doesn’t just give a simple answer to my question. Thought provoking as always, Athena fully explores the topic at hand, so I encourage you to give this one a read!


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