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.
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!
…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.
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.
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-
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!
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