A Perspective on Choice in Video Games
The incorporation of choice into video games is often highly praised. It encourages multiple playthroughs and makes the experience more unique and tailored to the player. Choice brings an entirely new element of self-reflection into the game, pushing you to think carefully about the choices laid out in front of you and predict the implications any one decision may have on loyalty, reputation or dialogue. As an incredibly indecisive person myself, choice often brings for me a great rush of despair and a string of questions I worry over. How does my character come across? Who do I wish to retain loyalty with? Is this seemingly meaningless dialogue choice going to come back to bite me in the butt somehow? Of course, the range of choice given to you in a video game is limited but the one particular game I have in mind is The Walking Dead. Choices are thrown at you within a restricted time limit, adding pressure for you to make a decision quickly. I can honestly say I spent the time while playing, and even after, asking myself “Did I make the right decision?”.
Now, the disappointing bit is that the choices you end up making don’t really end up mattering that much. Or at least, you can easily guess the kind of outcome you’ll get based on the decisions you make. Yes, yes, I understand that the developer can’t be expected to come up with a bunch of unique endings based on the slightest decision that is made. But generally, I think that choice in video games has disappointed me. Sure, I appreciate the attempt at encouraging people to think and adding this new level of personalization but I do think more things could be done with it. Take for example, what choices really boil down to: good and evil. Choose to save this man who did you wrong? You’re the good guy. Choose to murder this little girl to improve your own powers? You’re the bad guy. How unexpected.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a little more uncertainty in the choices you made? After all, in real life we can’t ever fully predict the effect our choices may have in the long run. Life isn’t black and white, and having video games express this reality might improve with the immersion into the game. Say you save that man that did you wrong, expecting him to be forever your debt, when in actuality he’ll come to stab you in the back later on. Perhaps the advantage you earn from murdering this little girl plays an integral part in allowing you to have the power to save people later on. Not all choices would have to be like this since I can imagine everyone becoming paranoid, but just a little uncertainty would be nice to keep you on your feet. I think it’s because I find myself a little suspicious and overanalyzing myself that I expect so much more from the decisions I make.
Additionally, I think it would be interesting to promote more outcomes in the center between good and evil. Games often penalize players for not choosing to play mainly good or evil which I think to be a little unfortunate. Fundamentally, there are no strictly good or bad people, it’s a spectrum in which we lie and should be free to explore a bit of both. The game that comes to mind is Mass Effect, where you only unlock certain dialogue options if you are mainly paragon or mainly renegade. That’s why I’d like to pay my respect to a game like Catherine, where there are 8 different endings, with bad and good endings from choosing to be loyal to either your girlfriend or the new girl you meet. This also includes two endings for freedom, where you choose neither of your love interests. I was pretty impressed at coming across a game where the neutral option had the possibility of giving you a pretty good ending.
Choice in video games can be exciting and I appreciate the extra effort that is put into creating multiple endings. There is, however, so much more that could be done and I truly look forward to future video games that play around with and challenge the idea of choice.