Life is all about choices; decisions you make and options that others choose, all changing people’s lives and the world as a whole. I don’t want to get too philosophical, but even the words that I’m writing now are a choice I’m making, as is you electing to read this article over the millions of others things you could be doing on the internet.
These things aren’t big choices, however – these are small and relatively unnecessary decisions that won’t stop the world from turning.
That being said, every choice you can make can change your fate and the fates of others – there’s some incredible stories out there about how the littlest change in a routine could have had a completely different outcome. And I’d like to see more of that in games.
The Walking Dead is probably the best example of choice driven gameplay right now, and whilst it's not the only example of choice in games, there aren't many that come close.
You see, games are the only medium that can truly express choice as a viable option.
Yes, adventure books have done it in the past and there’s some elements of choice in other fields, but there’s no other entertainment medium that can put you at the helm as the hero and let you make your own decisions.
I believe that the next generation of games won’t be defined by better looking visuals or smarter AI, but by the choices you make and how they affect the gameplay. This will be when gaming truly comes into its own as a unique, interactive medium.
Games could grow into the best way of telling a story if this is done right. Take The Walking Dead for example. I sit each week and watch the TV show but the episodes will never change; as great as it might be, I still have no input into the story. I’m out here, safe in the real world. Then, I play the game and suddenly I’m making very real choices that could change the direction of the narrative completely.
I’m not saying that games are better than television – they’re not Breaking Bad standard by any means – yet they could evolve to become so much better, with small things even such as not pulling the trigger in time having an impact on the game as a whole.
Or maybe this is why choice-driven games still don’t quite live up to the stories told in blockbuster movies, prime-time television shows or games with a relatively focused narrative such as Portal 2. Could it be that having a more linear approach to a plot, set in stone with the only choices made being those of the writers, creates a better product?
It’s quite hard to tell whether this is the case, but it could be true. I think Black Ops II’s ending suffered due to the multiple routes that the story could take and, as we’ve seen with Heavy Rain, having an ending that isn’t set in stone can be a bit of a downer when a mistake you’ve made earlier leaves you with a terrible outcome.
Taking the shot or not should make all the difference.
Open world games already do some of this wonderfully. While there are still a lot of pre-set quests, there are some unscripted moments where you can create your own adventures. When I was younger, I created up whole stories in the Grand Theft Auto games and, a bit more recently, I’ve had fun exploring the world of Skyrim, getting caught up in random encounters as I go.
Of course, there will never be true free will in games. There will always be boundaries, but I’d certainly like to see a developer try to emulate free thinking, though this all depends on a leap in AI too, which will no doubt come in time.
And that’s why a style of narrative with more decision making might just be perfect, not right now, but for the next generation of gaming.