Opinion: Choices

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.

[drop]Not morality systems, not X or Y decisions, but instead different outcomes for the littlest things you’ll do whilst playing a game; things you might not even notice. Some games do this but it’s stil all a bit too blatant – I want to see a real ripple effect from your actions.

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.

[drop2]What really needs to happen is for developers to put a lot of care into perfecting each branch of the story. This may make for a longer development term, but in the end it could be worth it, as The Walking Dead has shown us. Even though there’s still a blend of choices and set outcomes, there’s a degree of choice in each line of dialogue.

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.



  1. While i do really like inFamous, it is fairly bad for black and white choices, they’re even colour coded for you.

    Don’t bring up Heavy Rain. That ending i got left me distraught for weeks.

  2. Choices?

    One Chance that is all.

    A Flash game that you can only play once (unless you diminish the point by deleting the appropriate Flash cookie) only takes 10 minutes to play. You play a scienctist who finds a cure for cancer, the next day however it becomes known your cure actually kills all living cells – You have 1 week to make a difference.

    As you can only play once, your decisions are final (unless you pointlessly cheat) it’s the ultimate game about choices. The basic action doesn’t really provide a narrative, but I got pretty attached the few ‘pixels’ and it made me think more than almost every game I’ve ever played.

    On my play through, my wife comitted suicide, everyone & everything in the world died and my daughter died in my arms as we spent our last moments together in the park, before I too, died.
    There are other endings depending on your choices, I did play a second time – but it really does remove the impact what was quite a bleak experience.

    Every Day Same Dream
    Was another Flash game I came across about choices – again quite poignant and makes you think, even about your own life and the frequent mundanity of it all.

    Choices which are final, bleakness & making a change from the mundane are themes from the two experiences would be quite difficult to get into a more mainstream game, but there’s no real reason why they couldn’t be, especially in this age of digital distribution.

  3. I love being able to make decisions during a games story. On top of that being able to make choices on how to play a game. Deus Ex is still one of my favourite games and it is great to see emulate that similar style of play.

  4. I think the next generation will become more defined by the games and not the graphics. We’re already seeing a particular apathy to the generic shooters (and other genres) of this generation. As technology evolves there’s one thing that doesn’t (as much). Us! Graphical fidelity has come far enough to realise most games and that means that things are starting to look a little familiar in certain circles. For me, what defines a title these days, is how it delivers whatever it’s trying to get across.

    However, this also means that devs now have to realise that it’s not all about the looks. Sure, the pretty girl at the bar is a stunner but does she have the ability to mentally stimulate you too? This is where the decent titles come into it. The ones that win over our hearts as well as our gaming loins. I’m all for a roller coaster of a ride with the likes of Uncharted but there are other titles that would benefit from an incredibly open story where we truly carve our own path. The only downside (and boy, it’s a whopper!) is that the devs have to allow for that. The permutations, repercussions and ramifications would be through the roof! It’s why we don’t see stuff like this right now. To build this world would be to build fantastic (and variable) AI into everybody that populates it: close-to-sentient thought for all NPCs to be able to think for themselves.

    Until then, we will make do with some “you’re making the choices, honest!” moments which placate our ultimately restricted journeys.

    • The Trekkie in me is reminded of that NextGen episode with the doctor…
      Also, nice idea in theory but can you imagine trying to play test and catch all the bugs?

      Isn’t this more or less what MMOGs do though? Can’t easily escape the consequences of your choices when real people are involved ;)

      • The MMOG side of things might be where the idea of real choice goes the furthers. I’m sure at some point the Eve/Dust514 developers went on dreamily about how the different factions will unite against the strongest one, fight on different fronts as time goes by and affect trading and background politics in both games, I think the future there is a managed environment where the mass actions of the players drive scripwriters to add more plot appropriately.

        I think singe player games will continue to do well by offering top quality, engaging stories that are rigid but allow the player to simple choose whether to brutally bludgeon every baddie in sight or smother them humanely with their unwashed y-fronts. Those sort of choices are enough to let you feel like you’ve made your own moral decision without the developers sacrificing their production budget on several wildly different endings. As we’ve seen from the Mass Effect 3 outcry, however much choice you have the majority still seem to want a well scripted, well produced and complete ending.

  5. Heavy Rain comes to mind but being presented with too much choice in certain games can prove to be overwhelming despite the prospect of a non-linear narrative. I don’t mind linear or non-linear games as long as the enjoyment, fun factor and entertainment is there whatever the genre be from FPS to JRPG. Games don’t define themselves, they act as the script for the gamers who define games.

  6. Dragon Age Origins had plenty of choices which made you think. Do you take the easy way out or do you risk the situation getting worse and go to the place in order to get help? Or do you use an ancient power in order to boost the army at the cost of people’s lives etc.. Unlike that piece of dog crap DA2 which shat all over it’s choices.

    I prefer having a choice in games as it helps to immerse me in the experience but i hate it when any choices you made don’t matter as it feels like a massive feck you to the the gamer. Hence why everyone was up in arms about ME3’s three coloured ending.

    However, i do wish more games would have choices that actually forces us to think about it instead of the obivous good and evil choices.

Comments are now closed for this post.