written by Omar Castillon (@omar_castillon)
It’s the moment of truth. The story mode in the game you are playing is twenty hours deep and you have just reached the part where you are given a cataclysmic decision. Either you kill the enemy, save them or arrest them for their intergalactic war crimes. What do you do? Personally I’d probably weigh in the consequences of what happened prior to such a meet up and decide which option would best fit with the story. But I digress. Story choices in video games have been going on since the point and click adventures of DOS and, if you want to go even more primitive, you can say that choices in video games have existed since the player was given the option to jump a ledge or shoot down a bunch of asteroids. The point is, stories that give you a variety of decisions make video games last beyond their finite storylines.
One example is the Mass Effect series. Hours upon hours of gameplay that can either make or break your character. The personal connection of creating something in your own vision is stellar. Maybe a little bit “God Complex-esque” but this character will be the savior of the galaxy one day. Of course Commander Shepard and his rag tag group of intergalactic agents of awesome have to go from point “A” to point “B.” The question is what all does Commander Shepard have to go through in between? This is where choice in a video game is its’ most prestigious since little decisions or approaches to a scenario can decide whether people will help you or not in your mission. Logic would say to try to reason with everyone and maybe even be friends with as many people as possible. Unless you make one little mistake like accidently killing off the council in the final part of the first Mass Effect game. (I swear I didn’t know they were going to get killed) If a player wants to go the route of a renegade player, then they are more than happy to do so since the player can experience a different fictional perspective in the form of a renegade Commander Shepard. Relationships can also be a factor as to who you will rely on in the future installments of the game. In my run through as paragon Commander Shepard, I had the liberty of making Ashley Commander Shepard’s girlfriend. Now that I’m in the third Mass Effect game (work in progress) it’s sort of awkward being in a fictional relationship with Ashley since I had Commander Shepard sleep with three other characters in Mass Effect 2… The point is any choice you make in a game will have a consequence.
Life or death situations are also a major factor in games such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead. You’re not really able to pick and choose the appearance of your character like in the Mass Effect series (duh), but you are able to decide how to approach situations that are teetering alliances with particular characters. As Lee Everett, you are put into situations dealing with life or death situations. The stakes are raised as soon as you are in charge of keeping Clementine safe. The player can decide whether to be a total prick and treat everyone like garbage including Clementine, but your experience with the story might be a bit more challenging if you don’t really connect with the characters in the game in a positive light. Thankfully the game is programmed to adapt to any situation that is forced upon the player at certain points of the story. If the player does form a close connection with Clementine for example, you will feel some form of emotion by the end of the game. For those that know what I’m talking about, we can keep it spoiler free with a mutual understanding.
It’s not just modern games with programmed scenarios involving choice but rather old school games can also be considered to have life or death options. One simple example is none other than Super Mario Bros. for the NES. The set up is simple: two buttons, a d-pad, a start button and a select button. You are placed into an unknown world with castles and floating bricks full of coins and fire flowers. You have three choices: run through the entire level, take your time getting through the level or stand there until something happens instantly killing you.
The concept of choice and how it affects gameplay is a primal idea. From the late 70s to present day, having choices in games is one of the most dangerous thrills that makes us gamers still play video games even into adulthood. Hell, video games can even go as far as to help the elderly with games like Wii Sports or Brain Age (man that’s a game few remember nowadays) keeping their lifestyle a little more active virtually. The danger factor keeps us from being bored. We are more or less natural risk takers because of video games. During that moment when you are being pressured to push a button to make a jump or annihilate an entire alien species, you instantly notice the results but also how it will impact the rest of the story in that game. Make good choices in the games you play or maybe just do whatever you want. It is your game and it is your choice to either save the world or destroy it. Just don’t destroy the real world. Keep it safe; keep it in the video game. (I’m surprised I avoided spoilers during this whole analysis on choices)