Choices and What We Make of Them

NewHyrule

Image of Hyrule from the new footage by Nintendo, don’t remember where I got the pic sorry.

“We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.” – Andrew Ryan

Free choice is one of the newer buzzwords from the last generation of systems but it really has been around for a very long time. True, choices are more player driven than ever before but the idea has been around from gaming’s earliest systems. The original Legend of Zelda was as close to an open world game as most early Playstation games, the concept of beings able to choose which direction to go in was never really an option in earlier games. In those games you mostly followed a linear level until completion or you player a handful of levels, on slightly varying, until the game became to difficult to beat. Zelda for me, as an early gamer was a whole different concept. I could go in whichever direction I wished, true I was gated at some points, but mostly because I would have gotten killed if I wandered too far into Hyrule’s more difficult areas. The important thing was this changed my game experience from a friends, I may have gone left to find my first shop, where he went right and found the edges of the level. We might encounter different monsters and at least begin our adventure with our own experiences. Leaving players to choose the direction of their adventure has been one of the hallmarks of the series and still to this day is one of its most enjoyed aspects, the sense of adventure.

As games move to new systems they allow for more freedom for the game creators to allow the player to craft their adventure or at least to adjust their characters to the worlds around them. A big g step for me was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which as s D&D guy, it gave me the freedom to play a variety of races and job classes, even allowing me to create one of my own. It gave me the freedom to play the game my way. Bethesda (creators of The Elder Scrolls) then followed it up much later with Skyrim (I know they did Fallout 3 in between I’ll get to that) which went much further in the ideas of player choice. Gone were the days of choosing primary skill sets and lesser ones, Skyrim says simply said, whatever you do you’ll do better. It allowed players to level skills that they used as they used them. If you wanted to be better at casting illusion spells cast illusion spells a lot, if you wore light armor a lot you’ll level up your light armor skill. This had a profound affect on my gaming as I was no longer afraid of choosing skills l would never use or creating a essential broken character. Grand Theft Auto: San Andres had an interesting system of choice as well, it affected your main character CJ. If you ate a lot of food dreamed “bad” for him (fast food) and didn’t work out he would gain weight and would lose endurance, speed, and stamina, but if he worked out at the gym he could get more muscular and his melee damage increased as well as his endurance and stamina. CJ’s clothing, hair style and tattoo choices also had an effect on his attractiveness. Aside from the main character you could choose to follow the law or do pretty much whatever you wanted in the confines of what the game allowed. Grand Theft Auto 3 opened up the concept of the “sandbox” or open world game as we think of it today, a world in which the player can choose to ignore the storyline of the game and cause mayhem or just drive around. The Saints Row series took this idea even further and allowed for the customizing of the main character, any gender, race, physical body type, you name it they allow and encourage it. Dragon Age and Mass Effect allow for character customization as well but what I find most interesting is they encourage romantic interaction between the player character and NPCs that the main character travels with, deepening the bond between player and game.

This leads to one of the more recent moves in gaming which is the moral choice. I really found this one to be a choice I never really expected to have in my games. The most powerful and earliest choice that affected me was dealing with the Little Sisters in Bioshock. We, as gamers, have really only had one choice when dealing with most NPCs, we killed some and not others. We kill the monsters and not the villagers, as an example, but we never have been given the reasoning of why or how will we feel about it. Bioshock asked are we going to choose to save a little girl to help her (with the promise of benefits later) or sacrifice the child to empower ourselves now. Of course the game itself did not make the choice easier as Dr. Tenenbaum begged us to save them, as Atlus insisted that we kill them to harvest the Adam slugs. If we decide to “buy” into these worlds do we buy into the choices we make? I can’t help but think we could. I’ve played Bioshock a half dozen times and still have never harvested a single slug. I always save the Little Sisters. Fallout 3 (told you I’d get here) gave us meter by which we could track our choices, but never try to influence us on our choices and truly you could save the whole of humanity or be a true monster based solely on you acted toward the NPCs and how you handled different encounters. Fable too gives us moral choices as how we our choices affect the town in which we live. If we side with evil Bowerstone gives way to poverty and depression, while good choices give us a flourishing city. The choices we make, make the world around us.

I quickly what to mention Minecraft as it really is the truest version of a creative experience. There is barely a “story” to be had (especially in the earliest versions). The whole experience is based on player choice. You create your own story based on what you choose to do in the game. The only real limit is your creativity and the limit of the game itself, and I’m not even sure of that to be honest.

So where do we go from here? The future looks bright. With games like Minecraft selling off the shelves and the world eagerly awaiting the next Fallout announcement I predict that player driven choices I games will not only continue but flourish with the newest generation of games like Shadow of Mordor playing heavily on how you choose your encounters and take on the Warchiefs to which powers you upgrade first are starting off strong. No Man’s Sky for the PS4 will soon give us a whole universe to explore where we get to choose where to go, who to go with, and how long we want to be there. It truly looks like an incredible experience, driven by the player. Ken Levine, creator of Bioshock, and his team have been working on a game where it is story driven by the players decision. He calls it “narrative Legos” as it has a base but the players choices build onto the world and affect many aspects of the game. I for one can’t wait to see and play it.

Thanks for reading. Please comment if you so choose. Question of the post! How does choice affect your playing style? I love it and Jinx knows this, will spend minutes choosing colors and heads for my Borderlands characters. Do you think about it or is it such a part of the game now you barely notice it? Let me know, I’m interested to hear what you think.

Thanks again, hope you enjoyed it.

Ness

About Ness

As a chaotic good nerd I try to be as well rounded as possible, from video games, comics, tabletop RPGs, anime, and cartoons I try to fit it all in. Although I enjoy all of it, video games have always dominated the majority of my time and attention. My plan for here is not to write previews or reviews but to talk about how I relate to the games I play. Hopefully we can all play along.