Since I can remember, video games have been giving players a certain degree of choice. Such choices range from the simplistic naming of a character in the Final Fantasy games to the branching paths in Metroid. Off the top of my head I can distinctly remember being thrilled that NES games like The Legend of Zelda and Mega Man allowed me to choose a unique path. Rather than scrolling my way to the right like a typical NES era Mario game, experiences such as Zelda and Mega Man allowed me to tackle the game how I saw fit.
For the most part.
Today, there are plenty of games that allow and even encourage the player to make choices that can either alter the ending of the game or significantly change the overall experience. Often, some choices in games merely widen the funnel of the gameplay experience. This funnel then leads to a place where every character will eventually end up no matter what choices they’ve made throughout the game. Non-linear progression is exciting for me because, as a player, I want my experience to be as unique as possible. I want to be able to tell a different story about a game that others may have played as well. The following is a brief description of the typical play style and choices I make in a non-linear game.
Hero or Villain
Nonlinear games that offer heroic or evil style gameplay, like Fable for example, often steer me to play as the former. I am not quite sure what it is specifically that makes me play this way but I do know how it makes me feel. When I play as the hero I make choices I would make in real life if given the opportunity to do so. I always save the weak, make kind and thoughtful conversational dialogue choices, and seldom make bad moral decisions. For example, if a conversational dialogue tree is allowing me to choose a brash or sympathetic way to respond, I almost always choose the latter. However, depending on the context of the dialogue I may choose to pepper in some flavor in my actions if the situation calls for it. Recently, during my Fallout 4 play through, when confronted with the man who stole my in-game son I chose harsher and more aggressive answers while in dialogue with him.
Choices in video games that lead to heroic eventualities give me a sense of purpose; it’s why I am playing in the first place. If I choose to be the arrogant or evil character I often find myself feeling guilty, as if I know I shouldn’t be making such bad choices. Sometimes there is no way around playing games in a “bad” way. Often, some of these games that allow for good or bad play styles often tie in achievements or medals from playing both sides of the fence. Knowing I would be locked out forever from an achievement that is barred behind a series of “bad” choices usually fills me with a certain amount of frustration. Maybe I immerse myself a little too much in some of these games.
Male or Female
More games than ever allow the player to choose which gender they prefer to play as, even providing each with their own gender specific voice-overs. If given the choice I tend to lean more toward being a female character, and I haven’t quite figured out why. At first my rationale was “Well, video games are about escape and doing things and being people you couldn’t normally be in real life.” While this type of thinking is accurate to a point, the same could be said about my choices in always wanting to be the squeaky-clean heroic character. I guess my answer is a little more complex than just me wanting to be different.
For as long as I can remember I would always choose to be the female character in RPG’s, Fighting Games, and any other game that gave me the opportunity to choose. I guess I was tired of seeing the typical alpha male lead role heroic character take the spotlight. I remember when I found out that Samus Aran from the Metroid series was a female heroine, I was so happy and I wasn’t quite sure why.
Video game developers today are much more varied in how they choose their protagonists, often going for duel genders for players to choose from. I find that when I choose a female character I am truly experiencing a way of story telling that I have no connection to other than mental inputs. I am the brain of the character; she is the body that I control.
If you could word that better for me that’d be great. Moving on…
Side-quests and main story line are always the driving factors that push the player forward. Do I help the village people ward off the ghouls terrorizing the local farmlands? Will I go straight to the highest mountain in Skyrim and defeat the dragon that intends to bring all human life to a screeching halt?
I guess the answer to this question, for me, is: What is my motivation to do so? Quest design and making choices matter is a huge deal for me when I prioritize my choices in games. Fetch quests that have very little to no story behind them are usually throwaways for me. However, tell me that a hut full of orphaned babies is counting on me to spill the blood of a troll in a nearby pond to change the weather so that the rain will come to grow a plant that will cure their illnesses…when then that troll’s about to meet his maker.
So there you have it. I could go more in-depth on the psychology on why I play the way I do and what governs the choices I make. I have a profound respect for the specific intricacies that determine the choices I make on a neural level. But what I find even more fascinating is listening and reading first hand from others on why they play the way they play.
Leave a comment below and tell us why you make certain choices in video games. Oh, and while you’re at it, fetch me ten Crimson Nirnroot.
(Josh liked that)