The first time that a game truly made me think about decision-making within the medium was when I played Bioshock. This shooter presented players with a lavish yet brutal underwater dystopia, fun demented characters and the iconic Big Daddies. But beneath the gunplay, powers and world was a game which didn’t just involve decision-making but went as far as to use the mechanics of a single player shooter to speculate on the nature of free will. Before I played Bioshock, video games seemed to be about completing a set of objectives as developers intended, and the only way to really make a bad decision was to play the game wrong. Bioshock changes all of that for me and the rest of the series followed suit, complicating decisions and taking full advantage of what gaming can be in the right hands.
Who you spare and which objectives you complete all change the experience.
Introducing the chance for players to make more decisions as they play video games, whether they be open world RPG’s, action games, or even games which focus almost entirely on story and character such as Telltale’s works, was a drastically important step for gaming which can only offer more opportunities as time goes on. Games, like Dishonoured, for instance, are enhanced because of the choices you as a player make. The choices to kill or spare the waves of opponents impacts the game’s ending and throughout the game the options of what you steal, who you spare and which objectives you complete all change the experience.
It involves the player more, allowing them to play more in a style that fits their style of gaming. It encourages replays just to see what the alternative paths are, and it means that the game developers have to create multiple narratives rather than just one, offering the player more freedom. It also means that there are fewer restrictions and allows for further realism, as games which account for player choices often remove barriers that force a player down one physical path. That isn’t to say that games which offer the choice of play well and succeed or play badly and fail don’t have their place like a straightforward shooter like Titanfall 2, but so long as new ways to play and choose are devised for games, gaming can only become more interesting.
Games which account for player choices often remove barriers that force a player down one physical path.
Some games are even built entirely on the premise of making choices and seeing how they affect a narrative. Life is Strange excels at this by not only forcing its main character, Max, to make choices but it also gives her the ability to rewind time and make new choices with greater knowledge. This adds a great deal to the story as it means the player is given so many different ways of playing through the story’s five episodes, and can come to radically different conclusions based on their decisions. Though the appeal may depend on how much one wants to see a story told of teen angst and a town filled with secrets (it’s the closest thing to playing Riverdale one can find), the mechanics and choices of Life is Strange are worth the play-through, particularly when the game removes the safeguards at critical moments when the stakes are at their highest.
Gaming has come a long way in the past few decades, and the best way for it to evolve is to keep giving us new ways to play, better ways to reflect our styles of gaming and more platforms to depict topics, be it the love of exploration, the horrors of war, or the meaning of what it means to be a gamer in the first place.