The concept of choice and how they are treated in videogames is quite interesting. The following text contains some rambling on the subject. Hopefully this text will contain several different strings that both you and I can continue to pull.
With interaction follows choice. Therefore games always contain an innumerable number of actions to take. I’m not only talking about the evident and narrative choices found in many role-playing games but the fact that every interaction is indeed a choice. This could lead to very interesting experiences. Of what I have been able to discern however it has hardly been explored. Instead choices are quite often treated very simply and disconnected from the rest of the interaction. In the following text I intend to discuss two aspects of choice and consequences in games.
The first one regards what could be called immediate consequences. This is simply when consequences take place immediately after the choice has been made. It is a quite common way to treat choices and can be found in many role-playing games (but absolutely not exclusively). The reasons for treating consequences this way are several. It can be easier to write and construct the narrative, the consequence is made more obvious and the player can easily reload the game if he/she is not happy with the outcome. By making the consequence so obvious it is also given the power of seeming truly important – this is the moment when I must decide. I do not criticize this kind of approach; it can indeed be quite interesting when it comes to portraying the “point of no return” but also other kind of choices where a consequence for some reason must follow immediately. The problem is that this approach seem so very much more used than the delayed consequences. These are the consequences (at least the more profound ones) that do not show themselves until several hours later. The interesting aspects of this approach are several. First of all the player will not really be able to reload and choose the “correct” choice – the true consequence will not be known until much later. This gives the choice a more existential basis because we cannot truly know what will happen. We choose and then have to live with that choice. It also creates a more interesting journey through the game because there are always consequences waiting to unfold instead of a series of immediate choices and consequences.
My second aspect concerns how evidently choices are presented in videogames. Either you are given a choice in a dialogue or there is some kind of quick time event/flashing symbol on the screen indicating that you must choose! This is a CHOICE! No doubt this approach has its uses but I would like to see more games placing the real choices in how we act when we play the game – without pointing to the fact that this is a choice while that is not. As a player we quite quickly learn how to discern what will have consequences from that which will not. It would thus be interesting to work with this notion – do not tell the player what will have consequences (and what will not). Instead let the player choose through his/her interaction and not through separate choice situations. This would make choosing a more integral part of the interaction with the game and the player would have a harder time figuring out what is and what is not a choice. The latter thing is interesting because it will hopefully make the player constantly reflect on his/her choice instead of just entering reflection mode when the game clearly states that this is a choice. Think now. The player can probably not, not even at the end of the game, be exactly certain of where the game actually registered his/her interactions and where not. The game thus becomes an experience with constant choices – choices based on action.
There are some games that have applied this more interactive form of choosing (the term is somewhat wrong, choosing a dialogue answer is, of course, also form of interaction) and personally I always find it more interesting and direct. I get the sense of a true connection between action and choice, thus the entire foundation on which the game resides (interaction) becomes far more profound.
To wrap things up, let me just say what I’ve tried to discuss during the entire text. Choices and consequences in videogames could be handled in much more interesting ways. The fact that games are based on interaction (which in turn is choosing) could, I believe, be used to create really interesting experiences. Hide the choices, include them in the interaction and let the consequences appear much later to create a stream of constant action and reflection. When we reach true reflection – then we have achieved something truly special. And in the end, isn’t that what to want to?