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Choice in Games: Wait isn't that the whole point?

The push for "choice" in games seems somewhat silly to me, because hey, isn't that what games are all about in the first place? You're constantly making choices in games, you've always been making choices in games, the fact that you're choosing to play a game means that you're making about a million choices to not do a million other things in your real life. Why does a narrative choice, like "Chose one; she lives, or she dies" seem to mean more than a ludonarrative choice, (that is, a gameplay choice), like "Chose one; Sawblade launchenator or Teddybear rage-inducer". What about all the choices you make during the gameplay itself, like to take cover or to charge up your weapon? Putting points in talent trees doesn't count as choice? I didn't realize that the most sophisticated way to trick people into thinking that they have control over their play experience was to give them a dual-colored sliding scale between "baddie" and "goodie". As far as I can tell, all the best games that have ever been made (HL2, Zelda, etc) were strictly linear narratives that didn't fracture character motivations or multiply developer workload just so someone whose ass has grown into the fibers of his couch can make a story "his own".

Phew, now that the opening paragraph is out of the way, I can disect this issue a little be more fairly. Now as near as I can tell, the whole idea of giving people "choice" in games is so they have the illusion of doing something significant. There are all kinds of ways this can happen, from choosing what class to start with in an RPG, to customizing your gear in a first person shooter, to selecting between narrative pathways in an action adventure title. To my mind, the kind of "choice" that draws the most attention is the kind that allows you to make a significant impact on the narrative of the story that you're experiencing. The ability to interact with the narrative lends the game an organic feel, like it's interacting with you on a personal level and allowing your actions to generate meaningful results. It brings you deeper into the story, saying "you're not just experiencing these characters, you're interacting with them". Interaction within narrative is probably the most powerful tool for immersion (which, despite its buzzword status, I do not hold as the ultimate goal of a game or any art), at least after you've got good storytelling, good character, and good verisimilitude nailed down. If a story connects with you, if it can look you in the eye and wink, you're never going to want to put it down.

But wait, is that what we're really trying to get here? Not to sound like a dad here, but is being enthralled to the point of vegitude by the flashing dots on our television screens really what we're going for? Not that you can't have great interactive fiction without becoming a total sloth, but isn't that the idden agenda here? Or are we just going for greater depth in our stories, maximizing the density of interactions until we get to some kind of satisfying virtual reality? Because you can say that all you want is to have better stories, but it's not such a small step from there to wanting something that will continue to hold your intrest after hours upon hours of gameplay. But then again people get that already in games that don't really have any story elements at all, like multiplayer shooters or MMO's (those can have stories, but from my experience they're mostly just filler text to give some BS justification for why you have to collect fifteen frog eyes). So then what is the point of interaction within narrative?

Back to my original point, the idea that games need more choice seems just silly to me, because games really are nothing but choice. You're choosing to react to enemies, you're choosing to explore for hidden items, you're choosing to do just about everything in a game. But does that kind of choice even matter to people anymore? In our push for better stories in videogames, have we reduced the importance of gameplay choice to the importance of turning a page in a novel? David Cage would probably like to think so, but people around here don't seem to like him much.

What do y'all think? I can gross about stories all day, but I've never done this blogging thing before, so I apologize if this is a "fail blog". Do should we just draw a line between ludonarrative choices and narrative choices and say "there, now leave it alone", or can we do more than that?
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About Nedalus one of us since 8:07 AM on 05.05.2012

I think about things too hard. Sometimes I type up those overexertions. You can read them here.