Extra Credits: Choice and Conflict

This week, we look at the many different ways choice exists in games.

Recent Comments:

  • I think there's some value to putting morality in opposition to game play. If we don't ever put a mechanic behind moral choice we can't do things like set up mechanical temptations. I think "will you make this game harder for yourself to avoid doing something unconscionable" is still a viable way for games to explore morality.

    I agree, I just think it's a tricky thing to properly execute - and a lot of games don't really seem to be doing it well.
    As someone mentioned, even something as simple as offering different rewards for different choices can run the risk of causing a player to disregard the actual context or meaning of a situation in favour of seeking said reward.
    But yes, I completely agree that there are ways of tying mechanics to choices and still maintaining the meaning of a scenario - but it has to be carefully considered, and only offering the best rewards for being either one end of a particular scale, or the other, is a poor way of doing it in my eyes because it triggers a belief that you can't toy with the idea of more morally 'grey' areas, or that players should seek to make only 'good' choices or only 'evil' choices, etc.

    And yes, morally 'grey' choices where no option is marked as 'good' or 'evil', etc - or choices where you're not immediately made aware of the repercussions of each outcome are very powerful in games.

    Also, yeah - Army of Two: The 40th Day sucked hard but it had some interesting moments.
    Another game does multiplayer dialogue/action choices in an interesting way too, allowing each participant to make a choice and then using a background system to determine whose option is used, etc.

  • Okay, so as I said before in a previous post, a choice can only be considered one if there is no correct or incorrect answer at all. However, if each choice does have answers, then no matter how different they are from the other choices' answers, they're still calculations.

    In other words, choices are unpredictable, while calculations are otherwise, right?

    Now I'm several times more confused!

  • Okay, so as I said before in a previous post, a choice can only be considered one if there is no correct or incorrect answer at all. However, if each choice does have answers, then no matter how different they are from the other choices' answers, they're still calculations.

    In other words, choices are unpredictable, while calculations are otherwise, right?


    That's far too simple a break down of things. You're looking at this from a very 'black or white' mentality and trying to cut a distinct line where one doesn't exist.

    The outcome of particular choices aren't always unpredictable, and being predictable doesn't make them calculations either. It is the tying of easily calculable mechanical benefits to choices which runs the risk of stripping them of significant meaning and making them calculations, and whether they're calculations depends on multiple factors. When you can determine a statistical benefit to one choice over another, for example, you potentially create a calculable 'correct' answer which circumvents the choice aspect, etc.

    Having no truly 'correct' answer to a particular choice is an interesting way of approaching moral choices - because when it comes to morality, what's 'correct' in any given scenario is subjective to the player's own sense of ethics.
    However, whether something is a meaningful choice is not determined by whether its outcome can be predicted or not, and there are meaningful choices which aren't 'moral choices' too.

    So yeah, there's no clean cut distinction - you walk a razor-wire, all manner of factors can determine if you'll end up with meaningful choices in a game.

  • Okay, so as I said before in a previous post, a choice can only be considered one if there is no correct or incorrect answer at all. However, if each choice does have answers, then no matter how different they are from the other choices' answers, they're still calculations.

    In other words, choices are unpredictable, while calculations are otherwise, right?


    That's far too simple a break down of things. You're looking at this from a very 'black or white' mentality and trying to cut a distinct line where one doesn't exist.

    The outcome of particular choices aren't always unpredictable, and being predictable doesn't make them calculations either. It is the tying of easily calculable mechanical benefits to choices which runs the risk of stripping them of significant meaning and making them calculations, and whether they're calculations depends on multiple factors. When you can determine a statistical benefit to one choice over another, for example, you potentially create a calculable 'correct' answer which circumvents the choice aspect, etc.

    Having no truly 'correct' answer to a particular choice is an interesting way of approaching moral choices - because when it comes to morality, what's 'correct' in any given scenario is subjective to the player's own sense of ethics.
    However, whether something is a meaningful choice is not determined by whether its outcome can be predicted or not, and there are meaningful choices which aren't 'moral choices' too.

    So yeah, there's no clean cut distinction - you walk a razor-wire, all manner of factors can determine if you'll end up with meaningful choices in a game.

    Huh? I'm still confused!

  • Okay, so as I said before in a previous post, a choice can only be considered one if there is no correct or incorrect answer at all. However, if each choice does have answers, then no matter how different they are from the other choices' answers, they're still calculations.

    In other words, choices are unpredictable, while calculations are otherwise, right?


    That's far too simple a break down of things. You're looking at this from a very 'black or white' mentality and trying to cut a distinct line where one doesn't exist.

    -snip-

    Huh? I'm still confused!

    Let's take an example, also used in the episode - perks in the Fallout series:

    These are what we call incomparables. Here, the outcome of a particular choice is easily predictable and calculable - however, due to the incomparable nature of the various perks, there is no single definitive answer to the choice. There will always be a number of possible options which the player will end up having to contemplate and make a choice about which to pick. This makes the eventual choice meaningful, but in a completely different way to a dialogue option or something similar.

    Whilst there are definite calculations involved, it's not just a calculation - there is still the element of choice - because there are usually a number of different things the player could choose which would all have their benefits and drawbacks, but those things are incomparable to one another, thus making a calculation with one definitive answer difficult to impossible.

    Now, take inFamous:

    There are two choices in the game 'good' or 'evil' (or however you wish to label the two ends of a one-dimensional scale)
    The choices you make determine what powers you get - but the powers are comparable to one another, you could easily calculate a single definitive answer to each choice based on your playstyle alone.
    The fact that the best powers in the game are locked out unless you devote yourself to maxing one particular end of the scale also makes the choices even more limited.
    There is little meaning to the choices anymore - because they're purely determined by a single shared currency (in this case; your alignment, which directly determines your powers)

    Another set of examples...

    Mass Effect:

    Your choices in this game are judged by a universal scale - one end of the morality scale is "Paragon", the other is "Renegade". (Similar to inFamous' morality scale.)
    Every choice in the game can be summed up by how it positively or negatively affects your alignment towards "Paragon" or "Renegade".
    Thus, every choice the player makes in the game is being judged by the game itself and the player is being told what their actions meant - their ability to question these actions, and their meaning, is negated to a degree by the game. The game doesn't pose a question and leave the player to answer it for themselves, it poses a question and then gives the answer straight after. (Again, inFamous does this with a lot of its choices too.)
    Now, Mass Effect also ties powers into this scale in much the same way inFamous does too, and we already covered those issues. Your best options in Mass Effect are going either all "Paragon" or all "Renegade".

    Dragon Age: Origins:

    Your choices in the game are judged based on the positive and negative effect they have on your friendship with your party members. This makes choices much less comparable because of their nature as affecting more than one universal value. You're also not telegraphed beforehand what the effect of your choices will be like you are in Mass Effect (The placement of dialogue options on the wheel in Mass Effect actually flags their alignment, to an extent.)
    Now, as you raise - or lower - relationships with party members you get - or lose - a number of benefits, now again you're best off maxing out particular relationships for the best benefits but the fact you can raise a number of different options makes this less of a calculation with a clear definitive single 'best' option for any given choice and thus your choices have more ramifications and more meaning.
    Now, Dragon Age: Origins has its own flaws too - but when comparing the two 'choice systems' in the games, DA: O wins out for me personally. I found myself pondering certain dialogue options in DA: O more than I did in Mass Effect.

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