Extra Credits: How Much Agency Do Games Need?

This week, we attempt to reframe the question of how much choice a game needs to successfully engage the player.

Episode video is on YouTube

Show Notes:

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Recent Comments:

  • The way I interpreted that 'calculations are not choices' definition is that if what you do is based solely on the calculation it is not a choice. It doesn't prevent choice using calculation as a part of it.

    Most of the controversy, in my opinion, about that rule rises on how to deal with situations where the calculations you go with are wrong.

    Are they choices? is it always not a choice when you go with something you believe is better or does it lose the 'choice' status only when you believe it to be right and it is right?

  • I think this video does a good job of explaining why I love Dishonored as much as I do. I sometimes forget how much choice you have moving through each level until I remember that I've made a CHOICE from the start that I'm not going to kill anybody. And when I actually stop to think about how different the game would be if I didn't make that choice, I love it all the more.

    One of those rare times you and I agree. Thats definitely a game that gives you a lot of choice in your play apart from it's obvious "High chaos/Low chaos" dichotomy. You can decide which enemies you want to use your gadgets and powers on, which ones you'll sneak past, and so on. It may be easier to sneak past a guy in the short run but if you have to come back that way when escaping, you might appreciate him already being unconscious or dead. You really can do it either way.

    Mass Effect is another example (at least for me, its one of the very few shooters I've played.) Obviously, hanging out behind cover and taking your time picking off guys is an optimal strategy for that game and I know people who swear by the sniper. But I like moving, so playing Vanguard with it's charge-slam-strafe pattern is just more fun for me. Probably why I've fallen in love with Arkham City.

    In fact it's funny how Arkham City and Dishonored give you so much choice in play while giving you so little choice in characterization (for obvious reasons in the former case, though I don't know why they didn't give you more control over Corvo's personality in Dishonored. Aside from deciding how deadly you'll be, the only choice I remember making was whether or not Corvo would be a complete Perv.)

  • Another good example of choice is the side mission in general. I don't remember seeing it mentioned much. It lets you decide what you want your play experience to be about by choosing the types of missions that have the types of gameplay you prefer. Thats not a terribly difficult type of choice to implement.

    It also lets you decide if you want to take extra time doing something else to make a critical mission easier or tough it out and get to the plot important missions quicker.

  • Boy this is getting confusing... I've already taken in a lot today, so maybe I'm not that clear on the subject, but I... don't know if I prefer more linear experiences or open-world things. It's true that this makes the whole "choice" discussion more binary, and really, who's to say you CAN'T have those kinds of choices in a more linear game? It really DOES depend on the game you have, and I don't think that's a cop-out answer at all. Some things can only truly be discussed on a case-by-case basis.

    You know, explaining all of this would sound like "exploiting emotion" to some more jaded people, though really, sometimes you SHOULD let yourself get swept up in a story, and feel things you normally wouldn't feel.

    Incidentally, hammering out what I like and what I don't like is something I've been struggling with as of late...

  • [Now compare this to, say, TotalBiscuit's take on Medal of Honour: Warfighter. This, by contrast, is a game which would rather be playing itself. Because you have to be in control, the concession it instead makes is to constantly tell you where to go and what to do, like a nagging mother-in-law. You're not allowed to assess a situation, pick your tools and figure out a way to solve it. The game GIVES you the solution, and then prevents you from solving the situation any other way. THAT is a game with no choice in it.

    This could basically be summed up as the 'director mentality,' the idea that the game designer is the director, which reduces the player to the status of an actor who exists purely to perform the actions demanded of them. The game simply becomes a series of takes where failure means cut and go again from the start of the scene.

    Attempting to micromanage every second of the game comes from this, but so do things like Half-Life 2's dialog scenes where the player is placed in a locked room with nothing to do while characters exposit and tell them what to do next. Gordon is really just a spare pair of hands that carries out the will of the nearest friendly person for no real reason of his own (hence Bioshock), and you'd be far more involved if you were playing as Alyx. It's noticeable that Dog keeps fucking off just so that Gordon actually has some purpose.

    The thing is even most movie directors are willing to accept that actors are creative people too and their ideas about their character can add things they never would have thought of themselves. The mode of storytelling that just artificially shoves you back on the path if you try to take a step to the side is also reminiscent of those storyteller GMs in tabletop RPGs who have a huge, complex plot planned out but no contingencies if the players don't do exactly what they're supposed to. Such campaigns almost always end with the players fucking up everything by trying increasingly absurd and destructive things just to leave their mark on the story somehow. It's not that they want to ruin everything, it's that they want to be acknowledged.

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