Extra Credits: The Illusion of Choice

This week, we discuss the use of the illusion of choice in game design.

Episode video is on YouTube

Show Notes:

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Recent Comments:

  • My age is showing here, but what about the old Infocom games?

    The overall gameplay was about as linear as it gets (ask anyone who tried to get the Babel Fish in the Hitchhiker's game), yet the player almost always felt that they had complete autonomy within the game world.

  • Why give people the illusion of choice when they aren't really making a choice? Why not just make that part linear and save choicy stuff for the places it really matters.

    Let's say there are two games, one with a lot of fake choices that don't really do much but one with a single huge choice and implications to it.

    Wouldn't the second game be better?

  • I think it depends on whether you notice that your choices don't effect much. If the pseudo-choices are set up in such a way that you don't notice then I think the two are equally satisfying for those who like choice. That said, if it's really clear that the choices you're making are not real choices then I can see how that would actually not satisfy anybody - either the people who prefer linear experiences or the ones who prefer choice.

    I get the impression that there might be a lot of times when setting up real choice takes a big toll for designers, though so are there ways that those pseudo-choice moments can be made more convincing? Any good examples come to mind?

  • Why give people the illusion of choice when they aren't really making a choice? Why not just make that part linear and save choicy stuff for the places it really matters.

    Let's say there are two games, one with a lot of fake choices that don't really do much but one with a single huge choice and implications to it. Wouldn't the second game be better?

    I think what is meant is to allow the player to try something that they might want to try in that situation, to at least give them some option other than the default story option.

    Its kind of like the difference between being strapped to a table and gagged while being subjected to a lecture about traffic safety versus having the option to leave the class but it results in points on your record and possibly the loss of your driver's license. In the latter case, you can voice your objections to being there ("this is bs, I was in control of the car, that cop was wrong, this teacher is boring, etc") get up, stretch. And if you really want to, you can walk out and face those consequence (kind of like in a game where you can choose to go down an alternate path but it will kill you.)

    Sure, either way, you're probably stuck in the class room listening to the lecture but which would you prefer?

    When you've been in control of your character and you get assigned a mission you think you or your character would have objections to doing. Would you rather be stuck in a non interactive scene where the character says "Cool. Lets burn down that orphanage." Or would you at least like to have the option to say "Burning down the orphanage is wrong" and have your commander say "I know, don't worry we'll try to get all the kids out but the sleeper cell has a huge weapon caches there, we have to do this, they forced us into this awful situation." You're doing it either way but you're in control of why your character is doing it.

  • I mentioned on the Feeling of Agency topic about this The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword example, where the choice I had to make ultimately didn't matter, since regardless of what I did, I was going to get the same thing in the end. Thing is, even though this is the Illusion of Choice, I was still invested enough in the characters in the game to care about how I was going to go about that choice. Of course, not everyone would be as invested, so I figure this is a case-by-case thing. All-in-all, it's not about the choice, it's about how the choice is perceived by your audience.

    Really, I keep thinking back to what Yahtzee says about video games, though since he's a cynical, jaded, bastard, of course he's not going to get TOO invested in the games he plays... at least not all of them. What Dan says here makes a lot more sense compared to what Yahtzee says about choice.

    Though I have to say, those subtle methods of the illusion of choice, I'm willing to bet that some asshole out there will still opt for the wrong choice, realize that there was no choice at all, and complain about it, because he didn't think like he was supposed to. Though really, we can't predict how everyone will act, so we can't really make sure if they're going to act the way we want them to act.

    BTW, I love those images that come by quickly when Dan says a specific word. :P

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