Decision Making in Games

As I’ve mentioned before, I am currently in the throes of playing the ass Effect series. Currently I’m on Mass Effect 2 and am thooughly enjoying it. Just like other games such as The Walking Dead and inFamous, I am required to make decisions. Decisions that will impact the story and how others interact with my character. It is unique and it is enjoyable. Along with it comes a morality system. It’s amazing that video games have been around for so long, yet morality and decisions can be made feel so light and irrelevant. Decisions when placed in the hands of the player take on a greater weight, thus should impact the story.


The Walking Dead Season 1 results

The Walking Dead Season 1 results

There are many games that ask you to make decisions throughout the story. It is deeply satisfying to be asked to make a decision that will impact the game you play. So often you are placed into a role and must complete it exactly as the developers imagined the story. While that can make for truly  compelling stories that only masters of storytelling can come up with. Unfortunately, that experience can leave a player isolated. Rather than being an participant and part of the story, they are more of an observer. Allowing the player to make decisions makes the story highly interactive.


With every decision, the is a pointed weight to that decision. Not all decisions are neutral. there are plenty of decisions that are also good and bad. The result of these decisions comes the concept morality. Some games, like inFamous focus on a rather flat morality. There are the good decisions and the bad. The more good choices you make the more of a hero you become. The bad choices lead you down a path to become inFamous.If you choose to do both, you become neutral and you lose the benefits of being either good or bad.

Mass Effect 3

Renegade or Paragon

Then there are other games like The Walking Dead or Bioshock Infinite that ask you to make decisions that don’t have a major impact. In the case of Bioshock Infinite, the illusion of choice that resulted in no change to the character or game play. Whereas the Walking Dead would have characters remember how you interacted with them for them to only respond with a slight repercussion or team change. Games like Mass Effect allow you to make Paragon and Renegade choices. Those choices then make it easier or difficult to charm or intimidate that will further effect the game. Any choice in Mass Effect has lasting repercussions. Thus, the choices you make not only slightly alter the story, it can entirely change the way that you play. Take for example in Mass Effect you are given an ultimate choice in which you need to choose to save the lives of one team member. Considering that each team member has their own unique strengths and weaknesses that will effect the make up of your team. I know I chose to sacrifice Ashley and keep Kaidan despite my tendency to bring Ashley on every mission up to that point.

Morality in a game should feel important. It should feel like the decisions that you make actually do matter and effect the story in a positive or negative light. If morality isn’t going to impact the game, how you play, and the story that unfolds, I struggle to see the reason to even include morality as a game component. If all morality is going to do is offer a different set of available tools, then why make the decisions morality based. Instead make the decisions, just that decisions. Deciding your morality in a game should hold weight and that weight should come in the form of consequences.


Mass Effect 3

War Assets

Life is a complex web in morality and its results. People make decisions and there are consequences. Not all consequences are bad, but their are results. Games can feel the most fulfilling when the decisions you make in the game are in fact remembered and affect other events down the line. If I hadn’t decided to do all my homework (even if it was last minute), I wouldn’t have made it to college, and I wouldn’t have met my boyfriend. There are decisions and there are consequences. Not all games have it down. Mass Effect seems to realize this and fit the web of causes and effects as best it can into the story and through side missions. The Walking Dead does it decently well as the choices you make do impact who is around. Depending on who is around the way the story is told can be changed. inFamous isn’t quite there as the story never seems to change, merely the reactions to the events based on whether you want to be good or bad. The consequences are key in making a decision feel like it carries weight in a video game. When there are consequences for both good and bad, you get to feel like it is more like real life. Just because you did something good, it may make another situation more difficult for you to handle. While taking a bad action can make it easier in the long run. How people interact with you based on your decisions make it feel more real.


Bioshock Infinite

Cage or Bird

The more choices a character can make. The more unique a path a player can take, the more the game becomes immersive. Rather than a story being told to you, as the player, you help create the story. That is a lot of power that a game can bestow, but it also makes it more valuable to the player. The goal of all games is to tell the best story that it can while entertaining and keeping the player invested. A player is meant to have fun. One quick easy way to do that is to grant more control to the story. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite as easy from the development standpoint. Part of the appeal of creating linear games that follow a specified story is that the development has control. There isn’t nearly as much deviation that needs to be planned for and then created. By blocking off that room with some boxes, a character can’t go explore. That means the developer doesn’t need to create that room. Instead of spending time building that additional room they can focus on the areas that are available.

While linear stories have their advantages, we are moving closer to a point where people want more control. People want the great story, but they also want to feel like their journey is unique. They want to feel like they are making choices and that it matters. Sometimes characters do things that you never would. Giving the characters more choices is empowering. It makes it your own.

How do you feel about making choices in games?

One thought on “Decision Making in Games

  1. I love game decisions! It’s what got me to start playing video games again after a long break. I’m excited to see how far game developers are going to go with this in the future.

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