The Difference Between Choices And Consequences

!!!The Walking Dead Spoilers ahead!!!

This post is partly a reply to this blogpost by . In stead of going on and on in a comment, I decided to make my own post. Go read it first though to get some context.

In short, the post I link to above make some great points about choices in games like The Walking Dead, and how suspension of disbelief is important to the experience.

I would just like to add that this isn't just about illusion of choice. It's also about what people expect from choices in games. I have always been puzzled by the fact that some people, knowingly or not, seem to define "player choice" as being able to decide the outcome of games. What I feel that both Mass Effect and The Walking Dead do well, is presenting you with meaningful and affecting choices along the way, but not letting you decide the outcome of their stories.

An obvious example is in The walking Dead where I can save Carly/Doug once, but he/she dies later on because of what Lily does. That doesn't make my choice meaningless. I still made a choice that affected my character and the group. Not to mention myself as the player. The events that follow just didn't play out like I wanted them to. In this case that should be considered a good narrative twist, not a shortcoming of the game. For me at least, this was the most powerful moment in the game yet. It made me really angry, and that's not because it was unavoidable on a mechanical level, but rather because it was avoidable within the narrative. Lily didn't have to shoot that character that I cared about, and that made it all the more affecting.

It seems to me that people who focus too much on controlling consequences, are too concerned with the mechanics of player choice and forget about the role playing aspect. The only thing you should be able to do is make the choices you think are right. What consequences those choices have, aren't up to you (just like in real life, I might add). Sometimes they affect the narrative outcome and sometimes they don't. Either way they can affect both your perception of your character and your experience with the game and that's the most important thing, right? Whether or not the outcome of those choices manifest as different endings, branching storylines or something else, isn't that important to the players experience. (Although that can be cool of course).

To sum up my point, there is a difference between choosing between alternatives presented to you, and being able to choose the outcome. Games should be about making interesting and hard choices, not choosing consequences. After all, what's interesting about that?