The Difference Between Choices And Consequences

Posted by MeatBoy (51 posts) -

!!!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?

#1 Posted by MeatBoy (51 posts) -

!!!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?

#2 Posted by LikeaSsur (1495 posts) -

I agree with this. A lot of people hated what happened in episode 3, but I thought it was great. It's kinda like real life: Just because you said Sentence A does not mean you will get Consequence A. That's just how life works.

Being asked "What do you want for dinner?" and replying with "Pizza Hut" does not mean you'll get Pizza Hut. But then you cry "wait, that means I never had a choice!" Well, yeah. In retrospect, yes, you didn't have a choice. Hindsight is always 20/20.

I guess, to sum it up: In a good game with player made choices, just because you made that choice does not mean it has to play out. I think Mass Effect and Dragon Age have spoiled us with that. No matter what you say ("I'm in a relationship with this person!" or "I'm going to side with this person instead of that one!"), every choice you made played out exactly how you wanted it to. The Walking Dead woke us up to that. Just because we tried to calm Lily down does not mean she will, and that's why it's a better game (in that regard) than either of the previously mentioned titles.

#3 Posted by Klei (1768 posts) -

Well, I didn't see it that way. To me, it felt more like '' hey, its cool you chose something, but we're bringing you back to ours because it's easier to make a general ending that way ''. I felt like none of my choices mattered. The whole '' .... remembers you told the truth, remembers you being rude '' etc didn't really matter at all so far, even towards the characters who just end up dying a couple minutes later. I feel like whatever I'm going to choose, it won't matter in the end.

#4 Posted by project343 (2812 posts) -

@LikeaSsur: The people who hated that stuff in episode 3 don't know what compelling drama is. It was a spectacular storm of drama that honestly makes the AMC television show look like an G-rated pillow-hugging fest.

#5 Posted by YI_Orange (1129 posts) -

@Klei: For one, you should turn those things off. I didn't play a single second with notifications on and I don't see why anyone would want to.

Second, this is probably cliche, but it's the journey that matters, not the destination.

You could say it doesn't matter whether you save Doug or Carley because they both die anyway, but it does. They're totally different characters and I ended up so attached to Carley I got legitimately pissed at Lily.

Choosing to kill the first brother in the barn. Is that gonna matter in the long run? I sincerely doubt it, but in that moment where it showed Clem looking at me, I felt like shit. That's what's important to an experience.

Not every decision is going to impact the end, but it's going to impact something, whether it is the way parts of the story play out or how the player reacts to the events.

#6 Posted by Klei (1768 posts) -

@YI_Orange said:

@Klei: For one, you should turn those things off. I didn't play a single second with notifications on and I don't see why anyone would want to.

Second, this is probably cliche, but it's the journey that matters, not the destination.

You could say it doesn't matter whether you save Doug or Carley because they both die anyway, but it does. They're totally different characters and I ended up so attached to Carley I got legitimately pissed at Lily.

Choosing to kill the first brother in the barn. Is that gonna matter in the long run? I sincerely doubt it, but in that moment where it showed Clem looking at me, I felt like shit. That's what's important to an experience.

Not every decision is going to impact the end, but it's going to impact something, whether it is the way parts of the story play out or how the player reacts to the events.

I never checked to turn notifications off. They're on for a reason, I think and i'd rather have them on to be honest. I didn't get attached to Carley at all. I don't know if I missed something, but I've been paying attention to every dialog.

#7 Posted by WilliamHenry (1200 posts) -

I think the people who want the story to be tailored to their exact choices don't understand the technical limitations of the medium. This isn't a choose your own adventure book where you can just write the choices. Making video games is incredibly difficult and expensive. I don't think the medium is advanced enough technically to truly create a game that is tailored exactly to a player's choices. It will get there eventually, but its not there yet.

#8 Posted by MeatBoy (51 posts) -

Thanks for all the great replies.

@LikeaSsur said:

I agree with this. A lot of people hated what happened in episode 3, but I thought it was great. It's kinda like real life: Just because you said Sentence A does not mean you will get Consequence A. That's just how life works.

Exactly. Also, games might have choices, but not necessarily the choices you want. That's something people should come to grips with. Again, it's just like real life.

@Klei said:

Well, I didn't see it that way. To me, it felt more like '' hey, its cool you chose something, but we're bringing you back to ours because it's easier to make a general ending that way ''. I felt like none of my choices mattered. The whole '' .... remembers you told the truth, remembers you being rude '' etc didn't really matter at all so far, even towards the characters who just end up dying a couple minutes later. I feel like whatever I'm going to choose, it won't matter in the end.

I think you should rethink what it actually means that something "matters". This explains it quite well:

@YI_Orange said:

Second, this is probably cliche, but it's the journey that matters, not the destination.

You could say it doesn't matter whether you save Doug or Carley because they both die anyway, but it does. They're totally different characters and I ended up so attached to Carley I got legitimately pissed at Lily.

Choosing to kill the first brother in the barn. Is that gonna matter in the long run? I sincerely doubt it, but in that moment where it showed Clem looking at me, I felt like shit. That's what's important to an experience.

Not every decision is going to impact the end, but it's going to impact something, whether it is the way parts of the story play out or how the player reacts to the events.

This is exactly what I mean. The players experience during the game isn't cancelled out by characters dying. The events still happened and they affected you the way they did, no matter what happens next.

Also, this is an important point I didn't really touch on:

@WilliamHenry said:

I think the people who want the story to be tailored to their exact choices don't understand the technical limitations of the medium. This isn't a choose your own adventure book where you can just write the choices. Making video games is incredibly difficult and expensive. I don't think the medium is advanced enough technically to truly create a game that is tailored exactly to a player's choices. It will get there eventually, but its not there yet.

I'm just not so sure it's what the industry should be striving for. While branching storylines can be cool, it's not the most important part of a good game narrative. Also, the technical limitations might go away at some point (or already have), but the economic ones probably won't.

There's also something to be said about the fact that crafting just one compelling, dramatic, dynamic, entertaining storyline, is hard enough. Making a bunch of variations that are just as good, is next to impossible. I think I'd rather have the best version the writer can manage, than risk getting something mediocre, just because I expect the luxury of choosing.

#9 Posted by Klei (1768 posts) -

To me, I approached this game telling myself, hey, there's replay value to this. My choice will affect the storyline. And right now, it doesn't in a meaningful way. I'm not getting extra scenes or different gameplay features based on my choices, and this is what I thought I'd get, especially with the Carley thing in episode 1.

The journey may be what's important, but then, why get the players hopes up by portraying visual cues that leads to think things might be different if a different choice is chosen? I love this game. I'm eager to play the next episodes. I'm just disappointed that my choices don't have any repercusions at all. At least, not so far. I hope to get served eventually.

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