How do you approach dialogue choices in narrative games?

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j_unit2008

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Poll How do you approach dialogue choices in narrative games? (103 votes)

I aim for a specific outcome (e.g. "good" or "evil") and make choices with that in mind. 17%
I imagine myself in the character's shoes and what I would do in their situation. 33%
I base my choices off what I think makes sense for the character. 35%
I wing it. Whatever happens, happens baby! 9%
Some other thing?? 6%

With the release of Life Is Strange: True Colors I'm finding myself circling back to this question and how I play these types of games. I used to approach them like most other games. After all, I played games to "beat them" so I had to figure out how to get the best endings. Nowadays, I like to imagine what makes sense for the character I'm playing, even if the choice is obviously a bad idea. It's definitely increased my enjoyment and makes things more unpredictable.

But how about you fine folk? What's your preferred way to play?

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Nuttism

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I generally pick whatever I think will make for the best story. A lot of times that does mean staying true to the character as I imagine them, but it can also mean that they develop and change their outlook over time. In general, when I have choices, I prefer picking the more unorthodox ones because it might bring the story to an interesting point and tests the writers more than the milquetoast protagonist answers. A lot of the best jokes are also hidden there if you are playing a humorous game, and it can force allies into conflict due to differing philosophies and outlook which can make for tense scenes.

The most difficult game choice I can remember making is actually in Disco Elysium. I had decided to make my character a racist moron, who still had a keen eye and was completely dedicated to solving the case. When the choice came up to make him a full blown fascist, I was really unsure what to do, because on one hand, it would make the story quite interesting, and I am a big completionist who wants to see absolutely every bit of story in a game, but on the other hand, I felt like the character was growing, and going for it wouldn't fit into the trajectory his personality was on. Ultimately, I decided against it, and feel satisfied in my choice. Even though he never shook his bad habits completely off, I really did feel like he developed over the story, and it made for a better plot than if he had simply stayed the same type all throughout the story because I was "following a path". I guess that style would fit best into "winging it". I never look at story guides and like being surprised by where my choices lead me.

The most antithetical choice here is imagining myself in the protagonist's shoes. I never do that, and the reason is simple. I already make choices I would make all day. I'm much more interested in seeing the consequences of choices I "wouldn't" make. I also never get fully immersed in games, even ones I love. At least not to the point where I would imagine myself in that world. I'm always viewing the story through a screen.

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nicksmi56

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I always go off of what I would do in the character's shoes. I find it makes things much more interesting and affecting for me.

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Nodima

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Yea, I like to roleplay, but part of that probably comes from playing so many Lucasarts-style adventure games where one of the primary selling points is exhausting every dialogue option. Even still most modern games will mostly let you cycle through every available option if you're a completionist type. So whenever a game is like, "this is a conversation you're having and you will say one of the following things and the conversation will continue", I really try to embody who I think that character is. My favorite example being Until Dawn, a sneaky good pass-the-controller-around multiplayer game where much like actual dumb teen slasher movies not everybody has the same opinion or expectations of certain characters.

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plinko

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I do a mix between the 2nd and 3rd options, and maybe a bit of the 4th? I think I start off imagining how I would react in my own shoes at the beginning, and then as the character develops and acts certain ways, I start trailing off that path and turn them into a whole separate character. Disco Elysium is a good recent example for me. I started out acting like I would in reality, but as weird options came up that I thought sounded interesting, I started picking those and basically developed a weirdo who's really good at solving crimes and throwing people off because of his oddness. I like to do it that way because I'm bad at creating new characters, so basing it off myself is way easier than coming up with a whole new thing.

I like video games a lot because they work with the way I make characters very well. When I try to create characters from scratch, I hit a block and can't get past it. But when I just wing it and go, basing it off what I'd generally do, that's when I start getting creative and form a character. I guess it's like the difference between creating a house and sculpting with clay? Where a house is building up from a plan layer by layer, whereas clay can constantly change shape as you go. (I have no idea how to build a house/use clay lol but I think you get me).

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Shindig

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I wing it. Depends how invested I am in the whole process.

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Justin258

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#6  Edited By Justin258

Most dialog choices are a little closer to infodumps than most of us would like to admit, so I go through all of those because I might miss something and that would be disastrous, right?

For dialog choices that affect alignment or factions or whatever, I stick with whatever type of character I'm playing, usually some form of chaotic good because I'm boring. I've never been able to bring myself to stick with an evil playthrough of anything.

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Y2Ken

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I do have a tendency to stick to the "good" side of options, which hasn't been helped by games like Mass Effect where later options can be locked out if you don't full-bore commit to one alignment the whole way through. However, in recent years I've started to go more along the lines of roleplaying a character and approaching things from their mindset, even if it isn't what I'd do myself. Consequently replaying ME1 recently I've been mostly paragon but I've been sharp and firm with people; a Shepard who doesn't have time for frivolity and isn't going to push her squadmates into conversations they don't want because she has too much else on her hands to worry about it.

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cikame

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The good option is the only option, i've never understood having the choice of saying something else or doing an evil playthrough.
There is one exception, Panam in Cyberpunk, i hate her attitude so much and tried everything in my power to get her killed, was disappointed it's not an option, i could have just ignored her quests for the rest of the game (i assume that's an option) but i want the rewards.

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hermes

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In games where there is no "good choice", or the game doesn't reward you for having a pure alignment experience, I play in character, with the option that better suits his/her image in my mind... which often turns out to "decent, honest, with some sassiness" because I am mostly bland.

In games that reward you for a pure alignment or punish you for roleplaying (looking at you, Mass Effect and Fallout), I always choose the good option, because it is the easiest way to make sure I don't get stuck out of content.

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notkcots

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#11  Edited By notkcots

Always pick the dumbest option. Especially in David Cage games.

I "missed out on" (read: was spared) 1/3 of Detroit: Become Human because I made choices that the game didn't like in the first Kara sequence. Spoilers for those who care, I guess. After a very dramatic montage of the robot maid breaking through the shackles of her programming, I chose to stand downstairs watching the hockey game instead of running to the daughter's bedroom to stop her father from beating her. Liberated robots ain't got time for your meatbag morality when there's sports to watch, goddammit!

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Rahf

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Generally speaking it depends on the game I play.

Games where the moral barometer is completely clear, such as older Bioware RPGs, I'll always end up being the good guy. Because at the end of the day I don't like being an asshole; generally those choices always end up with you being dastardly, or a 'nice guy'. Easy to choose. Easy to predict.

Now in games where the choices and their outcomes can be really veiled and hard to grasp, such as the Witcher, I tend towards the pragmatic and not trying to be a goody two-shoes. Still avoiding being an asshole, and prefer helping repentant characters with their problems.

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jamesyfx

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#13  Edited By jamesyfx

I'll make a choice based on what I think will give me the biggest enjoyment factor. Although sometimes this backfires and the conversation goes places I didn't expect.

In Mass Effect I usually play Renegade with a hint of Paragon. Plus lets be honest it's pretty fun having those unlockable Renegade options...

My characters are horrible in games like Fallout. I'll play nice to reap the benefits and then when I think the NPC has become useless to me I will blow em up and take all their stuff.

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warpr

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#14  Edited By warpr

I as much as possible force every character I play to be like me, even if it wouldn't suit that character at all. Not being me seems like a lot of effort trying to be someone else, and I'm playing games to relax :)

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Efesell

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1 or 3 depending on whether I’m building the character from scratch or with somebody that has an established personality.

Never 2, that just seems odd.

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FacelessVixen

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Projecting myself onto the main character is usually the way I do things, especially in games with character creation and customization.

The only two RPGs where I wanted specific results were in Persona 4 and Mass Effect 2.

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theonewhoplays

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#17  Edited By theonewhoplays

I generally go for the 'nice' option which is why I enjoy choices that aren't strictly black and white. The latest good example of games like that I've played is Life is Strange 2.

In the game you play as a teenager who is on the run from the law with his kid brother. The choices are generally about if you should be nice / follow the law or survive on the run. Or how you should try to fit in a new group or community you meet. The game puts a wrench in the machinery by asking you to do these decisions while your little brother is watching. Do you live as you teach? You essentually shape what kind of person the character you aren't controlling will become, and that's pretty interesting.

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monkeyking1969

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#18  Edited By monkeyking1969

I think first off that any game that gives the player a choice about how to answers should provide at least some choice (happy vs sad, happy vs mad, strong vs weak, etc) There has two be a choice not merely, "Hey two bad thing choose one...nope you have too choose one." The choice doesn't have to be clear or make sense at teh time, it can have futures consequences but the choices have to be opposed.

I have stopped playing some games where the choices given, were not choices I would make; ie. throw a kitten in a river or throw a human baby in a river. That's not a proper choice. The choices in to throw something or NOT throw them. If the game want to pose a question similar to that it should be, "You see a baby and a kitten floating in a fast moving river. Which one do you save?"

When I make choices I often just make the choice I would make. I would rarely make the choice I only think the character would make.

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Efesell

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@monkeyking1969: I do like when choices are between two uncomfortable things though, and not just this is the one outcome and this is the very different outcome. It says a lot more about who you or your character is with the former.

In that example, for instance, I know everything I need to know about the person depending on how they would answer that.

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styx971

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#20  Edited By styx971

generally speaking i don't 'roll play' much in a X vs Y type person way when i play games with choice , i play/answer how i would as myself generally. its a weird thing with games with a good/evil style alignment cause for example when i played kotor ( probably only the 2nd game i'd played with one and i was rather late to it) my ex-husband told me i was ' doing it wrong' cause i was a mess of grey instead of light or dark side. its honestly why i really took to the witcher series initially after getting past the weird rhythmic combat of the first game it having a more no choise is good/bad cause everything is grey. as for if a baby or kitten was floating in a river i think i would instead wonder why a baby was floating in a river in the first place , and not liking ppl much i would prefer to save the kitten even if that might be a fucked up choice to make... tho realistically who knows what would happen in real life ... chances are i'm not by a fast moving river

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SethMode

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@efesell said:

@monkeyking1969: I do like when choices are between two uncomfortable things though, and not just this is the one outcome and this is the very different outcome. It says a lot more about who you or your character is with the former.

In that example, for instance, I know everything I need to know about the person depending on how they would answer that.

This is why I have what feels like an inherent issue with doing "bad guy" stuff in most games. Particularly considering they are RPGs? I don't want to be with this character that makes me feel gross for like 50+ hours.

Making uncomfortable choices is definitely a whole other thing. It's also, I would argue, fairly new-ish. Most games prior to maybe Fallout New Vegas are mostly like "Hey, save these orphans or kill these orphans for lots of money".

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Efesell

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@sethmode: I think a lot of people balk in scenarios where they're unable to just "fix" whatever the problem is. Even a lot of games that are actively striving for that tone will often have a handy third option if you are statted enough or thorough enough just so that you're able to solve the issue in spite of everything.

Most games are also genuinely bad at compelling "Evil" narratives for playable characters. It just defaults usually to the evil person is just a dick and kills everyone.

One of the many reasons I'm sad that Tyranny bombed the way that it did.

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SethMode

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@efesell: Also very sad about Tyranny. I think what it excelled at was pitching the whole thing as terrible so you didn't have to feel too bad about picking something awful. There was so much opportunity for growth there, but alas it seems like even fans of it don't care that much.

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tartyron

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I’m a Boy Scout, even on a second play through. I literally feel guilty to the point of reloading saves/save scumming because of my weird need to be a paladin in everything. KOTOR (the original) was the only exception, where I played evil in the second play through, which gave an honestly better end hours.

I’ve even mentioned this to a shrink before, who oddly encouraged me to make evil decisions because it might help me deal with the ambiguity of real life a bit better (though to be fair as a non-gamer she didn’t realize the simplistic aspect of “help grandma or kill puppy” that games still deal in.)

That said, I love ambiguity, ala KOTOR 2, witcher 1 and 2 (3 was a little more good dad or bad dad so I couldn’t just be a good dad even when I played other choices different)band tyranny, which I could only really only play half way before I just had to stop because I didn’t want to be evil anymore, despite that I loved the idea of tyranny. Making things gray areas is the right move, but games still lock better endings behind being good, and I’m not sure they should reward evil considering how fucking evil real life is, though also narratively it’s more interesting.

Disco Elysium is an exception, but that game is a real and true literature novel that asks those questions of morality in a less simplistic way. Though even in that I played as a person I addiction recovery instead of a downward spiral, because I needed hope to guide me. I dunno. I play games as an escape, and part of that escape is being better than my real self, even without the superpower fantasy. Disco let me be the fuckup tying to get better, and it was amazing for it.

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Ginormous76

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I choose what I think the character would choose. If the character is a fairly blank book, I choose based on what I want the character to be. When it comes to narrative choice games, I quite like playing the game once and knowing that what happens was my experience/story instead of replaying it to see all choices. For the first LiS, I REALLY liked the time rewind, because some times you will pick a choice and it will be nothing like what you thought it would be. Things like the inflection/tone being vastly different or the words being said being vastly different from the option. If the NPCs react in an unexpected way, I'm totally fine with that. It's when you pick something like, "Give Tom the baseball bat" and your character beats Tom bloody with the baseball bat that just makes me go, "Why?! That's the opposite of what I wanted."

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TheRealTurk

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I tend to play the games by making choices that I would generally make if I were somehow in that same situation. Generally, it's pretty hard for games to get me to act differently. Off the top of my head, I think Dragon Age: Origins was probably the only game that reliably got me to pay "off type" as it were.

Video games tend to struggle with this for a variety of reasons. One is that they usually focus on binary morality systems where you only have two choices, so things tend to get pushed towards the extremes. The other is that they also tend to focus on the outcome of your choice rather than the motivations behind that choice.