When the gaming industry first started there weren’t many choices to make while I was playing. For the longest time you were limited with choices that didn’t effect the story much. At best, you could pick which boss MegaMan went after next. There were point and click adventures like King’s Quest and Myst, which allowed choices to navigate the game. Those aside, the first games where I noticed choice was in the RPG genre.
The Elder Scrolls, Baldur’s Gate, and IceWind Dale were just a few games where your choices helped drive the story. That truly changed my experience and also my perspective. I became drawn into the story on a more intimate level, and it was amazing. I cared more about the characters and what happened to them. There were times where the choice was made from my own perspective, others I was someone else. This was where you felt more involved. You could be the hero the world needed, or become the villain that would crush its hopes and dreams beneath your iron fist. Better still was the addition of consequences for your actions.
Then something magical happened. These ideas came to consoles, and were made more accessible. I soon found myself drawn to any game that offered morality choices, and I gave my cashy money gladly. Fable was one of the first, and though the game lacked in a lot of places it was worth while. Infamous was one of my favorites. You chose to save the city or make it yours. The Persona series was always big on choice and the moral consequences that followed. Then along came the giant of Mass Effect. This beast offered a multitude of choices that altered the game, even carrying over to the sequel! It was glorious!
The truth is, the major way these games shaped me as a player was the empowerment of choice. I could assume the role of a hero, and I often made the choices accordingly to my own moral compass. This led to deeper involvement in the game and I truly cared about what was going on. Choice made it more my story, and I thrived on it. I felt more like I was playing a tabletop game and less like a console one. That drove me to expect choice, and look forward to games that offered it. I wanted to care so badly about the story and I was genuinely angry with the villains. Not like “Man, that guy’s a jerk, imma pwn him,” but more like “I hate the Reapers…they hurt my friends…and the people I have fought so hard to protect..they will pay!”
If you don’t feel, the story is worthless. With choice, rooting for the main character is a lot like rooting for yourself, and that is an awesome feeling. I never want to go back to old, boring games. I will always want that hook to reel me into the story. I will always want that connection. Choice has made me a better gamer, a better critic, and a better GM. I hope it will do the same for others, especially those that read my articles. The stronger the connection, the better things become.
Cover image belongs to Kathryn McCullough