Making Player Choices Matter

Picture this: your character is holding another character at gun point. The ‘X’ button is blinking on the screen. But you don’t want to shoot that character! Yeah, sure they’ve probably done something terrible, but you still don’t want to do it. Maybe they were your friend. Perhaps they even betrayed you — but it just feels wrong. So you wait, hoping another option will appear. But after a while either nothing happens, it shoots automatically for you, or the character turns the table on you and kills you. Game over. Try again.

I can’t tell you how frustrating that is in video games for me. I understand the developer may have a story they want to tell, but giving the illusion of choice is far worse than railroading us down a certain path. By no means am I saying every game should have dialogue choices or plot choices, but I do believe that when we allow players to make choices that have a meaningful impact it can completely change the feel of the game. It allows for video games to shine and show it’s true power: being an interactive medium.

I think most people can agree that in video games giving players a choice is a genuinely good thing to do. While there’s nothing wrong with playing a linear story, I have found that when given freedom and real choice it leads to a unique and engaging experiences – particularly when it comes to narrative-focused games.

Many of us recall seeing “Claire will remember that,” but did Claire really remember it? Did it impact their decisions further down the road? Not always. And many of the choices given to us in those style of games led to the illusion of choice, but any replay of the game could tell you many of the “choices” lead to the exact same outcomes.

I love getting to make an impact on the world around me in games. Playing Dragon Age makes me feel like a hero because of the choices I make and the feeling that I’m actually changing the course of history due to my choices and actions.

I mentioned this in my post discussing the game Freedom Fighters, and even though choices were limited in that game, the choices of which mission to undertake did make a difference on later missions.

Sometimes it’s just the subtle things in the world that makes your presence feel important, like in GTA when they talk about events you’re involved in on the radio. Or when you walk past NPCs in Dishonored and they speak of the person terrorizing them.

It’s important to make the player feel like their choices and decisions in the game are valued. Personally, I’d rather have a smaller world in which to play (looking at you open world games) if it means the world I’m in reflects the decisions and choices I make as a player.

And certainly this doesn’t apply to just narrative games either. Any decision can be made interesting under the right circumstances. Take Escape from Tarkov. Do I bring in my good loot to try and kill some enemies and risk losing it? Do I shoot and risk my position with the loot I have? All important decisions with meaningful consequences.

The choices I had to make in the recent closed betas of Hell Let Loose comes through frequently as another example in my mind. Should I place a garrison in a riskier spot that gives my team an advantage to getting to the next capture point quicker? Or do I play it safe? Should I rush out from cover in an effort to help my teammates being flanked? A game with fantastic design has players constantly making unique and interesting choices. And the best part about choices? You can always stop, reflect, and ask: is there anything I could have done better or differently next time?

Well that’s it for discussing player choices! What do you guys think? Is choice good? Is it too difficult to implement from a game design perspective? Tell me what ya think on Twitter. Likewise, if you want to see me live playing games check me out on Twitch. Hope you all enjoyed!