The Illusion of Choice or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being Evil

If you’ve played any game at all, you’ve probably played a game which allows dialogue choices for your character when interacting with NPCs and such. As we know, these choices can be excruciatingly simple (“Yes,” “No,” etc.) and have absolutely no impact on the greater game at all, or extraordinarily complex, with long lasting and impactful repercussions appearing throughout the game. Unsurprisingly, however, it is games somewhere in the middle of either dialogue extreme that predominate. Choosing “Yes” or “No” at a certain point in FF7 will have no major lasting effect on the main storyline, but it could increase or decrease a party character’s affection towards the player character, leading to a different romance sidequest. If anyone has played the Fable series, there’s a pretty fun mechanic involved that actually changes your character’s appearance based on your choices made and dialogue options taken, giving your character a halo and ethereal glow if you decide to uphold justice and horns if you decide to turn from the moral path. Ultimately, both lead down the same path, halo or horns. This mechanic is reminiscent also of the Paragon/Renegade system utilized in the Mass Effect series to some success (although the issue of the Mass Effect 3 ending could warrant its own post, and won’t be touched upon here).

So, there are several examples of the choices affecting various aspects of gameplay, but the astute reader will recognize I’ve yet to reach a point. Though I mostly prefer to shy away from “points” in general in my blog posts, if this entry were to have one, it would be as follows: don’t think too hard about the choices you make in a game. In my personal experience with choosing one option over the other when presented with a variety of choices, I know that I tend to overthink. What will the effect of saying yes or no be on the game? Will I be able to get X, Y, or Z weapon still if I say no? Could I increase my defense stat if I choose to fight this guy? The thoughts that constantly cause me to second guess myself ultimately detract from the fun and spontaneity of the game. Who cares? is the conclusion I eventually came to. If I wanted to kick this dude out of the fucking window, then why not do that? The fact that the option is even there means I can take it, and the only right way to play a game is the way you enjoy. Ever since I’ve come to this realization, dialogue boxes have never given me even a moment’s pause; I know what I want, and I just pick that option, consequences be damned! So if any of you guys out there are like me, I cannot recommend switching your mentality strongly enough. It’ll work wonders!

0 thoughts on “The Illusion of Choice or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being Evil

  1. I disagree. Thinking through choices, even false ones, can have an immense impact on my enjoyment of a game. Knights of the Old Republic is one example I can think of wherein there are, contrary to popular belief, far more than two (good and evil) ways to complete most challenges. Exploring different dialogue choices helps make that game what it is; from representing a war hero during a trial on Manaan to assisting the Jedi Council with its investigations, deciding on what your character says makes the game a blast to play.

    On a semi-related note, I’ve watched my friends play Bioware games for the first time, and their panic upon reaching a difficult moral choice is amazing to watch. Even if you aren’t a fan of making the choices through laborious contemplation, I highly recommend watching somebody else do it.

  2. That’s totally fair. In my case, I think the deliberation and energy spent making the “right choice” became more important than the choice itself, which really negatively impacted my enjoyment of the game. You’re absolutely right that it can be an extremely rewarding experience trying to decide which path or action to take, but in my case it just stressed me out. To each his own, though! Whatever maximizes your enjoyment of the game is the right decision.

  3. In those types of games, where you are given the option to choose how you want your journey to go, there is no wrong choice. In these games if they give you the option to do something then do it. Your goal is to have fun, people should not just in game choices. It can also be a lot of fun taking the evil route. Games are a lot of fun when you get play without worrying about morality because sometimes the little demon inside want to have some fun too.

  4. Knights of the Old Republic 2 also came straight to mind for me the moment i read this post as well. I recently picked the game up again in the may 4 sale on steam and am loving the way in which my decisions have so much impact. At first i cringed when i forced a sick man to kill himself for the greater good but then i realized that that was simply my characters outlook on life and that i should simply enjoy the playthrough.

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