Video Games: Making Hard Choices That Don’t Matter (Or Do They)… - subsaint Blog - www.GameInformer.com
Switch Lights

The lights are on

Video Games: Making Hard Choices That Don’t Matter (Or Do They)…

For some of us the hardest decisions we ever have to make is, "Do I press B4 and get the Chili-flavored Fritos or C7 and get the peanut M&Ms." Others have to routinely make decisions on the fly that could have life changing implications. As I reflect on my own life and the experiences unique to me, I'm not so sure I've ever had to make a truly "hard" decision with the gravity of life or death weighing it down. Sure, some were difficult and uncomfortable to make, but not necessarily hard.

One time in Iraq I felt there was a soldier who was potentially a threat to himself and/or others, so I stripped him of his weapon and had him escorted to the medical facilities for a psychological evaluation. Again, an uncomfortable spot to be in because it could have affected his career or his family if nothing was found to be wrong, but in the end it was the right thing to do so any kind of displeasure I might've felt was short lived.

I had a case of road rage with another *ahem* gentleman (I'm being polite) that escalated out of control a lot further than what it should've...threats were made...and some perceived threatening actions were taken. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and I didn't make any rash decisions or else I might be penning this blog from behind bars with Bubba my cell mate reading over my shoulder. It was a situation with few options, but I wouldn't necessarily say it was a hard decision.

No, when I think of hard choices, I think of the President of the United States ordering troops into battle, policemen who have to make that split decision to use deadly force to subdue a threat or deciding whether to volunteer to be a Casualty Assistance Calls Officer (CACO) and having to be the one that breaks the news to the family who loses a loved one in the line of duty. Those are some hard choices to make.

Perhaps this is why I am fascinated with games that force you into making difficult decisions you would otherwise never have to make in your lifetime. Now, I'm in no way suggesting the hard choices that are made in real life compare to the hard choices we make in the virtual world, but for someone who never has to make those mentally, and often times physically, challenging decisions...it can sure feel like the same.

When I look at the last handful of games or so that I've finished lately, I realize I've enjoyed them all...and I've also realized they mostly have this in common - they all required me to make one of those hard decisions I'm talking about; the kind that will likely result in a definite outcome that often looks and smells like death.

Mass Effect 2 is often praised for its grand finale that is also known as the suicide missions - a series of events you and your team must experience at great peril and with high probability that some will die along the way. I'm not sure how or why, but unfortunately I didn't fare so well saving my party. Many perished along the way. Having played the game awhile ago I have since read about strategies and techniques to minimize the casualties; I've even read it is possible to get everybody through it alive. Honestly though, I don't know that I would classify the Mass Effect 2 decisions as all that difficult. The difference between Mass Effect 2 and some of these other games I have played recently that do force you into demanding situations is this...

When you play Mass Effect 2 or games like it, you at least feel like your team has a chance - there is hope...death was never a certain outcome. I didn't send any of my teammates on a mission thinking they didn't have a shot at surviving. With each order I issued, there was a small shred of me hoping this particular team mate would live to see another day. And as one after another fell, that hope never diminished. It's for this reason I wouldn't classify these as hard choices.

Hard choices are when failure is probable or death is inevitable, and you know it...you are aware of it. You realize lives will be lost and yet you make that decision anyway. You have to.

Now, at this point you might be wondering, "What in the world games is he playing?" You might even assume I'm referring to The Walking Dead, since so many have commented on that game and its hard choices - and you do make some difficult choices in that game, but I don't know if I would classify them as "hard" choices - the kind you know the outcome. Similar to Mass Effect 2, in The Walking Dead you quickly learn whatever choice you make, there is a near certain outcome that is not going to be favorable, but you still hold out hope that some way, somehow...the impossible will be the possible. I don't want to spoil the game, but if you've played the final episode you know you are presented with a number of scenarios that are hard to accept, and you hold out hope that you'll find a way to skirt the inevitable. The truth is, it is one of the games I played and finished recently, but it's not one of the ones with hard choices.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned Mark of the Ninja. At the end of the game you are faced with two options with a very clear outcome. This decision was so much harder to make than any of the others I had to make in Mass Effect or The Walking Dead. Why? Because the outcome was certain. If I picked one path, then x would happen; and if I picked the other, then y would happen. There wasn't much room left for hope. I think about how my decisions in Mass Effect 2 might've been different if I was given the same scenarios but knew the outcome of each - would the decisions have been more challenging to make?

The other game I played was Far Cry 3. Far Cry 3 was a whirlwind of a game with twists and turns at every corner. I would have never predicted some of the events that happened, but I totally did not see the events that transpired near the end of the game. Again, I don't want to spoil it or give anything away, but there is a situation that literally comes down to pull the left trigger for this decision, or the right trigger for this decision...and you know...you can just sense that whichever one you pick, something is going to happen with the other. This mechanic makes making the decision so much harder. There is no hope that it won't. By pulling the trigger, you seal the fate of one or the other.

The emotional rollercoaster that comes with making a challenging decision...a life and death decision...can manifest itself with a number of physical and emotional symptoms. It's a feeling some of us will never experience in real life, and would never want to experience in real life. But with the great games we have available, we are able to immerse ourselves into situations that thrust us into these scenarios where we must not only act, but we must also feel the weight of those decisions.

 

comments