The Inquisitive Blogger 17/31: Do I Have a Choice? - Tim Gruver Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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The Inquisitive Blogger 17/31: Do I Have a Choice?

I stand at an impasse. Two roads lie before me, heavenly, and hellish, one welcoming, one foreboding. I know not what lies beyond each, yet both seem out of my reach. I have but short of time to choose as the hourglass's sand passes through my fingertips. These paths entice two of my soul, one fiendish, one honorable; rebellious and upstanding. The time is nigh for my tired brain to tempt fate. Yet I wonder to my quiet piece of conscience: "Why must fate try my soul with twos? Where is the freedom I strive for in a third? I seek that selection to no avail. I must find solace in either or. Such is the power of choice. 

Whether described in as much poetic hyperbole as the above or not, that very bitter-sweet thrill of has been one of, if not the most enthralling element that brings me into a game. It need not be an opera of galactic or even personal proportions, but it's nevertheless a touch that drives me deeper into a game. I suppose it may the little things that catch you. Customizing a car, a character, a weapon, or simply choosing how to organize an item menu alone make their appeal to your creative abilities, challenging you to make something your own even in the simplest ways. Arranging your Animal Crossing living room or making life goals in the Sims puts you at home in your world and upgrading your Assassin Villa or considering that next Civilization turn make you feel like a leader over your own world. Some titles go even deeper in their immersion. Some put forth people in your lives to change or ignore as you see fit. The Walking Dead keeps you choosing your and others' fates every second of your journey and it makes you think about yourself when you save or leave someone to die. I may indeed be one among many gamers who argue that video-games have become, or may always have been in their conception, art. Art is then what reflects life. Making choices, especially the hard ones, are what make up life interesting, isn't it? 


For as many games that offer you choices, there are just as many that offer you the illusion of it. There seems to be no end to frustration of broken promises in the game industry this year, from the delay of Rayman: Legends to the X-Box One's policy reversals. The devil hath no fury like a gaming community that feels cheated out of a choice ending, however.

I myself can recall the Gamecube's infamous Shadow the Hedgehog as an example where choice never amounted to any thrill save for its true one. Every other choice unlocked the same cutscene in a slightly different room with the occasionally different nouns in Shadow's dialogue and their sheer volume didn't counter the annoyance of their shallow value.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 might've had an A for effort, but they similarly made the same mistakes in their attempts at teasing some bizarre/undeveloped ending that meant nothing in the long scheme of its canon.

Even Quantic Dream couldn't avoid the hiccups of Heavy Rain, an otherwise choice-fueled machine of player control. Even as decisive as you could be about its story, its characters remained invincible for nearly 2/3 of the game and their lives failed to matter if they were immortal. 

Mass Effect 3 most famously has served as the most divisive example of what I talk about. For X-Box owners, [or PS3 owners with the collection], the entire experience was choice-driven from the start, either having you punching reporters or deciding humanity's fate each level you took. Yet that brilliant web of decision-making seemed to crash in the wake of its ending. I liked the one that Bioware presented well enough, but I admit that there was, in truth, one. Despite the very subtle changes you could make, the fate of Earth still carried out in the same fashion, same characters dying, same everything. It hurt many that the turns and weaves you encountered along your 3-game journey resulted in a the dirty trick of an inescapable path hidden inside it. I still wonder what players would've chosen if Mass Effect 3 had given you the reins over how much of the galaxy truly survived, but maybe it was easier on the company's production scheduling the way it was. Many games don't need choices for the adventure they put you on, but I feel that, in the end, it's better to do something complete rather than half-open to the player.

When games do provide choice, its most often in the most orthodox of colors. We're given the most traditional roles of hero or villain, good-guy or horned devil. That dynamic is better than nothing at all in a dramatic narrative, but often times even that's not untouched by painful cliches. I take into account games like Infamous as examples. I love many things about Sucker Punch's two superhero epics: it's powers, its story, its worlds, but the narrative at the heart of it has always been rooted in an "irk" I witness with more and more games. Either you save the girl or grab the loot, help kittens from trees or throw a lightning bolt their way. You're driven between two extraordinary extremes that you turn both into predictable cliches without making them feel realistic to the player. Surely akin to Sam Raimi's first Spider-man, there's always a chance to save both the girl and the helpless children. Why choose one or the other? Even between two choices, whether hero or villain or political party or rival political party, you have no real choice in truth if you're placed between them involuntarily.

We're then trapped in a box of sorts between a tired paradigm of "either or," but how do we get out. The easy solution would be the 3rd option of the "in-between." There is something to be said of the rising popularity of the "shades of grey" morality in trendy new games this generation, but all the while the same cliche arises just as easily. The grim experience that is the Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite has us decapitating and shooting our way to survival among the hordes of nightmarish mutants or surly right-wing conservatives. Still, nothing we did improved the lives of the characters we played by the "do whatever you need to survive mentality." It's probably not a huge spoiler to say that both games didn't become any happier no mater what we did and the world was just as miserable for it. Their contemporaries of Grand Theft Auto or even Black Ops II's noble strides in making Call of Duty might both fail in one thing: A difference. By being a little good and a little bad, you end up being too much of nothing if what you do ends up as bad as another, if not just in a different way. A shade of grey is nice in contrast, but alone, it's nothing but bland, even depressing without a stark color for it to complement. Would the Last of Us had made a big difference to players if you could've not chosen the shocking ending it contained? I would suppose I could say plan Cs in gaming make a difference over only Bs and As, and the latter two over just one. There is nevertheless a justified desire to aim for further. Perhaps it's not feasible for video-games any time soon, and I won't expect it to be, but a truly open choice-set is the way the future will make games the closer medium to life we can hope they could become. 

(*Gulp*. . .)

Lastly, why do choices matter? In short, they're the mirrors of our imperfections. They show how vulnerable we are to mistakes, to regret, and they teach us something. Those that stick with us forever like those in Fire Emblem makes us value the short time we have to make decisions and use test the wisdom of our mental capacities. The hardest choices such as those make the journey worthwhile in the end, for they needle our pride in challenging our fallibilities while thrilling us with what we could strengthen. They're the comfort sending us to sleep at night, telling us that it wasn't all for nothing. Perhaps the obligatory conclusion would be that choice is good. Rather, choice must be powerful. It has to show us something meaningful about the world we are in and why we matter to it. I enjoy them most when they make me feel like a king or a pitiful amateur if it shows me how far I must go to smile in reaching the struggle's end. It makes all the difference. 

What are the choices that drive you? Comment, read, rate, or suggest a blogging topic as your leisure. A blogging specialist will be on standby to take your opinions. Good night. 

Up Next on the Inquisitive Blogger: There's a Sequel Already?! 

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