Decision Games

By – Eric Lovelock

 

Video games are an interactive medium unlike any other that exists today. Even the greatest cinema and literature lack the sheer emotional punch that games are able to create within its audience. The reason for this is simple, in a film/novel, audiences root for a character, they laugh at their humor and grip their seats in anxiety when they’re in peril, while in a game, the audience is the character, and the peril and emotion is their own. This gives game developers an ability that Directors and Authors only dream of, true, quintessential control over the emotion of the target audience.

The sheer potential of this alone makes it all the more heartbreaking that, until recently, decision oriented games have been woefully poor in number, and quality. Even literature, a facet of entertainment that is perhaps the least fit for interaction, has managed to grasp choice and decision based narrative more firmly. Since far before video games, choose your own adventure books have allowed for the player to shape the destiny of the protagonist. Honestly, this is due to the difference in medium, Video Games are a medium of constant evolution with technology and techniques, while Literature is a medium of taking that which already exists and reimagining it in new ways. Because of this disconnect between games and other modes of entertainment, the gaming industry often ignores essential techniques that other mediums have been using for a millennia.

 

All things considered, there are 3 things that, for some reason, seem to be constantly broken in the Genre.

 

1.)  Story Structure

Storytelling is an art so old, it’s literally shaped human history as we know it, but for some reason it’s missing in even the best of the choice based adventures. There’s a reason why the common storytelling formula hasn’t changed in the last 4,000 years, because it’s paramount to perfection. Exposition, Inciting Incident, Rising Action, and so on, they’re all taught to every creative major for a reason, because it’s applicable to all stories. Even nonlinearity follows this design, and yet, for some reason, it seems that this is left out of the story based adventures that we see today, especially episodic ones.

In an episodic adventure, each episode is treated like a part of a film, which is a rather horrible manner of going about things. First episodes are all exposition and maybe an inciting incident, which is dull and boring, and middle episodes build tension with no payoff. Instead of treating each episode in this manner, things would be much simpler if episodes were treated like, well, episodes! Television shows have long since become masters of condensing plot structure into shorter increments, while at the same time building towards an overall resolution and plot. Shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones display this with remarkable ingenuity, and if episodic storytelling in games were as good, then the reception would be that much better.

 

2.) Episodic Adventures have become the Norm

Episodic adventures are great, but they aren’t fitting for every scenario, which is problematic, because they are becoming synonymous with decision based experiences. If the Mass Effect series was made today, it’d probably be episodic, simply because that’s the norm for the genre. The decision based genre has become obsessed with the idea that it can only be successful in doses, which is a horrible mentality, because it limits creativity and puts a damper on ideas.

Undertale is a wonderful game that was released this September that displays again just how much more effective a game is when it’s given in a full serving, allowing the player to choose when to start and stop. Undertale flows together, allowing for one single experience to evolve with each moment.

3.) Characters vs World Building

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Carl Sagan once said, “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”

 

It’s said that the greatest stories feature the world as a character, just the same as the people. From Lord of the Rings to Legend of Zelda, the greatest stories are told not just through characters, but through environments. While characters are important, the world they inhabit is just as much a component in success. Games should not rely on the source material to set up the world, instead of creating the environment for itself.

If Characters are the backbones of a story driven experience, then the environment is the flesh around it, and that flesh is sadly neglected in this day and age. Developers put much more effort around characters than world, which makes the experience much less impactful. Environment and Characters are two halves of the same coin, and they both deserve the same amount of attention and detail.

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Perhaps the most wonderful thing about the choice driven adventure, is just how much potential they carry. For decades gamers have put themselves in the shoes of characters, some down to earth, and some outlandish. Only now are we beginning to play not as someone else, but as ourselves. To let our own minds and opinions shape the world around us. The possibilities are endless!

Decision based games aren’t going away, for the first time it seems the mainstream audience has gotten a solid taste of what they can offer, and, flawed as that taste may be, they are hungering for more. From Minecraft: Story Mode to Mass Effect: Andromeda, decision and consequences are making a comeback in gaming, one that, hopefully, is here to stay.

 

About the Blogger

Eric Lovelock is a longtime game fanatic living in Virginia and is preparing to go into College to study game design. His favorite games Include Metroid Prime, Earthbound, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and Bloodborne. His dream is to become a Lead Designer in the video game industry and to leave a creative mark on the gaming world. When he’s not playing games, he often enjoys working on Photoshop or Editing/Producing video’s for his friends on Adobe Premiere.