Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Gamer Week 2 - Condemned to be Free

 Is having unlimited choice really the best idea in games?

Yesterday I talked about how morality meters are often a bad choice for games. In a lot of cases it is basically shoehorning the player into making a choice, and a lot of people -- myself included -- have often found ourselves wondering why we can't react to the situation in different ways. When presented with buying an item, for example: you can either be good and accept the price (often even if the price is grossly unfair anyways), or you can choose a bad option which could be anything from intimidating or controlling the person into giving you a discount, all the way to killing the person and just taking what you want.

Would it not be interesting if instead you could manipulate events to say, get the owner of said item to be in dire straights and thus willing to sell the item for less? Subtle manipulation for either good or evil (although I'll be the first to admit that evil uses it more easily and frequently) is something that is rarely seen. An idea that something can be planted now that will take fruition later, whether it be in good faith or bad, is something that a lot of games don't use. Why is that?

Mostly, I believe, because they can't. And for good reasons.

I believe there are two rather large aspects stopping games from using a highly complex set of moral choices: the first is also the most obvious: trying to account for every decision is simply impossible. Certainly there will be ground covered and gains made in morality systems, but unless a game is going to be under a literal near constant state of revision in order to be able to be flexible enough to adapt to any given choice that a player might make, as well as their reasons for making it, then you'll never have the same kind of unlimited choice potential that we have in the real world.

For example, let's use the inFAMOUS point from yesterday, wherein the player at one point can make a choice that will render him permanently evil on the karmic scales, and no amount of putting things right would matter in the game. In order to become a more fleshed out system then you'd have to account for those that feel that while doing it is wrong, that it must be done to stop a greater threat (which in and of itself is a point of contention, but that's neither here nor there). What about the player who gleefully engages in the mayhem, but then suddenly has a change of heart. Would it not be possible -- not plausible, just possible -- for them to change their ways, and slowly but surely gain a begrudging acceptance from those they've once wronged? In the game the option isn't there, and for good reason, if all of these things were taken into account then the programming and development times would become utterly insane, to the point of being unmanageable. But, there is another reason I say that such systems probably wouldn't work, and that reason is the players themselves.

Let's say that somehow, someway a game does get developed that can take into account even the most elaborate choices that a player can make and their reasons for making them. At that point it sounds like you've got one hell of a game, right? Well, you do, but after the initial giddiness of the entire situation fades some people might find themselves unable to make decisions for -- and I'm being serious here -- lack of knowledge at the consequences of their in game actions. I would argue that this doesn't apply to real life because when making a decision here, in the real world, you can take options into consideration, but you can't have foreknowledge of how any decision regardless of good or ill intent will turn out. In games there is supposed to be, for the lack of a better term, a road that you can travel down. When that road is muddled by too many choices and too much freedom, then the result can be the utter lack of any action whatsoever. The more options that must be weighed the less attractive each of them becomes, and the more time that is invested in considering the ramifications of each individual choice.

So, you'd have a great game, with some people unable to step out of the first room because of the burden that such freedom places upon them. I'll grant you it's an extreme example, but not entirely unlikely all things considered. I suppose that's why tomorrow I'll be talking even more in depth about freedom in games.

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