'The Mechanics Of Choice' - BioShock, Little Sisters, And Gameplay

bioshockcreeeeeepy.jpg In the wake of BioShock has come more than a few thought-provoking posts from various corners - I've become more interested since my boyfriend picked up a copy and I've been watching to see what happens next (any game that uses Django Reinhardt in the soundtrack gets mega-bonus points from me) - and some of the most interesting takes have been coming from Leigh Alexander (the writer behind the Aberrant Gamer column at GameSetWatch, Sexy Videogameland and Worlds In Motion). Most recently? Some musings on the 'mechanics of choice' in games - plenty of people have clamoured for more choice, more options, more chances to control a character's destiny in games. But as Alexander points out, most of the choices are superficial, cost-benefit decisions at best, not making a huge difference in what happens, but (perhaps more importantly) in a well-planned and well-designed games, they can seriously impact how it feels to play the game.

Could it be though, that we as players have been conditioned to look at our gaming experience as a cost-benefit analysis? What is it, exactly, that we're hoping to "get" from a game that offers us choices? ....

What is the crux of choice? When we make decisions in life, like which college to go to or what to do on a Friday night, it's true we are deciding between disparate experiences. But those kinds of choices are actually fewer and farther between than you might think, and, surprisingly, are not the ones we remember most. Think back to a time in your life where you had to choose - chances are, the flashpoints that stick with you were times when you asked yourself not, "what do I want to do," but "what do I want to be?" At those times, the cost-benefit analysis was almost irrelevant as you sought to reconcile your soul with itself.

I'm the type that will happily give up 'choice' for a strong and compelling narrative, but the chance for choices - no matter how superficial in terms of changing outcomes or dialogue - to really impact feelings during the game is something I'd be pleased to see in more titles. Then again, that goes for seeing an increase in the overall quality of narrative design in games in general ....

The Mechanics of Choice [Sexy Videogameland]


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