The Choices We Make

This post was going to be epic. I was going to use the relationship between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 to talk about different kinds of choice in games. The thesis: there are two kinds of game choices, organized by whether their outcome affects the gameplay mechanics or the narrative.

I thought the distinction was pretty clear cut. How you level up your character in Mass Effect and how much money you save carry over into Mass Effect 2 as bonuses to your initial stats: gameplay decision. Characters from the first game that send you an email about the fallout from your interactions with them: narrative decision. Then I was going to argue that for narrative choices in a game to matter, they have to have gameplay consequences as well (a not-so-implicit critique of the "carry-over" between the two games – did those emails represent my choices in any meaningful way?). Clever, right?

I was purposely creating narrow definitions (what a "choice" is, what "matters", what is "meaningful") from a narrow experience. Better to stick to specific examples and let readers extrapolate, because that way you can't be taken to task for gross generalizations or dismissed by people who have different definitions or different game experiences than you do.

Then I thought, why not look at that first? Different choices, different kinds of choices. Just throw everything out there and see what sticks.

And so here, a selection of choices I've made in the past three weeks, using my Live gamer profile as a guide (minor spoilers, both mechanical and narrative, for the games tagged as part of this article):

  • I chose to form a quad in Chime
  • I chose to hold off on forming a quad in Chime in order to get more points from it.
  • I chose medium difficulty on guitar and expert on vocals for The Hold Steady's "Sequestered in Memphis" in Rock Band 2
  • I chose to swap Spider-Man's costume in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
  • I chose to do a fusion power with Spider-Man and the Thing in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
  • I chose to sacrifice my partner rather to stop a madman from detonating a nuclear bomb in Army of Two: The 40th Day
  • I chose to upgrade my sniper rifle for high damage/low enemy aggro in Army of Two: The 40th Day
  • I chose to save Little Sisters in Bioshock 2
  • I chose….Rapture (in Bioshock, Andrew Ryan said "Your agency is a lie" and I said, "And?" But this happened years ago…)
  • I chose to max my drill upgrades at the first three Power to the People stations I found in Bioshock 2
  • I chose to spend Adam on Gene Tonic slots and health and EVE upgrades before buying new plasmids in Bioshock 2
  • I chose to hide in some bushes and knife a Nazi in Velvet Assassin
  • I chose to stop playing Velvet Assassin and return it to Gamefly
  • I chose to throw wampas and stormtroopers into ice chasms and generators in The Force Unleashed
  • I chose to ignore the fact that George Harrison didn't play the guitar solo in "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", regardless of what The Beatles: Rock Band says
  • I chose to play the movies in numerical order in The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
  • I chose to first synchronize with all the viewpoints and then perform the assassinations in a clockwise direction around the map in the Assassin's Creed 2 DLC

This doesn't get into the more meta choices I made regarding games (wired or wireless controller, control schemes, difficulty levels) or the incredibly granular (every single controller command I input while playing a game is a choice, isn't it?).

Other kinds of choices. off the top of my head: RPG party members, FPS weapon loadouts, item uses.

Which choices are useful to think about, though? What game choices have you made lately? Which ones matter?

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