It's thinking time!

With games presenting emotional dilemmas to players now more than ever, how (and why) do we choose what actions to take?

When it comes to games that provide extensive choices over how the narrative will play out, there are three types of players: those that play according to their character, those that play according to their personal beliefs, and those that just play.  We’re going to take a brief look at each.

Try walking in their shoes

The first kind of player goes strictly by their character.  I’ll use my character in Fallout New Vegas as an example (a female by the name of Keth):  She’s a loose cannon, but insists that government rule is necessary to rebuild the human race.  Because of this, she supports the NCR, but when the opportunity comes to make some caps or acquire some gear, she takes advantage of it regardless of who gets hurt.  She’ll steal everything left in a town ravaged by the Legion, yet will still fight the Legion because of said ravaging.  She’s mostly chaotic neutral, in that you never quite know what her reaction is going to be to a situation.  Her supportiveness of the NCR implies lawful neutral, but she doesn’t feel laws apply to her; she just feels that laws and government oversight are necessary to keep things running smoothly.  She may help you by killing some bandits that kept raiding your village, but she’ll sneak into all of your shacks at night and steal everything you own (which wouldn’t even be there, had she not killed the bandits.)

Keth is unlike me in many ways.  The duality of her nature is a big one…I’m opportunistic, but I won’t dick someone over after I help them.  Then again, she does help people.  Sure, she steals from them…but they’re alive, aren’t they?  This is the way she would do things, so this is the way I play the game.  She’s out to make the Mojave Wasteland a better place, just so she can pillage it.  This isn’t my goal: it’s her goal. 

Try walking in my shoes

Mass Effect is an example of a game that (the first time through, anyway) I played as myself.  I tend to prefer making characters and playing as them, but for Mass Effect I decided to make Shephard as close to being me as possible.  He usually did the right thing, didn’t allow money or power to sway his stance, stood up for those that couldn’t stand up for themselves, fought all forms of corruption, and was just generally a nice guy.  Of course, he experienced momentary lapses of judgement, but he was supposed to be me, and I’m far from perfect. 

Playing a character as yourself is much more difficult than you might imagine.  Sometimes, you are faced with a choice where your chosen course of action isn’t offered in-game.  What do you do then?  Do you compromise by choosing whatever is closest to what you would do?  Or perhaps you decide to just say “screw it” and choose any old decision, thus negating the entire purpose of playing as “yourself”? 

There are, of course, advantages to playing as yourself.  You generally won’t struggle with decisions as much, since you aren’t controlling a puppet whose beliefs and intentions might conflict with your own.  It’s also a way to make the gameworld feel more “real”, since the avatar seen on screen is a direct representation of you rather than a representation of someone you have created/are controlling. 

Try walking in anyone’s shoes

I can’t think of a specific example of a game I’ve played without taking my own choices or my character’s choices into consideration.  I always have to have some form of emotional connection to the pixels I control…after all, that’s the point of story games, isn’t it?  The idea of playing through a game like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, or Fallout as nothing more than a game is puzzling to me.  Here we have an opportunity to experience a story in a way not possible in any other medium, yet some people just simply “play” them. 

No offense intended to anyone out there that does this, but I see no point in passively playing a story-heavy game in which you have major influence over the direction of the narrative.  The whole point is to control either yourself or your character in the game world, enabling you to either live someone else’s life or live your own life in a way not otherwise possible.  Don’t fret, though…there are options for people such as yourself.

Velcro shoes

Secret of Mana, the Final Fantasy series, Bioshock…if you still want to experience a complex story, there are games out there that have static stories without having to inject yourself into the narrative (or creating someone else).  I refer to games like this as “Velcro shoes”.  They still provide an engaging story (just as Velcro shoes still protect your feet), yet things are simplified.  There’s no need to deal with character choice, worrying about character knowledge vs player knowledge, or your own reactions to a given situation (just as Velcro shoes do not require utilizing shoe strings, something that can become a tangled mess if you aren’t careful.)  These types of games more closely resemble a book or a movie in their narrative presentation, but are still satisfying. 

Conclusions

I try to stick with characters that aren’t representative of myself.  I find it easier to get sucked into the storyline if I’m not worried about my own emotional involvement or what choice I would make.  In some ways, playing “in character” makes your avatar the puppeteer, while you are the puppet.  Still, there’s something to be said about putting yourself into a game world, making decisions as you personally would. 

What kind of character do you play?