How far can Games Push ‘Choice’ Before they Break?

February 19, 2009 § Leave a comment

A common complaint brought up when talking about the latest Prince of Persia was the ending. After spending nearly ten hours roaming the game’s world, restoring light and colour to the the land with the healing of the ‘fertile grounds,’ the ending brought you crashing back down to earth with the realisation that you had to undo everything if you wanted to save your love interest Eleka. Personally having bought completely into the Prince’s relationship I had little qualms with ending the game this way. It’s the closest a game has come to showing the sacrificial nature of love, and when it managed to build up their relationship in such a fulfilling way I held no grudges for how the story panned out. But is there an alternate ending?

When discussing the clichéd ‘are games art?’ debate early on in this blog’s life, Niall pointed towards Execution as proof that a game can give you a meaningful choice, whilst also making something of an artistic statement about the way we interact with our favourite medium. We’re constantly being told what to do, and how to do it, but Execution bucked this trend. If you wanted to really ‘win’ the game you were going to have to walk away from the situation it presents you with, or in other words exit the game.

So what if at the end of Prince of Persia, when essentially told that the player must sacrifice everything to bring Eleka back to life the Prince just walked away, deciding that the destruction of an entire land is a price to great to pay for one mortal’s life. The player would quit the game, and although they’d miss out on physically seeing the Prince act upon their choice would their experience still be complete?

It may simply come down to how much you really empathise with your character. If it’s a Solid Snake figure, who you’re simply guiding from cutscene to cutscene in which he makes his own choices then leaving a game unfinished would go against the whole design philosophy of the piece. If it’s more of a Fallout 3 experience, where you’re given much more freedom, even sculpting out your own protagonist, then this conclusion seems more fitting.

What it all comes down to in the end is which experience you’re more attached to. Is it the one handed to you on a plate, delivered through the cinematic of the game? Or is is the one you created when playing, those times when you strayed outside the path laid down for you by the developers.

Until next time,

Jon

Been playing lots of Far Cry 2 recently as well as getting back into Civ 4 for some epic multiplayer matches. Both are pretty awesome.

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