Choice has always been a finicky thing in games, and how developers have consistently used choice has trained gamers to react to it in a certain way. Â That way is almost exclusively about weighing the costs of what you may get or lose. Â We have, by and large, tied most choice in games to rewards, or lack thereof.
Bioshock, for instance, pretty much told you up front “If you play this way you’ll get a reward, and if you don’t, you won’t.” So you weren’t making a choice based on the story or your emotions, you were making it as a calculating gamer deciding which way was better. Â Even if you thought you were making it emotionally, you likely weren’t, as you likely expected, even if subconsciously, to be rewarded for “picking right”. Â And the game obliged; if you saved all the little sisters, you ultimately got a better reward for it in the end.
And that’s the conundrum facing developers. Â How do you make a player choose based on story and emotion instead of that cold calculating center that has been cultivated all these years? Â We’ve been so conditioned to believe there is a good and bad ending, and good and bad solution, that it’s hard to imagine a situation where this won’t factor in. Â We weigh every split in a path, and each door against the other, worried that we might miss out on some little treat hidden somewhere.
Enter Mass Effect 2. Â It is a sequel to a game where you made choices, and it will have a sequel where your choices are realized. Â I saw the consequences of my decisions in the first game realized in Mass Effect 2. Â And I knew beyond a doubt that my choices in ME2 would be realized in ME3. Â But they offered no treats; I knew that whatever I decided would not be reflected in this game, and because of that, it shut down my gamer brain. Â I was no longer searching for the best outcome. Â I was no longer worried about missing out on something important.
This game made me do what no other game has: Â I made decisions based on my feelings. Â I was Shepard. Â For the first time in 25+ years of playing video games, my decisions were based entirely on the raw emotional impact of the situation. Â I couldn’t game the system. Â I couldn’t know what would happen based on my decisions, except to evaluate it as a character in that universe. Â All I knew was that my decisions will be important, and that, for once, I cared about the outcome, rather than the reward.
I’m sorry Mordin. Â I cannot condemn your actions concerning the Genophage, but neither can I assuage your guilt. Â Your decision was a hard one, and while I understand it, I cannot condone it.
RIP Legion. Â I know we will meet again, but I still wish I’d chosen better.