Freedom: Bad Choices

Bah, sick, why must you be? Here’s a short post. I also posted a draft I had sitting around regarding Valve as an apology for getting sick and being unable to post. Longer posts will come tomorrow and Monday. I’m aware that I posted a very similar post earlier, but whatever. This is part of this series. 

Freedom is a good thing, right? Most of us, I think, would agree that this is the case. One thing that makes games unique is, of course, the player’s ability to make choices that in some way affect the characters or the plot.

Unfortunately, the implementation of freedom can get pretty screwed up, and Trish’s death is a great example of that. Essentially, you’re put in a position and given two choices: save Trish or save some doctors. If you try to save Trish, it turns out she was with the doctors all along, and she falls to her death dies. If you try to save the doctors, well, Trish turns out to have been Trish all along and… she falls to her death and dies. No matter what you choose, she’s always at the other location.

The problem here is that it’s a logical inconsistency in the game. How does Trish switch places no matter what you choose? How on Earth would your choice affect where she is? It shouldn’t.

Now, you may hasten to point out that Trish has got to die either way, but if that’s the case, why not just have a sniper shoot her through the chest (so she can talk to Cole before she dies; a headshot wouldn’t allow that) when Cole gets close to her? She still dies, but this time, she dies in a believable (not realistic, mind you; in video games where we can play as superheroes or Persian princes with the power of time travel, realism isn’t important, but believability within the scope of the story absolutely is) way.

There’s no point to having choice if your choices serve no purpose. Imagine going to an ice cream shop that lets you choose whatever flavor you want and asking for pickle and telephone flavored ice cream and getting vanilla. Then imagine asking for mint chocolate chip… and getting vanilla. Wouldn’t you take issue with their claim that you can choose whatever you want? At the very least, don’t you see how silly it is to offer choice without consequence? This point, the idea that freedom is choice and choice results in consequences, is vital to understanding what I’ll be putting forward in my next posts. It’s important, though, to realize that you consequences and outcomes are two different things: it’s possible to have a choice with one outcome (Trish dies), but with different consequences (Trish dies loving you, Trish dies hating you). By making it so that Trish’s death is illogical, you pull the player out of the experience and dilute its impact.

Now, that said, people can take it too far the other way.

Heavy Rain is a game I can’t much claim to like, considering the atrocious writing I’ve had to watch. One of the things I dislike about it is how easy it is to figure out the identity of the Origami killer–if you know anything about bad writers, you know that the bad writer is going to make the cop/detective the villain, because they think nobody would expect that.

Interestingly, some of Heavy Rain’s fans seem to be disappointed that Shelby’s always the killer no matter what you do.

Just think about that for a moment: these people want the identity of the killer to change based on your actions. This makes no sense at all. How, exactly, would his identity change based on your actions? What logical explanation would there be for the killer to become someone else? How would, say, failing a speech check during a conversation alter the identity of someone who has already committed an act?

It wouldn’t.

You may notice that my objection, in both of these cases, have something in common: it’s about the idea that something doesn’t make sense within the context of the story. A simple word for this is “coherence.” Is it coherent for the story to alter where someone is based on your actions in order to maintain the same outcome? No. Is it coherent for the identity of the killer to change because you mess up a conversation or something? Again, no. I’ll be exploring the concept of coherence more some time in the future, but for now, I’m content to leave it at this: freedom should not affect the believability of the story. If the freedom a designer offers proves to be unimmersive, pulling the player out of the experience, then that freedom should be either rethought or eliminated.

Sorry if this post wasn’t very coherent. I’ve got a headache and I’m going to bed. Hopefully, the main idea makes sense.

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