Life is littered with billions of choices; millions that we make on a daily basis. Should I get McDonald's or Bojangles for breakfast? Should I take the highway or go downtown to get to work? Do I go out tonight or stay at home? Should I get gas or wait a little while. Some of these decisions are minimal in nature, but lets take it to another level. Two missiles are heading for two completely different locations. One is a military base, with people and assets that could give you an edge in the war. The other is a residential compound filled with thousands of people just living their lives. The issue: you only have one kill switch meaning you can only stop one missile. Either way, people are going to die. Choose which missile you want to stop. Oh, and by the by, you now only have 30 seconds to make this decision. Go.
Shit just got real o'clock didn't it? Well that's what games are doing in this day and age, giving you actual moral dilemmas. Gone are the days where you just play to get to the end and save the princess. Now there are decision thrown into the mix, and in some cases a time limit along with those decisions. And I think games are better for it.
In my last post I discussed how non-linear player guided quests in games have become better for games. Well this sort of branches off this point. In games today, not only are we given the quest to go fight this, or save that, or obtain this, but we now have real life decisions to make along the way to the greatness (or failure in some cases). In the 90's, we as gamers were first introduced to the "bad ending." If you didn't get a certain item, didn't save a certain person (in a limited time in some cases), or complete a certain task in the game you would get to the final boss, beat him or her, and feel great about yourself only to be greeted by bad news that things did not turn out as well as you thought. Yes, you did all that work to have things still go to hell. The first time I experienced this was Streets of Rage 3 for Sega Genesis. The classic beat em' up had a midpoint where you had to save the mayor and fight through hordes of enemies just to get to him. And all in this stage you had a minute to do so (entering rooms would stop time briefly, but once you got back out to the main stage the countdown resumed). Needless to say, I got to the mayor two seconds too late and he died. The game must go on right? Well, yes and no. I get to "final stage" to stop someone impersonating the mayor and beat him, only to get an ending with the words "The End?" Question mark. Meaning there was a possibility of a better endgame. I felt like shit knowing that I worked so hard to still get a fucked up ending.
Today, games are a little more unforgiving. Heavy Rain, for example (yep, I'm about to go there, so if you haven't played it and wanna avoid spoilers just skip to the end). Your son is kidnapped by the Origami Killer and you are put through hell and a half just to get him back. One event asks if you are prepared to suffer to save your son and then gives you 5 minutes to cut off one of your fingers. At this point I immediately pause the game and drop the controller only to say "What...the...fuck...dot...com" Now I have to think how I would do this, hell, IF I'm gonna do it! So I have to bring it to the real world now. If I did have a son, would I do anything to save him? Hells yeah (he just better not ask for anything this Christmas because he's getting a finger to wear around his neck. KIDDING!) So I commence to preparing this guy to do the unthinkable, and when its done turn away while hearing this guy writhe in agony. After that I was in shock for awhile (didn't touch the game for a week), then came back and beat the game, only to find out something just as disturbing but I'll save that for you, the reader, to find out (or just look up on youtube, wikipedia, or whatever.)
Another example of this is a game called Catherine, a puzzler/dating sim. You are Vincent, a computer programmer who is in a serious relationship with a woman named Katherine. Things are semi-okay until he meets another woman, with the titular name Catherine. Once this happens, Vincent is then thrust into the world of Nightmares where he has to escape or he'll die in real life. I won't get into the meat of it because it is an absolutely extraordinary game and I would implore you to play it. But an interesting little detail of this game was that it asked you, the player, some to really think about things, in the form of a confessional before you entered your nightmares. It asked you questions that measured you as a person; some understandable, some just weird. The catch, its and either/or choice. There is no middle ground, and some of the questions don't give you a point of reference. For example: do you consider yourself a cheater? That was the question, but it doesn't tell you what kind of cheater. It could be you cheat at tests, or relationships, or life. The questions don't give you any type of navigation to determining your answer. I asked these questions to a couple of my friends on Xbox (shoutout to Joe, Tony, and O'Connell) and it was interesting to hear the responses they gave. As I said I implore you to play this game, but if you are interested in seeing what type of questions are asked click here.
One last example of this type of game is the Mass Effect series. Good ole' Shepard has a galactic invasion to stop and as a commander you are given many choices on your road to stopping it (or not, in some cases). In the beginning of this post I gave you, the reader, a dilemma, and you only had 30 seconds to choose. Well this was one of Shep's decisions he had to make on his way to preventing (or allowing) the reaper invasion. The series is decision heavy and each decision you make has an impact that spans 3 games. So anything you did in ME1 will affect ME2, and anything you did in ME1 & 2 will carry over to 3. So it was interesting to see what decisions you made in comparison to your friends. Meaning (and this goes for most decision based games) no two gameplays will be exactly the same. Which is an interesting and awesome way of game development, in my opinion.
The point that I am getting at is that games like these take dilemmas (moral or not) and gives them to you, while putting a gun to your head (figuratively, and sometimes, in the game, literally) and forcing you to choose. Which is not a bad thing. I'm all for non-linear gameplay. I'm all for making the decisions instead of having them made for me. I want to choose where to go, what to do, and in some awesome cases, who to bang. We're spending $60 (more if its a collector's edition) on games so why can't I do what the hell I want to do? This evolution of gaming has brought gamers into a new world, their own individual worlds; and none of them are the exact same because of it. So kudos to developers who make these games all about what you want to do. Just, please, don't ask me to cut off a finger, or limb for that matter. Its just......disturbing. UGH!