Free speech don't mean unchallengeable speech.
But still the problem is if you are made aware of the potential impact then the choice loses all impact. There needs to be some ambiguity otherwise the player's control is absolute and you're making choices just for the hell of it. The ME2 suicide mission is a better example: the player knows that they risk the lives of whoever they pick for jobs, but there's still some ambiguity in the choices. The game won't flat out tell them who will live, but the player has information to suggest the safest choices.
In those cases it's desirable to have a bit of ambiguity because it keeps things interesting, just as it can be interesting to have two choices where none of them seem particularly palatable (but then you get the ME3 ending problem where nobody liked any of the choices, so the 'making the best of a bad situation' card might not work so well). The problem arises where the gameplay mechanics or story are totally opaque and choices seem to result in entirely arbitrary results. That's not fun.
I wrote something about this a while ago:
The article is about how the save game function makes traditional narration difficult. You can’t force certain events on a player (say, the death of a character the player is attached to) without losing some of the freedom the game seemed to offer. Mass Effect 2, for example, did have places where the unexpected death of a character happens, but when it happens, the player no longer feels in control and, importantly, no longer feels responsible. The implicit rules up till that point have always been that you can and must keep everyone alive.But I guess we don’t play games to be devastated. We want to rescue the princess. We want infinite lives and the chance to leave our mark on a world in a way we choose. We don’t want things to be permanent. If we die protecting the ones we love, we want to come back and get it right. If we steal from someone and feel guilty, we can erase it. And if we want someone with whom we’ve bonded — whether a companion or pet — to return from the dead, we can make it happen just by hitting the reset button.
Now, ME2 is a particularly constrained example of an RPG, but I think the following still applies: part of the appeal of games comes from the fact that it is possible to achieve a narrative that is very much of the player’s choosing. The player says, I want the story to happen this way. The impulse at work here is that of the child who, at a distressing point in the bedtime story, asks why good things do not always happen to good people. With a save game system, the player can, as far as the game allows, choose to arrange the story in exactly the way he wants it.
This is obviously detrimental to storytelling in the gaming medium. When a game tries to tell a story, it starts to frame player input as narrative choice rather than playful interaction (that is, the traditional “gaming” interaction dependent, perhaps, on speed and dexterity). The problem arises as, when a game offers both narrative choice and playful interaction, the player’s input becomes ambiguous: choosing a conversation option can be either narrative choice or another aspect of play. And so the save game system, the point of which is to reduce player frustration with failing in playful interaction en route to the player’s goal of “finishing the game,” comes into conflict with the aim of telling a story. (Of course, a story is still told, the one in which, for example, the princess is rescued. The problem is with the potential story in the game — in which the princess does not get rescued — that does not get told, because the player does not want to be responsible for it. The player’s goal has expanded from just “finishing the game” to “finishing the game in the way I want it to happen.”) In this scenario, the narrative choice aspect of player input becomes just another playful interaction because the possibility of reversing the choice makes it no longer a choice but an obscure sub-game, and the ambiguity is collapsed, breaking the possibility of an interactive story.
Now the above was the naive presentation of narrative in a gaming medium. By “naive,” I mean one which is decided upon by thinking of the gaming medium as just a corollary to more traditional forms like film or novel, just with “choice,” a contemporary update of “choose your adventure” books that had you flipping back and forth for the next part of the story. The current methods and conventions of the gaming medium, as elaborated, do not support telling a story this way (if it ever was a good way of telling a story). The gaming medium must be considered something completely distinct, one with its own problems and one that deserves its own forms.
(end quotation; goes on to talk about Braid.)
TL;DR: Choice is inherently opposed to narrative. There needs to be a lot of thinking done about how to present narrative in interactive media, and what kinds of narrative can be presented.
I think there hasn't yet been any complaints in the narration for any of the fates of Mordin in ME3. I think that particular example is a good one for the fusion of narrative, choice, and the sense of control.
To jump in late in the discussion -
Part of the reason I try to keep every sodding character alive all of the sodding time is that more companions seems to always equate to more content. Therefore the choices I make are usually based on what I think will result in keeping people alive, to the detriment of my immersion and possible overall enjoyment. My faulty entirely but there could be a better way.
ME2&3 were pretty predictable in this sense but I thought ME1 did it better, especially with Wrex's death not being easily avoided by a quicksave reload - it was dependent on having enough of that blue stuff.
DA:O I felt handled it better than most too with characters attacking you and/or leaving your party altogether if you did the wrong thing in their eyes (Wynne, Shale, Leliana & Sten to a lesser extent). Not always easy to predict and much the better for it.
Which goes back to the point that Bhazor made on the first page that the gameplay choices directly influence things, not choosing the bloody dialogue option with 'save' or 'kill'.
Games can balance these two roles differently. Some games might put a strong emphasis on the player's spectatorial role while some games might put a strong emphasis on participation with virtually no spectatorial consideration. I think both extremes and everything in between are valid, and it's equally valid to have a preference about one particular kind of balance (I don't have a strong preference: I prefer participation-heavy games but only in the sense that I'm willing to pay more for them). But, as always, we should understand that a preference is not universal.
I do think decisions should be motivated (which, as I said before, was a problem I had with DA:O) in the sense that if someone asks you why you made a decision, you should be able to give a reasonable answer, but that doesn't necessarily mean knowing what the outcome will be. Rationale for a decision is not always outcome-oriented, nor should it be - that's pretty robotic. Outcome is only one factor in decision-making; other factors might be emotional state and, importantly, morality. I think if you know in advance how a game will respond to your decision, that destroys the potential for moral dialectic which, as I've said before, is such a unique aspect of games: Ideally, I'd like to see games less saying "Yay! You made the right decision!" and more saying "Oh, you made that decision? Well, I'll challenge that with this other thing." In other words, I want games to challenge my moral preconceptions, not validate them. I don't find it very interesting to play a force of unerring righteousness, nor to play from a perspective of rational self-interest. And while I personally liked Mass Effect 3's ending, I think the problem behind that particular criticism was simply that it was the ending. Giving people choices where none of them are very easy when it's not at the end is perfectly fine (for instance, much as I've said twice now in this thread that I had a problem with DA:O's decisions, I really liked the decision of what to do with Loghain, because it was nice and difficult, but it wasn't the ending decision).
The basic idea of it is that we always divide our game experiences into those that are 'canonical' and those that are not. We can die in Super Mario Bros., but we don't accept that as the canonical experience. We're actually very good at saying, "Ok, that's not what 'really' happened." Extending that to games with decision-making, the mental model of the narrative we construct is informed by the decisions we, on a meta level, decide are canonical. Quickload actually imparts more meaning to our decisions because it can increase our awareness of what the alternative is. In the end, if we use quickload, we still decide which is canon, but with a level of contextualisation that is impossible in linear experience.
There are quite a few large continuity errors in Doctor Who. The fanbase, far from seeing that as a failing in the show, seizes upon it as an opportunity to decide which of the contradictory situations presented is subjectively true for them. This subjectivity of canon is rare in traditional media, of course, but is a staple of interactive media. And what this does is undermine the media producer/consumer binary Marx and Engels described as the way the ruling classes control the subordinate classes. Which is nice.
"Moronic cynicism is a kind of naïveté. It's naïveté turned inside-out. Naïveté wearing a sneer." -Momus
This whole discussion is making me think about tabletop games design. A lot of board games and RPG systems have found clever ways to bring the thematic motivations and the player's meta-game motivations in line. For example, in Ghost Stories players can only really survive if they think as a team to the point where their primary responsibility is in being part of the brain trust not in controlling their little figurines; the upshot to this is that they're more likely to risk the possibility of not being resurrected--letting one of the monks heroically sacrifice him/herself during the desperate struggle against Wu Feng. It's a decision that would normally go against a player's protective instincts and desire to "win" the game and it creates a lot of tense and dramatic end-games by making sacrifice feel like a necessary, rewarding option (you spend that last Chi to do something awesome that gives everyone more time). Cosmic Encounter gives each alien an extremely flavorful power that guides players into different mindsets encouraging players to adopt motives, alliances, and warpaths they wouldn't have otherwise adopted and making it feel like several nations or species are indeed at work. The Fate System allows the GM to pay players to make in-character decisions and players to pay the GM to succeed at in-character actions in a direct and mechanical way (as opposed to bonus experience points which only indirectly impacts the game). Apocalypse World is an incredible case study in this sort of thematic/narrative driven design with almost every rule leading the characters and the GM into the sorts of choices that wouldn't be made in some RPG sessions but have to be made in the post-apocalyptic madness of Apocalypse World.
The tabletop medium is rife with examples of mechanically savvy design that establishes theme and rewards narrative/theme driven player choice. I'm sure there are some lessons video games can take from these types of games to help make player choices and branching narratives more meaningful.
A lot of games feel like they were pitched as a mechanical idea (an FPS with New Mechanic X) alongside a narrative idea (in which Boy Wonder takes on The Swarm in Steampunk Tokyo) and then the two were stitched together. Whether or not this is true is another matter, but that's the sensation I get playing a lot of games. When the seams tear, the narrative and the gameplay separate because they go in different directions or one fails to meet the other half-way. Successful games tend to feel more like either the mechanical or narrative idea came first and the other was woven in as the primary design goal evolved--again, whether or not this is actually how they were designed I'm not sure.
Last edited by gwathdring; 23-05-2012 at 06:08 PM.