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Choosing your own video game adventure - Reader’s Feature
Bad habits start young

A reader worries that relying on multiple saves to second guess moral decisions is a dishonest way to play video games.

I blame choose your own adventure books.

Go to page 154.

My index finger acts as a temporary bookmark on page 68 as I flick to page 154 as instructed, I scan the page and find the section. The shortness of the passage coupled with the printed illustration of a man burning to death fills me with foreboding before I even begin reading.

‘You fall into a pit of unquenchable fire and your screams join the endless choir of other victims, a foolish, greedy adventurer following the siren call of easy dragon gold you are punished for your hubris for all eternity… your adventure is over’.

Except it isn’t, my index finger resurrects me instantly, I take the left rather than the right fork in the road and full of hubris and greed I go on to fame, glory, and riches – lots and lots of riches.

Every week I would go to the library and pick a couple of books to last two weeks till the next visit. I would always try and grab at least one or more Choose Your Own Adventure books as these lasted longer and were more interactive than other books.

For people who’ve never heard of them they were usually Tolkien-esque style books with several broken-up narratives which were spread throughout the book. You read a passage, were usually given a couple of options of what to do, and an associated page number. You would then make your decision and go to the page, accepting the consequences of your decision for better or worse.

Some of the more advanced ones even had character sheets of stats to track, and involved fights using dice to administer damage. For examples of modern versions of these, the Sorcery series of games on Android and iPhone are good examples of what I’m talking about.

You could engage in the books in a few ways, you could role-play seriously and feel the thrill of adventure as you battle your way to an eventual triumphant finish. Or you could do what I did above and cheat like a snake and get the ending you wanted by brute force on your first attempt.

So, what has this got to do with gaming you may ask? Well, lots of games these days involve decisions and I find that my mind has been conditioned so much so that I can’t stop metaphorically using my index finger as a bookmark when I make a major decision in a game. Usually this is done with the tool of multiple save states, to allow me to explore different permutations of decisions open to me. These occur most often in sprawling epic role-playing games. Give the medicine to the plague victim or keep it for myself? Show sympathy for my downtrodden elven companion or tell him to buck his ideas up sarcastically? Take the Normandy through a black hole or not?

I find I’m incapable of taking these decisions without the knowledge that I can’t take the decision back. The thing is, if we go back to those Choose Your Own Adventure Books the point I want to explore is, if you don’t honestly engage with a medium how can you hope to understand the nuance of that medium? And could honest engagement be used as a metric of greatness in gaming? Especially coming into the season were people traditionally pick their games of the year?

I know the answer is probably time and volume, but is it also a generalisation to say that most people want a broad range of experience and gaming has become more disposable than it ever has. We can pick up and put down an experience if it becomes difficult or hard to manage, and there will be multiple variants of the same experience to choose from. It must be more difficult than ever for good games to stand out from the crowd, especially if their experiences are either esoteric, difficult, or hard to put into a traditional genre.

If we want to truly identify the best game ever made, surely the best measure to use would be the volume of people who honestly engaged with that game until the end? That might mean that games like Mario or Sonic would be the best game ever, given the volume of people who have completed, understood, and enjoyed these games.

Do we go on to add the wrinkle that the difficulty of the experience should be a deciding factor? So that if a game is hard but has also managed to honestly engage a mass amount of people it has achieved a more difficult feat and is therefore a worthier bearer of greatest game mantle. In this scenario games like Dark Souls or Resident Evil leap to the top of the table.

How about a further wrinkle, what about game length? If a game is long and has engaged us for the best part of a year it should surely be the king of games? With this metric applied then games like Witcher 3, the ageless Skyrim, or Final Fantasy should be top of the list instead.

The problem is, with the time and volume problem people can’t realistically be expected to honestly engage with games very much anymore. Most gamers can only consume and hope, by following the herd, they consume something to their satisfaction. As we consume so much we take shortcuts and can’t honestly engage with a medium we supposedly love. I blame Choose Your Own Adventure books.

By reader Dieflemmy (gamertag/PSN ID/NN ID)

The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

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