Saturday, November 08, 2008

Sparrow's Choice: Decisions and Consequences in Videogames

Warning, this post contains major spoilers. Read at your own risk. 

At the beginning of October I got my hands on Fable II code in order to do a review for 360 Gamer. I literally bit off my editor's hand - the stump is still bleeding, so I'm told - to get it and have been playing avidly ever since. Why? Well it's not just a gorgeous game and you don't just get to play fetch with a devoted canine companion, you get to choose how to play.

When Lucien was finally defeated and the dust has settled, the wise seer Theresa offered me, in the form of the Hero Sparrow - a choice. To be selfless and restore all the souls who had died building Lucien's tower to life or I could restore my family - my beloved sister Rose and devoted companion, Anubis - to life or, finally, to be totally selfish and get unlimited gold. Hmmm .... which to choose?

Wealth was out, in-game money can always be earned. The remaining two options left me genuinely torn: I love my dog but when playing Sparrow I had tried so hard to be a good person (despite inhabiting that grey area), so I picked the first choice: to return all Albion's dead to life and gained a letter of thanks and the praise of the people around me (whoopee!). Yet it felt empty; I was lost without Anubis. I had all of Albion worshipping the ground I walked on, even a hubby and a little girl called Kate (who quickly died) failed to lift my spirits. Not even casual sex with a Hard Gay-lookalike gigolo in Bloodstone got me out of my rut. I just wanted to go back and remake my choice and choose the semi-selfish option.

And the annoying thing? Fable II uses a single save slot and auto-saves the moment you make your decision.


Next time round I am so saving my dog!

Choice is becoming the new buzzword in games: Fable II, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Fallout 2, BioShock, Silent Hill: Homecoming ... all of these focus on how you, the player, decide to tackle the game. albeit to different extents. Angel or devil, saint or sinner; it's your choice but that doesn't mean there won't be consequences. Different endings, special Achievements or just the nagging of your conscience, just like in real life. Every action has its reaction and you can't escape the consequences of your virtual choices.

Choice is also a method of bringing the gamer into the game they're playing; it's not just an experience any more, it's immersion and this is becoming an accepted aspect of game play, indeed it's a revolution. Like Fable II, part of BioShock's charm was the journey, particularly in the final hour of the game when you - Jack - has to literally become a Big Daddy. Similarly both Fallout 3 and Fable II follow a rags to riches tale of a nobody who quickly becomes somebody, indeed a somebody on whom the fate of a world rests.

Put it this way: if you were Sparrow, what would you do? Which choice would you choose?


Anonymous said...

I would choose not to spoil the entire ending of the game on the interwebs without a single warning post.

But then, you know, I have a conscience.

Lesley Smith said...

And if you'll look above you will see - in bold type no less: 'Warning, this post contains major spoilers. Read at your own risk.'

Most people will have finished it by now - or else read Wikipedia.