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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Day 671: Dragon Age Inquisition & Free Choice

I am a fan of Role Playing games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect. What has been happening in the last few years is that game developers are trying to make these games as dynamic as possible when it comes to the choices available to the player. This includes personality, appearance, love/sex and even the fate of the world. Obviously there are limits to how many different kinds of choices can be given, games would take too long to develop and would be too big to truly offer an experience of free choice. Maybe at some point in the future artificial intelligence will be developed and dynamic enough to respond to the choices that players make in-game (without limitation, or at least with minimal limitation).

What I find interesting in games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect is that the choices that are offered to you are typically the following 3 options:
  1. You choose to be the "good guy"
  2. You choose neutrality/sometimes lack of interest
  3. You choose to be the "bad guy"
I realise that when you are working within certain boundaries your choices are limited, but I would like to propose that we, humanity, are rather stuck in our world view of seeing everything as either "bad", "good" or "neutral". In truth we know that nothing is ever that simple - and further to that, the concept of bad can only exist because the concept of good exists. We are the ones wanting to put labels on everything, wanting things to fit in their "correct" boxes. Life is really so much simpler than that - we make it complicated. Everything in life is what it is - no more, no less. Sometimes what it is is acceptable, sometimes it's not. Sometimes we can change it, sometimes we can't (we have the power and ability to change much, currently it is we who limit ourselves).

This desire to label and define everything in life comes out in all the things we participate in, like games, family, movies, magazines, culture, food, animals, actions, words, thoughts... In Dragon Age, it manifests as you as the player having relatively limited in-game options in terms of developing your character and the story line. Again, I am not saying that game developers are technologically capable of creating a game with real free choice at this stage, what I am saying is that there is more to life than good, bad and neutral. So in the game I have limited opportunities to develop my character in a way that reflects who I am, which is generally what you want when playing games like this.

One thing I must say I find rather frustrating is the limitation of choices when it comes to the development of the story line. Near the beginning of the game, you are asked to decide between two factions, the one you choose becomes your ally and the other will then be your enemy. Neither of the factions is really a nice choice and I ended up making my choice based on reviews of people who had played the game twice, having experienced both choices. This is actually quite a common things in games, where you are forced to choose between two crap options in order to advance the story line. Again, the situation may be unavoidable, but it really doesn't have to be so crap.

The sad thing is that even though everyone wants to be special, we are so much the same that our behaviour can be predicted to the level that a company knows exactly what products to make, how to advertise them and how to price them in order to achieve high sales numbers. We are not as special as we think we are, and if you dig a little into psychological research you will find that human behaviour is actually quite predictable.

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