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GDC 2015 - Beyond Binary Choice

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Greetings from GDC 2015!

In the session Beyond Binary Choices: How Players Engage with Morality, Amanda Lange — a tech evangelist for Microsoft, detailed the results of a study she recently conducted about the narrative choices players make in video games. The questions were based on either the game or the player’s definition of good and evil. Surprisingly, only five percent of her subjects played as evil during heir first playthrough. This suggests to Lange that games don’t necessarily allow us to experiment with our sense of morality, as most of the decisions made by players in games tend to align with the decisions they would make in reality.

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She found that players had and easier time making decisions when they could align with a given faction instead of binary good/evil spectrum. Additionally, she concluded that players don’t agonize over choices unless those choices are weaved into the narrative, as they are in games like The Walking Dead and Spec Ops: The Line. For instance, in The Walking Dead, choices aren’t necessarily labeled “good” or “evil” and don’t provide any kind of gameplay bonus — but the decisions made do affect the story. The good dragon in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was rarely killed by players operating in traditional moral terms, despite the fact that the developers created a lot of content that you need to kill the dragon to access.

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This means that if you want players to see all of the content you’ve incorporated into a game and put behind certain narrative gates, you need to make sure you’re creating an experience that resonates with a player emotionally. Players are more likely to do bad if they’re caught up in an emotional situation, and they’re much more likely to return for another playthrough to see what happens if they make a different choice.

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