Creativity through Choices and Consequences
By Christine Yee
Humans are inherently driven to play, imagine and create. Games that enable the healthy expression of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, can offer intensely compelling experiences.
One emerging and increasingly prevalent game design strategy focuses on providing players opportunities to consider weighty moral choices. This reflection leads them on an inward journey to venture beyond the confines of their current perspective and mindset.
A related tactic involves creating situations where players are asked to perform seemingly simplistic actions that lead to consequences that force them to reflect on how their choices derived these outcomes. Again this strategy compels players to rethink their boundaries and definitions of their personal system of beliefs, expectations, and ethics.
With both types of game designs, players are empowered to use their creativity to influence the course of the storyline. The consequences serves to provide feedback on their actions and decisions. This offers a very different and interesting experience from typical games that requires making calculated decisions that follow a pre-determined path.
In these types of scenarios, right versus wrong is not simply a black and white distinction. As the player’s emotions strongly contribute to their decision-making and reflection, these strategies add a unique and interesting twist to game play.
What Is Meant By Moral Choices and Consequences?
Naturally, in every game, players have to make calculated choices which entail either desirable or undesirable results. But if you think about what real life is like, not all choices can be calculated. Consequences have to be anticipated by using imaginative foresight and they have to be judged according to a person’s subjective set of individual values.
There is a story of a little boy who overheard two men kicking and physically abusing a fox. The dilemma is apparent: should he ignore the situation or step in to do something? Should the fox be sacrificed to ensure that one’s own safety is preserved by avoiding a potentially violent confrontation? Or should a person demonstrate the highest level of compassion by intervening on behalf of a defenseless animal?
As it turns out in this particular situation, the little boy decided to heroically jump in and grab the fox while kicking and screaming at the perpetrators. He succeeded in running away and bringing the fox to safety (FYI, this was a true story that was recently shared on social media).
Philosophers who seek to understand morality and our social dilemmas explore deeper and more extreme scenarios and questions that cannot be definitively resolved.
One example is the question of the overcrowded lifeboat.
A ship struck an iceberg. Thirty people have to squeeze onto a lifeboat that is only intended to hold seven. Is it better to just let some of these individuals drown? This would cause the lifeboat to lighten and at least some of the people could survive. Or should all thirty people remain which would cause the entire lifeboat to sink and everyone die?
As you can see with this type of situations, there is no clear right or wrong answer. The final decision can’t be easily calculated through sheer reasoning by way of left brain-styled thinking processes.
There are many studies in psychology which show that people tend to be more receptive to a set of choices rather than being dictated a single option even if the outcome is better.
For example, rather than getting into a power struggle with a child to eat their vegetables, a parent can use a savvier form of communication by asking them if they want to eat their broccoli before or after dinner.
In a game setting, giving players choices makes them feel more empowered. And giving them options that can’t simply be calculated empowers them to use their creativity to choose the right course of action. This sort of decision is based on what they subjectively value rather than weighing neatly defined options, such as good versus bad, or gain versus loss.
Yu– Kai’s upcoming book, Actionable Gamification- Beyond Points, Badges and Leaderboards discusses one game design technique where meaningful choices are presented which serves to empower the creative thought processes of players and their drive towards positive feedback.
Most people will easily say that they would do anything for their child. But when it comes down to a real life situation, how far would they actually go? In the game Heavy Rain, Ethan Mars, the main character, is faced with the decision to cut off his finger in order to save his kidnapped child’s life.
When faced with uncalculated pressing moral choices, this type of game designs engages the player’s emotions which causes them to make choices that are not based on clear cut logic. And they may start to question their personal beliefs and values.
To recap, difficult choices can cause the player to deeply consider his/her decisions before or while they are performing an action. But another type of game design may cause players to think about the impact of their actions after the fact, once they experience the consequences of their decisions.
One example is the game, Chrono Trigger. Players are required to perform seemingly meaningless actions that they don’t give much thought to (e.g. helping a girl find her cat). But unbeknownst to them at the time, the cumulative effect of their actions carries a significant consequence, especially when they are judged as guilty or innocent at the time of their trial. This can come as a real surprise which forces them to reflect upon the chain of events which led to their current circumstance.
Another game, The Witcher, employs a time delayed system where the consequences of a player’s decisions are not known until much further into the plot. Their choices also affect the course of events in the actual story. This offers a rather different experience compared to the more simplistic moral paradigms of typical role playing games. Good and evil is not clear cut, rather decisions are made from the perspective of choosing the lesser of two evils.
Blending Moral Choices and Consequences in a Game
The game design strategy of letting players have an impact on the story does not have to be restricted to choices or consequences, to the exclusion of one over the other. After all, being faced with needing to both make heavy choices and feel their consequences is the nature of real life.
Therefore, it is certainly possible to weave in both elements to maximize the impact of the game.
In the game Spec Ops, the setting is a city that is about to get destroyed by nature. The main character is a man who must come to terms with the consequences of his horrendous actions. Players must face decisions that they never thought they would have to make and the lines between good and bad become quite blurry. At certain moments, players may be aware of the choice they need to make while at others, they are forced to understand its consequence.
Using consequence in a game design should not focus on simply punishing the player for bad actions, like a child being grounded or sent to the principal’s office. Ideally, they should sincerely feel the weight of their decisions and be forced to think beyond boundaries of the assumptions that they normally operate by.
How to employ consequence design as a strategy can be quite tricky. It may be perceived as unfairly punitive and this can rob players of their sense of control to the point where they just dismiss the game.
Keep in mind that a sense of empowerment through Core Drive 3: Creativity and Feedback and also the other player drives of Octalysis is what makes a game compelling and thoroughly engaging in the mind of the player. The thoughtful use of choices and consequences can serve to create an undeniably provocative experience in the end.