Empowering You Empowers Me

When I talked about in-game media and making the amount of interaction with the world the player choice, I started to wonder: how would Melville feel about having his asides and socio-political ramblings optional? I mean, even in a novel, you can’t force a person to read 20 pages about boats or trees, but it’s harder to skip lest you skip something actually important or revelatory.

Would Melville feel disempowered that all of his carefully planned dialog could be missed if a player decided not to pick up an in-game book or talk to an NPC?

What about if there was a storyline that he felt carried his message particularly well, but that the player could choose not to follow? (For example, one of the creators of KOTOR felt that a cut ending was his favorite: if the MC goes Dark but carries on a romance with Carth, they would choose to both die in a final act of redemption. Which I also love. Maybe would’ve made me play darkside. However, that was one of four potential endings for a female jedi, and one of eight overall. A player could play straight through and never receive quite that message of redemption in the same way.)

Purists, or fans of traditional media, may feel that their position as author is weakened by this. It reminds me of the traditional Japanese view of chefs: they are the experts who know best what flavors go into a given dish. Adding anything like salt or spice can be seen as an insult (If you’ve watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, that’s why he adds the wasabi and soysauce himself. He chooses what fish gets wasabi and how much soy sauce is appropriate). The author, likewise, may view themselves as the expert of their creation: they know best what the reader should have highlighted, and every addition is intentional, so not to be glossed over.

But, counterpoint: on many levels, the author has less control in novels. The author can tell you that the main girl has dark hair and large eyes, and be envisioning someone like… I don’t know… Mila Kunis. But the reader casts their own actors and may envision umm… Keira Knightly. Or someone. I don’t know. It may be someone that the reader knows personally. It may be a creation of his own imagination.

As far as themes go, an author could write with the intention of showing that capitalism, when not monitored, can be a force for destruction. The reader may choose his own theme: communism is the way to go! Really, the author cannot choose what his audience will take away. Just like in video games that offer an open world or multiple endings.

Overall, by choosing not just one narrative for the player, but a decision-based selection of narratives, I, the creator, am choosing what your experience will be like. I can inflict penalties on you for your choice (or at least consequences) or rewards for another.

A great example is of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. (Warning: spoilers). There comes a point (spoilers!) when you meet a man in basically a torture chamber. (Spoiler ahead! Really!!!) The game indicates that to progress, you need to kill him. (Spoiler coming, even bigger!) He basically begs for his life, saying there’s another way, but you see no other way. This has gotta be the only way. Most players, the first time through (and probably the only, since this game really screws with your head, as you’ll see), decide to kill him. You progress. (Spoiler!!!!!!) And then you find out that he was right. You really didn’t need to kill him. You’re an awful monster. Well done.

Since you’re free to make a choice, though, not all players will gain the same experience. Some people may wuss out and accidentally stumble onto the other way later (or maybe read a spoiler on a blog), so you miss that experience of “I’m a monster! This is what I’m capable of!” However, the game creator has enabled you, instead to have the option of “I’m so awesome… even when I’m desperate, I do the moral thing.” (Or something like that. End spoilers, btw).

By giving you the power to choose, I’m giving myself the power to punish your crappy behavior or reward options I like. But hey… whether you take it as a punishment or not is up to you. And that adds another layer of meaning and interpretation.

What do you think? Are you more of a “purist” or in creating media, would you like to give your audience a choice? Would you feel empowered or weakened as a creator by giving them a choice?

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2 thoughts on “Empowering You Empowers Me

  1. I think a lot of people feel that way. In creative endeavors, the hope is often to illustrate your point rather than be permissive of all viewpoints (like the point is racism is bad and I’m not permissive of it. Haha). But I think being able to impose consequences for decisions a player makes is a really awesome tool in that.

    But obviously from the number of times I’ve referenced KOTOR, I like Bioware too.

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