Gameology 18 - Meaningful Choice

Show Notes

Mathew and Attila discuss what truly makes a choice Meaningful in a game. Games discussed in the show:

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Super Mario Bros.

Mass Effect

Life is Strange

Persona (series)

Final Fantasy VII

Halo 5: Guardians


Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Dark Souls (series)

Extended Thoughts

If you've ever had the moment when a game has really made you stop and think about a decision, you'll know the wonders of Meaningful Choice. We experience choice all the time in games, but it isn't always something that gives you pause, usually because one option is clearly better than the others. A choice can be meaningful on two different layers; on one layer a choice might be meaningful because the developers have invested a lot of effort into it, other choices feel meaningful because of the moral implications involved in the decision. I refer to these as layers because they are not mutually exclusive, and indeed they feel ever more impactful when they coalesce, like when developers create a powerful moment of moral choice in a game's story where two or more possibilities are fleshed out with narrative consequences. You can also give players meaningful choices when it comes to game-play as well. By giving a player multiple ways to tackle a given challenge, not only do you cater to different play styles, but you also create a high degree of replay-ability.

Given how difficult it can be to construct meaningful choices, remember that it is better to have a single, well developed answer to a problem than a myriad of half-baked ones. Even if you create a moment where the player can pick from several viable solutions to a problem, odds are the player will simply pick one at random and may even come away with buyers remorse, wondering at every stumbling point if they should have picked a different option. Not only is it incredibly difficult to create a game brimming with meaningful choices, it would also be mentally exhausting for a player. If a meaningful choice truly gives the player pause, you don't want that to happen in the middle of a real-time combat scenario. Those kinds of choices should be quick and easy to calculate. Above all, keep in mind that an uninformed choice is not a meaningful one. If the player cannot get some sense of the implications of their choice, the consequences can feel more like fate than a result of their selection.