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meaningful choices

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Thinking about what people get out of games, and why they play them in the first place, particularly with regard to my own attitudes, it occured to me that a lot of what frustrates/bores me most as a player is when I get the feeling I''m not being allowed to make meaningful choices. There are several ways this happens: One is by not allowing any choice at all. This tends to happen in very linear games and can occur at various levels of abstraction: for example, in many 2D scrolling shoot-em-up, the screen keeps moving whatever you do, and you have no choice in the rate at which you progress through the game. Another way is by making the "correct" decision too obvious. This is often a case of poor play balance - for example tank rushes in RTS games - while I haven''t played them multiplayer much myself, looking at guides and anecdotes, it seems that in most RTS games the only viable strategy is to build tank rushes early and often. I''m sure a lot of people have examples of RTSs where you can do something different and actually beat the expert tank-rusher (I hope someone does!) but in cases where it''s obvious that only one approach has a chance, there is no scope for meaningful choice of approach. The other side of making decisions too obvious is making the outcome of decisions too obscure. I stopped playing adventure games largely because I found that I was just wandering around trying every combination of {verb}{object}({on/with}{object2}) or clicking everything with everything else hoping to chance upon the single property of an item or location needed to allow progress. Or, in an example mentioned in an old thread ("learning through death sucks") I looked at recently, Prince of Persia 3D has undetectable traps that kill the character without warning - by not letting the player detect the traps in advance, the game prevents them from making the (obvious) decision to jump them, and also the potentially meaningful decision to go slowly enough to locate traps before walking into them. Finally there are situations where your decisions effectively have no consequences - for example, in Baldurs Gate, the side-quests persisted, so whichever order you decided to play them in, assuming you make the obvious decision to play them all, you end up with (roughly) the same equipment and stats as if you played them all in any other order. Or in an FPS if you save/reload your way through, you will end up after each encounter with (almost) no damage, and (near) minimum ammo expenditure, regardless of how you initially choose to approach the encounter. Any comments on other ways choices are rendered meaningless, or ways to make choices meaningful are welcome. By the way, I regard meaningful choices as being opportunities to make informed decisions that affect either the outcome, or the experience of the game, and where the "best" choice is not immediately obvious. For example, in most serious games of Chess, the choice of which opening to play is meaningful - the board position at the end of the opening may well determine the outcome of the game if one player is more comfortable playing with that sort of position, but the choice of which move to make _during_ the opening or endgame is often not meaningful as, in the opening, the best move is generally known, while in the endgame, often both players know the outcome of the game already (which is why players are allowed to resign or agree draws rather than having to play the position out)

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I''ve been thinking a lot along similar lines as you and have also spent some time analysing myself on why I played games. I don''t play computer games anylonger because, like you, I think there is too little variation. It''s the same concept over and over again, only packaged differently (nicer and nicer graphics, mainly).

First, why do people play games? I don''t know, but I used to play games of a few different reasons. Some games were just fun to play. In others I enjoyed exploring the world and drawing maps (yes, I actually enjoyed that) [single player RPGs]. Some games I played as a passtime when I was bored in real life or just didn''t have anything else to do [shoot''em''ups, etc.]. Sometimes, I enjoyed trying my skills against others [multi player FPS]. Well, I''m rambling, so let''s put an end to it.

I think your obersvation of the lack of choices is very close to the point. If you could play the game you wanted to and every idea you got in your head was possible to try out it would certainly be much more intellectually challenging to play the game! Now, when most actions are carried out by pressing a limited number of buttons in different order there really isn''t much room for creative solutions!

The problem isn''t just lack of choices when it comes to actions, but also lack of goals. (Most games only have one goal!) Sure, this goal can vary somewhat between levels/scenarios, but it''s still just one goal per level/scenario. Why does the goal have to be "eliminate all enimies" in a RTS scenario? Why doesn''t cutting off their resources (power, food, transportation, whatever) suffice?

The save/reload strategy is an interesting example since it actually IS a choice. No one is forcing you to utilise it, so if you want the game to be hard just avoid pressing save before each attack! Now, this is probably easier said than done! :-)


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I agree that you choosing to save/reload your way through a game is often a meaningful choice - in some games, you''re pretty much forced into doing it - but if you choose to do so, you effectively render all other choices meaningless...

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