Of Choice and Consequence

Dragon Age: Inquisition, Bioware’s latest RPG-cum-choose-your-own-adventure game, has recently been released; like many of you I’ve been playing it. Like quite a few of you I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying it. However, while playing it I came to something of an epiphany – I’m not sure I’d want to be friends with myself.

Let me explain. With western RPGs I tend to instinctively play myself. I don’t create a character and play that person, I basically use the game as a form of escapism, though I prefer to call it immersion (it makes me sound better).

This is why I like the genre so much. I can sink myself into Elder Scrolls, Dragon Ages, Mass Effects, etc all because I can vicariously experience a whole new fantastical universe. I can make the player character as close to myself as possible, and can answer all the choices as I think I would answer them myself in that situation. Granted it can be hard to get into the right mindset when faced with the choice of which race to effectively wipe out seeing as that is a (thankfully) rare occurrence in everyday life. Still, I feel like that character is me, those are my choices and as such, those are my consequences. This is how I know I’m sometimes kind of a dick.

For example, early in the game I was presented with a choice. I could either a) Storm a position with a group of soldiers or b) take a side path while the assault acted as a distraction. Choice a) seemed to promise heavy fighting, a nice action set piece, while protecting the soldiers in the charge. Choice b) implied that soldiers would die, but I would have an easier time myself. I was kind of tired, the kettle was recently boiled, and I really just wanted to look at the scenery. Choice b) was the easy choice. Oh and there was something about retrieving some intel.

So there I found myself, admiring the foliage and snow-capped mountain range with a cup of tea. That was more important than the people in my party – people that would potentially accompany me throughout the rest of the multi-digit playtime – liking and respecting me. I was willing to potentially sacrifice some of the Inquisition’s power, and sabotage potential important inter-character relationships because I was a little tired.

And I regretted nothing.

dragon age 2
In my defence is it very nice scenery…

This got me thinking about other games like this and the choices I had made.

Mass Effect is probably the best example of a game showing you, if you play like I do, who you are at times. The paragon and renegade interrupts are the perfect example of acting on instinct and gut feeling, and I can admit that I squeezed the right trigger a lot more than the left. I can look back generally and think I was in the right, flying around the galaxy being the good guy. Then I remember the specifics.

I punched people, I interrupted them mid-sentence with a head-butt, I shot an unarmed man (and an AI ghost child), and even kicked a guy out of a window. Some people deserved it more than others, but they all had one thing in common – rather than listen, work something out, and take the higher path, I took the easy way (for me) even if I was technically in the wrong. I guess that’s why it was called the renegade path. I wish I could even say that the outcome justified the deed, but that would be lying about the reason for the action. Maybe I was bored, in a bad mood, tired, angry, or just couldn’t pause mid-sentence and needed to answer the phone.

The same is true with about any game that gives me a choice. I myself make the choice. I am not playing a character, it’s the choice I think I would make in that moment. That makes the fact I sent a man to the gallows while playing Sherlock Holmes Crimes And Punishment because I had a stomach ache and as such was particularly cranky, a little worse. He was guilty, and his motives were understandable – heck, earlier that same day I let a man go who was objectively a worse person – but for him it was going to be tough justice.

In the end, this is all about making the game more personal. Every consequence in those universes belonged to me. I had to go on and clean up messes I’d made for selfish reasons. I may not actually be learning anything, and may not be growing as a human being learning from my mistakes, but that’s what it feels like. I have to look back at the end of these games and think about the trail I’ve cut. It’s never clean and pretty, but it’s mine, and that’s what’s important.

These are all my terrible choices, and I wouldn’t change any of them for the world.






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