lowbrowculture

collects stories and ideas from John Kelly

Choice and achievements

I’ll make a bet with you: you give me a game that presents the player with a quote-unquote “moral choice” – who you fuck/marry/kill – and I’ll bet you cash money that there’s a trophy or an achievement for at least one of your choices.

Games like Mass Effect (the classic whipping boy for “choice” in games) have a black and white sense of morality. You’re either a saint to everyone you meet or you’re a complete asshole. These games have achievements for playing exclusively in one way or the other, which just encourages the player to min-max their moral compass and not necessarily make the decisions they actually want to.

This is what I loved about the recent Rise of the Tomb Raider. The bad guy is a total dick to your character throughout the game, so when you finally beat him (spoiler alert: you beat the baddie at the end of the game), you’re given the choice to either walk away and leave him to die or walk up to him and straight-up merc that prick.

By the time I reached this part of the game and I had to decide what to do, I followed my typical first instinct in these situations. I paused the game, then went online to find out if there was a hidden trophy for either decision, because if so, that’s the choice I’d make. Games had conditioned me to expect my choice to be rewarded, one way or the other. “Ding! You took the moral high ground, here’s a trophy!”

With the final bad guy in Rise of the Tomb Raider, there’s no trophy. No extrinsic reward telling you that you did a good job. So, unusually for a game in 2016, you’re free to do whatever feels right for you.

And that’s so refreshing.