The Illusion Of Choice In Gaming

If A is B and C is A then What is B?


What would you like to say? 1: I don’t like you. 2: It isn’t that I hate you I just don’t like you. 3: Well I don’t like you but…


When it comes to choices in games we all like them, and the more the better. Before absolutely no one says anything I know not everyone likes more choices.
However when we play games we often want to be in control of what we are doing, and not feel like we have to do this right now. Some developers have given us ways to feel this even when we aren’t choosing anything.
This article will explore what the illusion of choice in gaming is. Why developers do it and if it really is a good thing.
Please note that as far as the third point goes. This is mostly my opinion.

What is the Illusion of choice?

Put extremely simply the illusion of choice is when you are given choices that in the end mean nothing.
This can be done in several different ways but for arguments sake I will break this down in to 3 broad categories and talk about those.

A diverging path.

The first and most common way this appears in games is when we are told we can go 1 of several ways.
This might mean traveling, quests, places to visit or even who to speak to.
Where the illusion part comes in is when no matter which way you go, what quest you do, or what person you choose to speak to; you end up in exactly the same place for the exact same reason.
This would not apply to games with two quests, where you get a different item, or where it affects the story later on depending which you choose.
This comes down to multiple points that go to the same place for the same reason with no reason to pick 1 path over the other.

Doing all the things.

Second is the choice that isn’t really a choice at all.
This is when you are given say a number of quests to do, places to visit, people to speak to, things to buy, porn to watch.
But once you complete your chosen task the game like a prick just tells you to do the other ones anyway.
Again I just want to state that I am not talking about a game for example that gives you 4 or 5 quests or such in the same area all at once. This is when you keep being offered the choice only to have to do them all in the end anyway.

Your choice means nothing to me

The third way and I am pushing it to call this choice. Is when you are given a choice and the end result means nothing to what you decide.
This is usually found in dialogue choices, and between action sequences in games.
This is easiest to spot when you are given dialogue choices that all say exactly the same thing just worded differently. For an example see my opening sentence.

Why is it done?

The simple answer to why is it done is because it makes the player feel like they’re in control when really they are just following a linear story line.
But there is more to it especially when broken down in to our 3 categories.
The first and again most common is usually placed in to games that a player might replay at some point.
Often to add replay value the game gives you choices through out, so the next time you play you can pick a different option and it feels new even though in the end you are going to get to the same place.
It can also help pad out a game. If you have to go back for something and you reach points where the game sent you in to different areas. You might get lost adding to your total game time.
The second is more to do with the linear feel of a game. Sure in the end you reach the same point and you had to do everything anyway. But you felt like you were choosing when and where you went so it was fine in the end.
The third is mostly just lazy game writing. It is easier to pad out games with deciding if you should say yes, yes please, or that would be grate, instead of actually writing engaging stories and good action sequences.

So is this all above board?

So how do we feel about illusion in gaming?
I was going to post that exact question on Twitter. But I figured that would go about as well as any other time I post questions on Twitter so figured I would put my opinion and leave you to make up your own mind.
As far as the concept goes I can’t honestly say I care that much.
The first way never really bothered me much and as I do sometimes replay games it can be nice to take different options.
The second way I always just found funny but it is a little pointless. Just give me quests in what ever order you like.
The third way does annoy me. But it isn’t enough to stop me playing most games. All it really shows is a lack of ideas from the developer.
Or to put it all another way. Its not to bad…it’s alright. Just put in proper cut scenes.


How do you feel about the illusion of choice. Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter.

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