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Why My Game Ch0ice is the Future of Game Design

linear narrative in games is inherently un-gamey and self defeating, and I think I cleverly solved a few of the problems nonlinear stories in games usually face

Ryan Randles, Blogger

May 19, 2015

5 Min Read

Linear narrative is terrible in games.

Linear narrative was created as a stopgap between saying a general statement and experiencing something personally. I could tell you, “humanity is evil,” but you’re going to understand it on a whole other level if you actually experience the depravity of humans firsthand. Linear narrative was created who knows how long ago to bridge the gap; now, I can write you a story where children, often the symbol of innocence for society, are placed on an island and become disorderly and savage. And I could call it something cool and edgy, like Lord of the Flies. Over time, humans found that other humans learned much better from this kind of teaching over blanket statements, but both still pale in comparison to real life experience.

With games, we’ve been given a unique opportunity to make mistakes for ourselves within a simulation, rather than watch someone else who we identify with make them. SO WHY DO WE KEEP PUTTING LINEAR NARRATIVES IN GAMES. Modern technology has given us the gift of being able to give others the gift of making mistakes whenever they want! Linear narrative is inherently not taking advantage of what makes games good, or even games at all. It makes about as much sense as drinking water with a tiny fork. Or a tiny spoon, for that matter. Or a tiny spork. Or doing anything with a spork really. The point of narrative is to teach, and games with linear narratives are preventing themselves from doing the job the best way they could.

Adding more choices does present its own set of unique challenges, which I feel I managed to solve with my game Ch0ice, hence the title of the article. The first major problem is that the choices you make in games don’t really matter. Players often choose what they know to be a worse in both a rational and a moral sense just to see what happens. You could give someone the most morally and rationally black and white scenario you could image, and there would always be the one nerd who chose the wrong option. Insignificant consequences only heighten this apathy; if you get the “evil” ending, you can just look up the “good” ending online. So any nonlinear narrative in a game must accept that it is just a game, that the decisions made in it don't necessarily matter to the player on any real level.

In Ch0ice, I worked around this by making the central theme whether or not small choices matter. Carl, the player’s primary textual companion asserts many times that your choices as player do not matter and that the whole thing is just a game. This reflects a daily struggle of mine: making myself believe that all the little things will eventually add up to success. It's a universal theme as I see it.

The second major problem posed to nonlinear narratives in games are the number of branching pathways that can accumulate. If you strive for your game to be more than a choose your own adventure book and your choices to be more than a facade, the number of branching paths the story can take can quickly become daunting or even impossible to write and code for. And, very often, the choices you make don't especially matter. Take The Walking Dead game season one. In episode one, you're given the choice between saving Doug or Carley. The person saved by the player produces few to no real effects, since either person you save dies in episode 3 (but if you didn't save Doug you're a monster he was way better). The amount of extra work that would be required to put in a full, high quality, truely branching story, especially voice acted, would be just about impossible. Unfortunately, if every game used the faux branching of The Walking Dead, the biggest artistic message all games would be that the choices you make don't really matter. I don't think this is true, and it would certainly be a problem if all games had to come to the same conclusions about life purely based on time and budget constraints.

In Ch0ice, there are only ever two options: green and red. The monologue delivered through Carl is dependent only on your previous choice the vast majority of the time. These monologue snippets were written to be coherent in any order, and the order they appear when their option is chosen is completely random per playthrough. The consequences of your actions only appear under certain circumstances, which I believe reflects life. If I don't, let's say, exercise one day, I don't instantly become a middle aged man with heart disease. It's making the wrong or right decision repeatedly over time that makes the difference, which was the truth I was trying to reflect in the game.

Choices are the future of games; it’s what games were made for. Embrace the future yall.


You can EMBRACE THE FUTURE TODAY (lol) by downloading Ch0ice on the AppStore here or by following me on Twitter here.


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