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Choice and Singularity

In most modern games, choices seem to be offered in pairs. You choose the good one, or the bad one. But what if I don't like either of the ones I'm given? Singularity gave me that option.

[There are spoilers involved in this article, so if you haven't yet played Raven Software's Singularity, you might not want to read on. Or maybe you do. Your call. I'm just saying that I gave you the chance already, so if you complain about it in the comments, it's all your fault.]

As soon as you, as Nate Renko stepped onto the island of Koturga-12, things started going crazy for you. Your helicopter went down, your entire team is killed, and you inadvertently altered the entire space-time continuum while just trying to be a good Samaritan. So, hoping to get things back in order, you go through a convoluted trip through time to try and fix what you screwed up in the first place, dealing with a murderous dictator, Nikolai Demichev, an innocent scientist with ulterior motives, Viktor Barisov, and hordes of soldiers and creatures all warped crazy by the mystical E99.

But you're a trooper. Amidst the lies and misdirection, you barrel through your enemies behind the barrels of your weapons, and finally come to the very end of it all, face to face with Demichev, as you promptly shoot him.

But then Barisov enters. The two plead their cases to you, Barisov asking you to kill Demichev and then yourself to correct the flow of time, and Demichev asking you to kill Barisov and rule as the leader of his armies as you both conquer the world with your newfound abilities.

At this point, as I looked at both options, neither seemed very appealing. I didn't want to go the "bad" route and simply be a lackey for the rest of my life. At the same time, I didn't want to go the "good" path if it meant that I was going to have to kill myself.

But, being trained by years of "moral choices" presented in the same pattern throughout numerous games, I thought those were my options. Half-heartedly, knowing that it would have no real effect, I made my choice.

I shot them both.

Imagine my surprise when that actually worked, and that was a legitimate decision that the game allowed. The two unappealing choices lay dead at my feet, and the story continued as I walked off into history.

I had to sit there for a moment to understand what had just happened. While I'd dealt with ambiguous situations before, never had I been able to simply make the third option of "screw both of you, I'm doing this my own way." But this kind of instant decision-making created an interesting and profound situation for me.

Now, of course, there are definitely other great games that have these kinds of choices. Fallout: New Vegas offered a large number of ambiguous and unclear choices, allowing your choices and relationships to have interesting consequences down the road, which often made you think about what you were doing and to who.

But in a straight-up shooter like Singularity, I really wasn't expecting that kind of unique choice.

Compare that kind of choice to the "profound" level from Modern Warfare 2, "No Russian." That level was much about the shock level, offering you a chance to kill the civilians in order to keep your cover with this group of people.

My first run through it, I didn't kill a single civilian, excepting the security guards who were actively shooting at me. Instead, I turned and fired on my "teammates." Of course, the AI is scripted to have them shout "traitor!" and immediately mow me down.

So, I was instead forced to watch as these terrorists killed hundreds of people, when the actual power to stop it was in my hands in the guise of an MG4. Even with their body armor, I could have torn them to shreds from behind with a careful headshot strafe. But instead, I couldn't.

I understand that there are limitations in games, and that often, you're playing the story that the developers have crafted for you to play. You're not the author, you're simply a character in the tale that's being told.

I also understand that it’s a bit of an unfair comparison, because there was obvious a specific reasoning and a specific storytelling purpose behind each situation, but I found the comparison interesting, despite the “unfairness” of it.

But even so, that choice in Singularity makes me think that there are definitely more interesting possibilities to be found outside of just a little bit of shock. Shooters could do with more than just "wow, nice headshot."

And perhaps the player might even find that the choice that he makes sticks with him longer than just a single, skippable level.

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