Players in Disco Elysium are presented with a different set of choices than those that prevail in conventional RPGs, but this on its face isn’t important if we don’t articulate how and why choice matters in the RPG genre. Player agency in RPGs always begins and ends with some expectation of choice. It is in RPGs where expectations of player agency are highest and where the idea of what constitutes freedom is most produced. Choice thus marks a common point of departure for RPGs and how they are received. However, it is important not to accept the notion of agency uncritically and question its significance based on its own conceptual ambiguity (Stang, 2019). Continue Reading →
It didn’t matter if you were Human, Awoken or Exo. It didn’t matter if you were male or female. You had been resurrected as a Guardian; humanity’s last hope against the Darkness, and you would do everything in your power to succeed.
And from those first orchestral bars, I had a voice. . . or my character had a voice. And I had a. . . my character had an identity that I as the player created. I tend to get lost in my games. When I’m playing a game I’m not simply a human sitting in a chair with a PlayStation 4 controller watching the pixels of my screen illuminate and change. Continue Reading →
It’s no stretch to say that many videogames are viewed as an avenue for posing ethical questions to modern players. “Morality points” and “moral choices” are well-publicized features of various types of games, such as the Renegade/Paragon bar in Bioware’s Mass Effect RPGs or Dishonored’s (Arkane Studios, 2012) options to deal with major targets via murder or various sinister yet non-lethal responses. Yet as the title of Miguel Sicart’s book Beyond Choices suggests, perhaps merely focusing on presenting choices fails to reach games’ true potential for raising ethical questions in an interactive medium. His book instead urges players, developers, and academics alike to embrace not just the possibility that games can address deep ethical questions, but to explore the ways that the medium is especially well suited to do so.
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But ultimately, the interactive elements of Beyond: Two Souls prove to be of inadequate meaningfulness. Your participation as a player has minimal importance on how events unfold throughout the game. While players are given the opportunity to react to events and interact with the world, there is no real in-game penalty for failure, often including failure to act. The game creates numerous Deus ex machina situations to bail players out and reveals the general lack of agency the player has in influencing the game world. In Beyond: Two Souls, telling the story is more important than playing it. Continue Reading →
It’s lonely at the top of the mountain. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has reigned supreme more or less uninterruptedly as the Greatest Game of all Time in popular culture for nearly two decades. Other challengers have periodically risen from the masses (The Last of Us, Journey, whatever GTA game came out last, etc.), but the conversation always finds its way back to Ocarina. Conversely, Nintendo has been accused of sitting on its creative laurels with nearly every Zelda game they’ve put out since Ocarina. It’s an unenviable position: how do you navigate the already precarious balance between convention and innovation when the foundational title you put out ten sequels ago remains such an enduring sacred cow? Continue Reading →