I will come clean, I will confess: I am an addict. I am addicted to video games, not to the same game all the time though. It started for real over 20 years ago with games like Civilization, Starflight (on the Commodore 64), Doom and Elite II. In particular, the oldest and graphically simplest, Starflight, still stands out as absolutely brilliant. After a while, and sometimes it did take a long while, I had played each and every one of these games so much that I was done with them. Like any addiction this produced withdrawals, with me looking for a new fix. I always found one and played countless titles over the decades. Some games that come to mind are Deus Ex, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Original War, Command and Conquer, Mass Effect, Final Fantasy 12, Fallout 3 and various GTA-type games.
But really it didn’t even start with games, it started with comics and reading books under the covers with a flashlight so that my parents didn’t see I wasn’t asleep. Lately it has come full circle with a smartphone under different covers as to not wake up my fiancé.
And then there is Runescape the one game I was addicted to the longest, several times after getting fed up with it the urge grew back and it might do so again in the future.
The type of games (excluding RS for a moment) that get hold of me and won't let go till they are done seem to be ones that combine action with roleplaying elements. Deus Ex, Fallout, Mass Effect and such. Games in which choices can be hard and have 'real' consequences. Choices that can make you reload a save game and do days of gaming again if we get them wrong. In really good games you care enough about the story and about the people to carefully choose. It can even make you think: “What would I do if this was real?” Maybe I am weird. Ok... I am weird... but in one game, the original Deus Ex (not Human Revolution), I was hunted by the police who mistakenly thought I was a bad person. Since the police officers did not deserve death I spent hours knocking them all out in non-lethal ways instead of blasting them all to bits in 10 minutes. Not a choice programmed as such, but one brought on by the total immersion in such an excellent game. Now let’s take a detour and examine some more of these choices I played with.
There seem to be 2 types: A choice between being a sinner or a saint and the ambiguous ones where there is no right answer.
The Fallout series has many of the first type. Defuse or blow up the nuke in 'Megaton'. I chose what seemed to be the 'right' thing to do and saved the town, despite losing rewards.
Star Wars games often have the same choices, the dark side being more powerful and fun, but… dark. I tend to be good with an edge, trying to avoid doing too many evil things while taking some of the essential rewards. This type of choice seems to be the easiest but also the least compelling, you play using your own morality or maybe choose to go totally crazy and be the evilest you can be.
It is type 2, the shades of gray, the choices that whatever you choose will hurt, that are the hard ones. But these are also the ones that suck you in to a game. I will go in to them a bit longer with some examples.
- Fallout New Vegas: Save trapped people in a vault or stop the pollution of harvests? It seems I am not fit for president, since I chose not to sacrifice the few for the good of the many and saved the trapped people in more urgent need of rescue.
- Mass Effect 2: Save only one of two crew mates you bonded with, Kaiden or Ashley? It is even possible you are in a relationship with one of them at that moment in time. They are both strong characters, well written, and one will be killed. This will not only impact emotionally, but also somewhat change the way the game series evolves. I chose to save Ashley because she’s prettier. Yes I am that shallow. But I’ll admit to something else here also. I used guides to make sure I would steer clear of all avoidable tragedies in this game series, even though I normally prefer to play without guides.
- Grand Theft Auto 4: This has you choose between 2 brothers kill one and save the other, a choice that bugged me less since I cared little about these fellows.
An honourable mention goes out to Far Cry 3, in which you have to choose between the very appealing rebel leader you have been helping and your old friends, specially your girlfriend from whom you have been growing more distant. The allure of adventure and yes... sex... is strong, but it was not strong enough to win over my inborn sense of loyalty. I put this choice in its own separate 'category' because even though there is good vs evil, and rewards shades of grey and such, in the end it is not really a choice. If you had chosen to give in to temptation the rebel leader would have killed you after giving you your reward. Game Over! Yes I loaded a save game to see this option also... who hasn't?
Now let’s get back to the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game we are all interested in, Runescape and look at choices. On the surface we, as an adventurer, very often choose rewards over morality. We follow and help any faction, God or shady individual that offers us rewards all the way up to releasing impending doom on the world if we have to. These 'choices' though, are not real since there is no alternative. We either do the dirty deed or we don't progress in the game. There have been reasonably inconsequential exceptions, we can kill or help Lucien... but nothing really changes. We got a little taste of choices when battling the pest queen in 'The Void Stares Back'. We get to either save Jessika or Korasi, which kind of maters and we can choose the faith of Grayzag. A nice start, but nothing to lose sleep about. On the other hand we did not have a choice about several high profile NPC’s dying when we battled Lucien again. There are some that I really do miss.
Jagex promised us more choices, ones that really matter and will shape the things to come. We already collectively chose to have Saradomin defeat Zamorak and are now dealing with the deadlier choice between two other gods. Like I predicted in an earlier article Armadyl will win and Bandos will die. Not only because he is the 'good' choice, but also because Bandos seems to be a rather uninteresting one dimensional character. Not much loss there. As such this is not a choice that drags me in, but moreover it again is not really a choice. The Massively Multiplayer part of MMORPG makes for the lack of individual choices. It simply does not matter if I help one god or the other. However maybe in the future, the results of such a choice can be made more compelling and engaging.
I have asked before: Is it even possible to have real choices for us as players? Every choice would create an alternate world that has to be programmed and choices can add up. I was wondering if Jagex would create these different worlds, with for example one where we are all lorded over by Saradomin and another where Zaros messes with our heads, but I doubt that is going to happen.
It is good to see Jagex putting more meat to the RPG part of the games DNA, but regardless it seems having real choices is not the addictive factor in this game and that won't likely change with a few dead gods.
So there we have it, some of the best games I have played and the choices that make them great... and Runescape does not have them, but still is the game that kept me interested far longer than any of them. So what is the reason? It seems that examining the choices given to us in Runescape doesn’t leave us any closer to an answer.
Source of the picture: http://www.dorkly.com/comic/53559/the-most-difficult-decisions-in-videogames