Posted in Games, Writing

The Psychology of Choice

I have just published my third twine.

For anyone unfamiliar with twine, it is a rather wonderful way of making choose-your-own-adventure stories/games online.

I am exploring the possibilities of twine.

This particular game – Squirrel Evades Dogface – is a foray into the psychology of choice.

What, I hear you ask, am I going on about?

Let me tell you…

As I understand it – the psychology of choice is about the player’s decisions.

In particular, it is about these choices making a difference to the game’s outcome.  As one game designer put it to me…

The player should be able to look back at the game and feel that their actions made a difference.

There is something visceral about this idea.  And I find this appealing.

But first, I have a confession…

I am a storyteller.

I don’t just love narrative.

I think that we understand the world through narrative.  I think that story has the capacity to shape our universe and the way that we move through it.

And for the longest time, I’ve kind of dismissed the idea of ‘player choice’ in games.

It’s not that there aren’t choices.  Anyone whose ever played, well… anything, knows that there are choices.

It’s just that… I never really bought into the idea that these choices were particularly meaningful.  Ultimately we are still limited to navigating pathways that have been, to a large extent, designed.

And then I tried to make a game.

Two actually.

The first – Dogface Finds a Stick – was a very short exploration of twine.  You can tell because there are typos and I didn’t customise the look of it in any way… I still like the story.  I like the character.  But it is not crafted with care.  When I made it, I was playing.

And that’s fine.  I like to learn by doing.

The second – Dogface Chases Squirrels* – is crafted with care.  I took more time over it.  I customised the look of it.  And I like it.  I like the way the story plays out.  But choice?

Choice isn’t really meaningful in this game.  Because of that, it really is more of a story.  I’m ok with it, because I was trying to suggest that, no matter what, a dog is still a dog and it will act according to instinct despite its experiences.

So this lack of meaningful choice, kind of works.

A game designer friend – the same friend I mentioned earlier (yep – I have one friend) – gave me some feedback.  And he talked about this idea of choice in a way that I just hadn’t heard before.

Choice, it seems, is about the player’s feeling.

Choice is visceral

And that’s when I started to make my third twine – Squirrel Evades Dogface.

This time I tried to really think about choice.

And the choices you make when you play, really do matter.  They change the game’s outcome.  They determine whether the squirrel is injured or perfectly fine.  Whether it fights back or hides.  Whether it lives or dies.

It doesn’t get much more visceral** than that.

And I think I’m finally getting to grips with the importance of choice in games.

We understand games through our choices.  And this is probably why I’ve always been disappointed by games that set up seemingly meaningful choices in gameplay, only to undermine them in the game’s final outcome.

In these games, my choices as the player were cast aside.

From now on, I will endeavour to value the player’s decisions.  I will try to build games with meaningful choices.

I am sure that Squirrel Evades Dogface could be better.  Anything we ever do, could probably be better.

I’m just glad I’ve done it.

And – I hope you enjoy it.  If you haven’t already done so, then play here, I hope to hear what you think of it in the comments.


*spot the theme!

** it is possible that I have entered a zone of just enjoying this word and, consequently, typing it too often…

Author:

I lecture in creative writing, games and education. I write. I make the odd game. I work with the odd school to make learning more like playing a game...

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