WARNING: Some minor spoilers ahead!

Do you take the red pill or the blue pill?

Countless video games offer players the opportunity to make decisions, to choose the path they wish to take and change the world. More often than not, these choices are binary: good or evil. You can either take the path of the hero or veer off course to become the villain.

The choices you make can affect your relationships with other characters and steer the outcome of the game itself, but sometimes that is just an illusion. There are moments in games when the decisions you make are utterly meaningless — and that is totally okay.

THE WALKING DEAD

The limitations of choice come from the game’s roots: development. The ability to make game-changing decisions is a mechanic used to emulate reality, fully immersing the player into the game’s world. It is an ambitious tactic, considering how many possible outcomes can stem from a single decision. Creators need to plan for this accordingly, to consider every possibility and implement it effectively into their game. Unfortunately, implementing every outcome in a game is nearly impossible.

Developers can only include so much, whether they are giving the player a complex decision or something as basic as what to say. To expand on the illusion that you have a choice, a game will sometimes offer at least two endings: Based on the decisions you make, you are rewarded with Good, Bad, and sometimes even Neutral endings to a storyline.

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In INFAMOUS: SECOND SON, the karmic route you choose during certain scenes does not have a real impact on the dialogue or events, but it most certainly influences the outcome of the game and whether you end up a hero or a villain. Most, of if not all, of the game’s scenes play out similarly whether you play for good karma or bad karma. For example, the first karmic decision you make is to either sacrifice your friends or give yourself up. No matter what you choose, however, they will still get hurt. The only variance between the two choices is the slight script changes when you interact with them after the fact.

The game will force you to decide between being a hero and being a villain, guiding you down a path no matter how many side missions you complete to try and balance your karma. What becomes important in the game is the relationships you build (or destroy) with other characters as a result of your decisions. Even if the storyline is heavily scripted, the way the world perceives you becomes your character’s motivation; being a hero pushes them to save everyone while being feared pushes them to only help Conduits.

The first INFAMOUS functioned the same way. There is a moment where you must decide if you want to save your girlfriend or save a team of doctors, but no matter which karmic route you take, she still dies. Your choice has no effect on her staying alive, but the way she perceives you is what matters: she will either respect you or hate you as you hold her in her final moments.

The decisions you make in the INFAMOUS series are less about changing the actual story and more about altering the world around you.

INFAMOUS: SECOND SON

Decision-based games always seem to give the player the upper hand in affecting the outcome, but the choices can often leave a bittersweet reaction. You can still lose no matter how hard you try to save other characters or even the world.

Even when your role is not as clearly defined as hero or villain like in INFAMOUS, the outcome is still relatively the same. LIFE IS STRANGE is one such game that turns the choices you make into complete garbage, which is actually very important to the storyline. It is an episodic video game, with five episodes released throughout 2015, in which you navigate as Max through various scenarios by making choices and thinking about your interactions with other people.

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You can make or break your relationships with other characters, but the most important relationship you have is with Chloe, your childhood best friend. You can even decide to pursue something more with Chloe, making the choice to kiss her in one of the episodes. If you choose not to, Max will later write in her journal about how she wished she had kissed her friend.

The game basically pushes you to invest in these relationships, to literally save other people, and in the end, you are rewarded with the realization that it was worthless. The final decision you have to make is to either be selfless and save the entire town or be selfish and save Chloe. Save all the people you built relationships with or save your best friend and confidante. Even if you try to play through the game again and make different choices, nothing you do will change the ending.

Remember when I said that choice is meant to immerse you in a game? The illusion of choice in LIFE IS STRANGE is meant to make you feel as helpless as Max feels during the storm that is tearing the town apart. You have invested in all of these relationships with other people, from preventing head injuries to talking someone off the edge of a roof.

Most importantly, you have protected Chloe from every threat up to this point, from getting shot twice to getting run over by a train. The game makes you think that you helping her was as important as you helping the town. Sadly, you were never meant to save her in the first place. The game pushes you to think about all those times you saved her, all those times you helped other people, by overturning every decision you made. You were selfish in trying to save everyone, and now you have to decide whether one life is worth the lives of many or vice versa.

And guess what? It’s all just a video game! The illusion of choice in this game, however, does exactly what it is supposed to do: immerse you in the story. You feel as devastated as Max does when she is forced to choose between her closest friend and a town full of people she cares about.

LIFE IS STRANGE

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While it may feel disheartening to realize that some of your decisions are meaningless in a video game, there is nothing wrong with decision-based mechanics because giving the player the ability to choose creates a sense of immersion in the game. Even if you do not have a direct impact on the story, you most certainly control how the rest of the world sees you.

Choice in gaming is less about changing the outcome of the game and more about your relationships with other characters. To be fully immersed in a game, you have to interact with others and face the consequences of your decisions, no matter which route you choose to take as you play.

Whether you choose the red pill or the blue pill, you still might be screwed over in the end… but maybe that is the idea.

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