The biggest difference between film and video games is the agency of the player. Though it’s not always the case and it doesn’t always have to be, players are able to make decisions that can change the course of the story. It’s this agency that can be the best advantage for video games moving forward as a medium. But in order to take full advantage of this potential, game developers need to understand the difference between morality and choice.
Certain games like the Mass Effect series and the Infamous series pioneered the idea of morality based decisions where the player could choose at certain points in the game between the “good option” and the “bad option”. These choices could change everything from the story itself to how the characters looked and played. Often, the “bad choices” would result in the character looking more and more evil, with Infamous’ Cole McGrath becoming more monstrous and inhuman with each bad choice he made. The problem with this approach was that rather than really giving the player a true choice on how to proceed and progress the story, it gave them two linear options that they were encouraged to take rather than making decisions of their own autonomy. In both Mass Effect and Infamous, the player had to essentially choose either the good option or the bad option and stick to it, or else they were unable to get the necessary upgrades and play the game properly.
This is the difference between choice and morality. Games that give you choice understand that decisions are rarely as clear cut as the “good option” and the “bad option”. Don’t get me wrong, Mass Effect and Infamous are great games, but in terms of having the player affect the story and make them feel as if they are truly making decisions, there’s so much potential for much more. There are some games that attempt to do this. Games like The Witcher, Dragon Age and Heavy Rain give the player difficult choices that truly make them think and consider the consequences of their actions. That’s where gaming needs to go in order to truly take advantage of what the medium can allow developers to do.