Choice in Digital Games: A Taxonomy of Choice Types Applied to Player Agency and Identity




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Choice has always played an important part in video games, but its role in recent times has become complicated. As technology has grown more efficient, once narrow game genres have expanded and hybridized. Action games such as platformers have adopted complex statistical systems for players to manipulate, first-person-perspective games that were once primarily shooters have gained complex stories with multiple narrative paths, and some games have even pushed into the realm of interactive cinema experiences. With such rich variation, the current manner in which academia and the development industry discusses choice is too broad. It is thus my goal in this research to create a taxonomic categorization of choice types in video games, as well as to demonstrate application of the taxonomy as it pertains to agency and player identity in gaming experiences. I believe that, as engineered objects, games must be viewed as objects of representation and simulation by observers and creators alike. Through interpretation and reduction of real-world analogues, designers create and implement in-game systems of varying fidelity to provide choices to players. The consequences in games that lead to feelings of agency and identity are likewise designed just as the choices that lead to them. This research will demonstrate these principles of choice and consequence by drawing examples from games across five decades of game development and critically analyzing them. I will present a taxonomy of choice types derived from these observations and relate it to agency and identity in game experiences. Finally, I will apply the taxonomy to three case studies weighing Heavy Rain against The Last of Us, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim against Dark Souls, and Shadow of the Colossus against The Stanley Parable. The case studies will deal with choice as it relates to agency, choice as it relates to identity, and the subversion of player choice as a major narrative technique respectively. It is ultimately the goal of this research to provide a template that better illustrates not only the types of choice available in video games, but how the relationship between the different types can impact player experience.



Video games—Authorship, Video games—Design, Choice (Psychology), Agent (Philosophy), Identity (Psychology)


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