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Choice-Based Games: Where Interactivity Meets Aesthetics


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Jan 27, 2023
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From the first computer games developed in the 1950s, the video game industry has gone through an impressive transformation. What was once limited to the likes of Pong (1972) and Space Invaders (1978) has now given rise to graphical masterpieces such as Grand Theft Auto V (2013) and Assassin’s Creed II (2009). At the same time, some games have gone in the opposite direction with a retro style, like Hotline Miami (2012) or something more bizarrely different, like Paratopic (2018).

A relatively new trend seen in video games is the choice-based narrative, blurring the lines between video games and cinema. This has always been a clear divide, as video games usually involve some level of interactivity, while cinema does not. The rare occasions where interactivity is included in a film, like in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018), are generally not well-received. People appreciate the distinction between the two, and only recently have developers begun to bridge the gap.

This idea of choice-based narrative has been explored by Quantic Dream, Telltale Games, and Supermassive Games. Quantic Dream has released games such as Heavy Rain (2010), Beyond: Two Souls (2013), and Detroit: Become Human (2018). Telltale Games have created The Walking Dead (2012) series, The Wolf Among Us (2013), and Batman: The Telltale Series (2016). Life is Strange (2015) and its sequels Life is Strange 2 (2018) and Life is Strange: True Colours (2021) were made by Dontnod, and Supermassive Games have developed Until Dawn (2015), The Quarry (2022), and The Dark Pictures Anthology, which consists of four games released between 2019 and 2022.

The beauty of these games is that the player’s choices can have a real effect on the game. It’s up to the individual how far they can push the story, how good or evil they can be, and how their decisions will influence the outcome. Most of these games have been well-received, however, there have been some criticisms of the more recent games, especially The Devil Within The Quarry and Me. Some feel that these games focus too much on cinematics, sacrificing the interactivity that gamers usually appreciate.

This is indicative of a larger trend in gaming, where the focus has shifted from gameplay to characterisation and plot. Cutscenes have always been a feature in video games, but now they are more emphasised than ever before. Even iconic platformers such as Tomb Raider (1996) have been given the cinematic treatment with its reboot in 2013. It’s understandable why developers are doing this, as advances in technology make it easier to make a game look great. However, too much emphasis on aesthetics can take away from the interactivity that makes video games so enjoyable.

Overall, the choice-based narrative genre has been a huge success, and these games have pushed the boundaries of what is considered a game. It’s understandable why developers are leaning more towards this type of game, but interactivity mustn't be sacrificed in favour of visuals. It will be interesting to see how this trend develops in the future, and how the balance between interactivity and cinematics will be achieved.