Videogames as Narrative Medium
© 2003 Nich Maragos

  1. Chapter I - Are Games Art?
    1. The Case Against
    2. The Case For
  2. Chapter II - Narrative Components of Games
    1. Imagery
    2. Sound
    3. Movies
  3. Chapter III - Conventional Narrative in Games
    1. Plot
    2. Character
    3. Point of View
    4. Setting
    5. Theme
    6. Sidequests
    7. Metanarrative
  4. Chapter IV - Interactive Narrative in Games
    1. The Arbitrary Choice
    2. The Burdensome Choice
    3. The Interpretive Choice
    4. The Behavioral Choice
    5. Rewards
  5. Chapter V - Conclusion
  6. Works Cited

Very similar to the Arbitrary Choice is the Burdensome Choice. Again, it’s a binary choice, but made more interesting by presenting tasks to be completed instead of decisions to be made. It’s a vastly more common way of presenting alternate endings—the already discussed Chrono Trigger was essentially one giant tree of Burdensome Choices—but a particularly good illustration is Metal Gear Solid.

Like Dragon Warrior, there’s only one choice in Metal Gear Solid, and it comes late in the game. The player’s onscreen character, a secret agent infiltrating an enemy compound, has been captured and is about to undergo interrogation by torture. Players can withstand the torture by frantically jamming on one of the controller keys, but if they survive the initial session, each successive round is more and more difficult.

Furthermore, there are three special considerations at work here: first, it is the only area in the game which the player cannot repeat should he or she fail. If the agent dies under torture, the only option is to get sent to the title screen again and start from the last save opportunity, which is some distance away. Second, there is a lengthy cutscene immediately preceding the torture session which lasts some 10 minutes, and unlike every other cutscene in the game, this one cannot be skipped over.

Between these two factors, the game strongly discourages players from the sort of "placeholding" mentioned earlier. If they choose to go through with the torture until the agent catches an eventual lucky break, the hard work they put into this choice serves as a deterrent from turning around immediately to try the other way. Conversely, the consequences of failure at the torture sequences serve as a deterrent for those who would rather just get on with the game; for the other option during the torture sessions is the ability to press another button at any time to give up and confess the agent’s secrets to the enemy.

This is also a choice on the player’s part, but one with more meaning and heft than picking an option from a menu. In order to protect the other agent in the compound, and allow her to survive until the game’s ending, players have to choose a difficult or burdensome task and try hard to complete it. It pales in comparison to actual torture, of course, but it still imparts a sense of responsibility lacking in the Arbitrary Choice, and begins to hint at the possibilities gaming brings to the concept of alternate endings. A different ending the player has earned, rather than one that was simply chosen, is overall more rewarding.

To The Interpretive Choice - The Sims, Planescape: Torment ->