Zelda, Dragon Age, and the power of choice

So you know how lots of us are into the motivational prizes? Just get your work done and you’ll win the right to buy this thing you want or some free time to do that thing you’ve been wanting to do. I’m sort of meh on whether or not this kind of self-denial really works for me. After all, if I deny myself one thing, I can keep from doing it, but I’ll often just do something else instead, defeating the purpose.

I realize that, while I used the excuse of entertaining my girl who likes to watch video games and play vicariously, I kind of substituted playing Zelda Twilight Princess on the Wii while denying myself Sims Medieval. And as I said in a recent post, I’m interested in seeing how Link’s story turns out. I want to know more. But I don’t love the game.

In the comments to that post, Lisey suggested I check out Bioware’s offerings. And as I was not feelin’ the love for Sims Medieval, I did. So I went out and got Dragon Age: Origins.

Oh. My. God.

Thank GOODNESS this was after I had finished the draft because, dude, it became my full time job to save Ferelden from the coming Darkspawn. Like, seriously, I was in that game at least 40 hours in the first week I had it. I could hardly stop playing it and I could not stop thinking about it. After that full-time week of work as a Gray Warden, I went down to Florida (where I managed to play it some more even though Disney is exhausting). In the car on the ride down, when my brain should have been working on book 3 of the Talent Chronicles, all I could do was daydream game fic.

I haven’t even come close to finishing the game, but now that my world’s opened up to this new genre for which I obviously need a 12-step, I’m already shopping around for “more like this.” And I’m also trying to figure out what it is about this game that makes me love it so much. Of course nothing ever comes down to just one thing, but here’s one I’ve been thinking about. (And you might want to take into account that I’m not an experienced gamer, so I may get stuff wrong or express ideas in some non-standard way. The console I had before the Wii was Atari 2600.)

There’s only one way for Link to go about saving Hyrule. You go the way you need to go, you fulfill the tasks you need to do, you slay the boss that needs slaying, and you move through the game in a very linear fashion. You do something else, you’re no longer moving forward and it’s obvious you’re not moving forward.

My Hero in Dragon Age has a lot more choice. And the choices matter. At one point, early on in the game, we came to a town that was having a lot of problems and the Darkspawn (the vicious hoard of underground monsters that are coming above ground to take over) were getting closer. I had a certain direction, something that needed to get done, and not being familiar with the game, I moved through the town fairly quickly and on to complete my task. I never stopped in the tavern, so I never met an important character in the story. That decision changes my story. The town was overrun by the Darkspawn after that and is closed to me. I’ll probably never meet that character. Parts of the game will never open to me (unless I play it again) because of that decision.

Now on one level, hey, that kind of sucks. But on another, how much importance do I now feel in my decisions? What I choose to do matters in a way that’s different from other games, because certain choices by me can radically alter the story I’m experiencing. And that’s actually pretty cool.

So today is Monday, and on Mondays I talk about writing. Do I have a writing point to make? Well, other than to confess how much I really want to write Choose Your Own Adventure right now, I think the lesson I get from this is that choice matters. Or it should.

Know what’s hard sometimes? Allowing a character to make the wrong choice. And then punishing them. But that’s where some of the best story stuff comes from, allowing a character to dig themselves into an ever-deepening hole until she learns enough from her mistakes to start climbing out of it.

Imagine two different stories.  In one story, the character makes a series of decisions that work out rather well in getting that character from the beginning to the end. And there’s good characterization and enough going on that it makes for a nice read and we all follow along happily to The End.

In another story, the character struggles with two different alternatives. Chooses one and ends up going backward or dealing with harsh consequences. The next time that character comes to a crossroads, how much more invested might we be in that character’s next decision? How emotional will we get when she makes the same mistake again, getting even more off track? And how much more invested will we ultimately be in the story?

Something to think about, anyway.

Assuming what I just babbled made any sense at all.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Zelda, Dragon Age, and the power of choice

  1. Annalise Green

    Hi! This is Lisey, although I’m now going by the name Annalise Green. I’m glad you enjoyed Dragon Age! I feel somewhat evil for mentioning it now, haha. Wait until you play Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect…mwahahaha!

    Bioware actually has some really good writing, and it’s just as good as reading a book or watching a movie IMO. I totally agree about the power of choice – it’s a good example for how we should make our characters have to grapple with difficult choices!

  2. I can get so engrossed in games, although my biggest time suck is Big Fish Games. I’m doing better, not playing so much.

    I think it’s more interesting if characters sometimes make the wrong decisions. It makes them more human, more real. I know that we want our characters to be bigger than life with good looking guys and beautiful women. But there still has to be enough real human qualities in them to make us relate to them.

  3. I loved Dragon Age Origins! It was my first Bioware game. It had a few failings like being buggy, outdated graphics, and a very predictable and cliched story, but it was a blast. My friends and I constantly talked about the different choices we made. It reminded me of the old Choose Your Own Adventures books. Unfortunately, DA 2 sucks. I just started playing ME and it’s not very good either.

  4. @LL, yeah, I think there’s a lot to be said for those wrong choices, although sometimes I do find them really frustrating too.

    @Marc, thanks for your comment. I guess part of the nice thing about being new is that I don’t notice things like outdated graphics and haven’t been exposed to anything enough for it to really be cliche yet. It very much does remind me of a CYOA book, and that’s definitely part of the appeal. I’ve read a number of reviews in which people express disappointment with DA2. The number one thing seems to be that it all takes place in one city. Anything else you don’t like about it?

    • The fact that it takes place all in one city wouldn’t be so bad if the city actually changed over the years. My major problem about DA2 is the reused environments. In DAO, it was a grand world and every new area was new. In DA2, it took me awhile a notice, but when doing quests, the environments started to repeat.There’s about a handful of levels, which all have the same, basic, short design. It really was a rushed game. Graphics are great and combat is somewhat an improvement. The story’s also eh. After you’re down with DAO, you should get the expansion and maybe the DLC if it’s cheap enough.

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