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Storytelling in Video games and Interactive Media. Chapter 3: Freedom of Selection

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“Every part that’s actually nice and galvanizing is created by

the person who can labor in freedom”

– Albert Einstein


Within the final half, we talked a few story’s setting and construction, drawing similarities to different media comparable to screenwriting. Nonetheless, movie just isn’t an interactive medium, and as such not topic to the subject of this third half: participant company.

Company, as described by Tynan Sylvester(2013) is “the flexibility to make selections and take significant actions that have an effect on the sport world”.

In line with Kent Hudson(2011), company is crucial to happiness if we observe self-determination principle(Deci, 1985). The component of autonomy in SDT describes decision-making as one among three key talents permitting for optimum perform and development, as described in my 2020 article on psychological foundations of participant motivation.

Pay shut consideration to Sylvester’s formulation: significant actions, that have an effect on the sport world.

Too many “plain” decisions may be detrimental. The notion of absolute freedom of alternative is contradicted by psychologist Barry Schwartz in his e-book and 2007 TED discuss “the paradox of alternative”. In line with Schwartz, the overflow in decisions finally finally ends up decreasing happiness. The speaker discusses two detrimental results ensuing from this overflow.

First, it produces what he calls “paralysis slightly than liberation”, because it turns into more and more troublesome to decide on in any respect.

Second, even when we find yourself making a alternative, we will likely be much less glad than we’d have been with fewer choices, as a result of precept of alternative value. This financial precept describes that it’s simpler to think about that a few of the many different decisions would have been higher; how we worth one thing relies on what we evaluate it to.

Third, alternative value results in escalation of expectations. With extra choices out there, expectations go up. As Schwartz places it, “you’ll by no means be pleasantly shocked as a result of your expectations have gone by the roof”. Schwartz concludes “there is no such thing as a query that some alternative is healthier than none, but it surely does not observe from this that extra alternative is healthier than some”.


Many company issues, in accordance with Sylvester(2013), seem when the participant’s motivations do not align with the avatar’s. The writer cash the time period “desk leaping”, referring to Deus Ex‘s character controller’s capacity to leap round on workplace desks, whereas the protagonist avatar, a spy, is meant to maneuver silently. Harrison Pink(2017) refers to this distinction between participant and avatar motivations by a much less analogical time period, describing “motivational parity” in opposition to “emotional parity”.

We’ll confer with imparity because the misalignment between participant and avatar, and to desk-jumping as any motion into which motivational parity would possibly translate.

In line with Sylvester(2013), we are able to disallow desk-jumping totally, nonetheless, this weakens engagement by destroying suspension of disbelief within the sport mechanics. Disallowance is due to this fact a sound repair for the symptom that nonetheless does not handle the underlying problem. This follow is in itself a dangerous one, as Pink(2017) warns. He recommends as an alternative to “sacrifice playtime to sync the avatar’s emotional state with the participant’s motivation”, and advises to be “conscious that at any time when the sport asks the participant to make a judgement name or locations an impediment, this may make them re-evaluate their emotional attachment to the avatar”.

Disallowing desk-jumping can nonetheless work properly when fictionally justified. Sylvester(2013) offers the instance of critically acclaimed Portal. Portal does not remedy any of the talked about issues, as an alternative, it elegantly strikes round them.

We are able to additionally merely ignore desk-jumping, as is the case in Half-Life 2. When capturing the companion character, nothing occurs. She is not invincible, the bullets simply do not hit her. There isn’t a blood, no animation. Ignoring the follow, the place doable, is usually higher than disallowing or punishing it, because the participant feels much less managed, and due to the dearth of outcome, quickly loses curiosity in it. (Sylvester, 2013)

Determine 1 exhibits how bullets will at all times fail to hit Alyx, with out interrupting the narrative immersion because of recoil.

Determine 1: Burak Emre. (2019). Youtube.

In The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, it’s doable to kill the principle questgiver. The sport doesn’t keep away from it in any method, granting full company to the participant. As an alternative, the sport merely responds with a message embedded into the narrative whereas indicating that the sport cannot be accomplished inside that line of happenings. (Hudson, 2011)

Determine 2: Hudson, Okay, (2011). Participant-Pushed Tales: How Do We Get There?[19]. Sport Builders Convention.

On different events, we are able to incorporate desk-jumping into the narrative. For instance, in Deus Ex, the participant can go into the ladies’s restroom. When doing so, he’s confronted by a shocked feminine coworker and later instructed off by his boss. It’s a humorous response to a humorous motion by the participant. Typically, comparable to Duke Nukem Ceaselessly, these kind of actions is straight integrated into the mechanics. The well being bar is changed by “ego”, which expands at any time when Duke performs pinball, lifts weights, throws basketballs round, and harasses strippers. This reinforces Duke’s over-the-top macho characterization. (Sylvester, 2013)

Determine 3: Sport Guides. (2016). Duke Nukem Ceaselessly Information.

The very best answer, in accordance with Sylvester, is to design the sport for parity. In Name of Obligation, it’s doable to refuse to finish goal, fireplace, or block allies, but it surely not often occurs because the fast-paced fight is so compelling.

We’ll confer with this selection later, within the fifth installment of the sequence which offers with character design.

When tanks are exploding, commanders are urging troops ahead,

and enemies are swarming like flies, the participant will get so keyed up

that the impulse to battle overrides the impulse to behave like an fool

-Tynan Sylvester (2013)

Parity is not restricted to player-controlled motion. Thomas Grip(2016) cash the time period agreeable action-outcome because the alignment of computerized pawn actions to participant intentions. He offers two reverse examples in Assassins Creed; when the character mechanically jumps over a roof whereas the participant is working, that is agreeable, because it matches the traditional instinctive habits the person would have when being that character. On the alternative aspect, gripping on partitions in the direction of an unintended aspect is non-agreeable action-outcome.

You will need to observe that the participant’s motivation does not want to return from the identical supply because the avatars, solely the identical purpose. The avatar in Name of Obligation is a soldier motivated by honor, loyalty, and worry, whereas the participant is motivated by power and leisure. (Sylvester, 2013)

These are totally different motivations, that translate into an agreeable motion final result.

Given the opportunity of an avatar’s computerized actions, Kent Hudson(2011) attracts additional significance to equality between participant and character. In his discuss, he says that always the character is represented overpowered whereas the participant simply has to “make it alive to the subsequent cutscene”, and coining the specified reverse underneath the time period of unified company, which is able to herein be described as parity of energy with a purpose to observe the mannequin of Pink(2017).  


  • Parity: The alignment of participant and avatar

    • Emotional Parity: Does the spectator really feel with the character?

    • Motivational Parity: Do the participant and the avatar need to do the identical factor (NOT do they need it for a similar cause)

    • Parity of Motion: Does the participant’s intention translate to the meant mechanical execution?

    • Parity of Energy: Does the participant have the identical capacity because the avatar?

  • Desk-jumping: Any player-controlled motion ensuing from motivational imparity

  • Agreeable Motion-Final result: Any gameplay outcome coming from participant enter and leading to motion parity


Matt Brown(2018) refers to improv comedy’s “sure and” precept, drawing a synonymous to an infinite suggestions loop mechanic between participant and sport. Remo(2019) interprets this precept from improv into its medium-specific time period, coining “reactivity”. Reactivity, as Remo describes it, is a softer model of interactivity in that the sport continually listens and reacts to each resolution the participant makes, specific or implicit.

Consider it this fashion. In line with Mary Elisabeth(2017), “saying “no” [in a start-up company’s meeting] decreases belief and makes you and your associate look much less competent. You are constructing an organization collectively, so construct your story collectively”. This interprets to Remo’s reactivity precept by emergent narrative. We do not need gamers to really feel incompetent, as an alternative, we wish their worldview to be acknowledged with a purpose to inform our story by their lenses.

In Neglect Protagonists: Writing NPCs with Company for 80 Days and Past, author Meg Jayanth explains that participant company does not essentially need to translate into motion – within the conventional sense.

In line with her, even when a participant cannot have an effect on one thing straight, the opportunity of having an opinion, response, or emotional response may be as highly effective as permitting them to take motion. Giving gamers this kind of company permits NPCs to have extra growth and depth in flip, to pursue their purpose with out being overridden by the protagonist.

The design method to 80 Days assigns company not as a impartial resolution. In line with Jayanth, “it’d really feel unfair to the participant, however perhaps unfair is not the worst factor a sport may be.”

Ryan Kaufman(2019) talks concerning the narrative triangle as a type to symbolize the connection between two NPC and a participant character in dialogue. An idea abstracted from the story triangle that illustrates the connection between story, narrator, and viewers, and is in itself derived from Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle, which encompasses cause, character, and emotion(Packer, 2014)

Determine 4: Packer, L. Ask the storyteller: The story triangle. (2014). True Tales Trustworthy Lies.

Kaufman makes use of this triangle precept to elucidate that even in usually bipartisan dialogue between NPC characters, it’s at all times greatest to grant the participant a level of interactivity. This may translate to one thing so simple as asking the protagonist for an opinion(Kaufman, 2019), and paves the best way for total branches of narrative with out even needing to department the dialogue in itself.


Determine 5: Kaufman, R, (2019,03,18-22). Narrative Nuances on Free-To-Play Cellular Video games[25]. Sport Builders Convention.

“Freedom just isn’t value having if it doesn’t embrace the liberty to make errors.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

Freedom of Selection

John Ingold(2018) differentiates company from freedom, defining company as ” the participant’s capacity to formulate methods, execute plans, i.e. Act in accordance with his personal logic.” To entry freedom, then again, we slightly would ask “what query is the participant asking themselves?”


determine 6: Ingold, J, (2018,03,19-23). Heaven’s Vault: Making a Dynamic Detective Story[10]. Sport Builders Convention.

In line with Ingold, it’s completely positive to vary the participant’s choices on a regular basis, so long as the choices make sense. In systems-based video games, the participant can have the boldness of getting the identical choices on a regular basis, giving the flexibility to plan beforehand. Nonetheless, in accordance with the speaker, this downside goes away when the participant can belief the writer to supply the choices that he desires at any second.

Good decisions will really feel like they organically come up from contained in the participant’s personal thoughts. Try to seek out room for private expression within the decisions. (Kaufman, 2019)

With folks coming from all types of backgrounds, this finally interprets into a necessity for non-binary choices, i.e. There ought to by no means be one superb reply. As Josh Sawyer(2012) places it, we wish to keep away from excessive decisions. There ought to be a visual notion of excellent and unhealthy, however on the identical time, the out there decisions ought to lie someplace inside that spectrum and never on the extremes. Sawyer refers back to the Greek tragedy Selection Agony to present an instance of how each ends ought to have a tradeoff.

Following Failbetter Video games CEO Alexis Kennedy (2016), whereas it’s unimaginable to precisely estimate the alternatives a participant would possibly wish to take, we are able to scale back them to their emotional nature. Paradoxically, these feelings are already manifested within the gamers head, nonetheless, as an alternative of giving a alternative between already manifested emotional states, we are able to present actions to precise that emotional state. (Kennedy, 2016)

Kennedy(2016) describes three additional situations to be met for “decisions”, a time period used interchangeably with “choices”, to be compelling. Decisions first ought to touch upon, elaborate on, and align with the theme. Second, ought to be doable for the participant to elucidate in a single sentence (high quality over amount). Third, ought to have mechanical significance.

Speaking concerning the Finale in Trespasser, Weekes(2016) mentions that giving up energy must nonetheless really feel like a win, giving the participant a way of pleasure and possession. With the primary iteration(left), playtesters felt unhappy with the binary alternative, however the branching afterwards felt emotionally satisfying. Attachment within the closing model had been elevated by offering all decisions without delay.

Determine 7: Weekes, P., Epler, J. (2016). Dragon Age Inquisition: Trespasser – Constructing to an Emotional Theme[16,17]. Sport Builders Convention.



  • Narrative triangle: relationship between story, narrator, and viewers

  • Interactivity: Capacity the sport offers the participant to behave on it

  • Reactivity: the sport’s capacity to react to participant actions

  • Company: the participant’s capacity to formulate methods and execute plans

  • Freedom: the participant’s accessibility to behave on his or her personal accord

Selection by Gameplay

We talked loads about dialogue decisions, nonetheless, the very best share of decisions a participant could make in most video games is thru motion.

These actions observe the sport’s mechanics, which often are about shifting, gathering, leaping, or battling. We are able to use these interactions to precise human interplay. For instance in Grand Theft Auto IV, the protagonist is offered with an previous enemy and given the chance to kill him. The participant can select to shoot the person or stroll away. Each actions are expressed by gameplay mechanics however are used right here to drive a predefined plot. (Sylvester, 2013)

One other instance is offered by Kent Hudson(2011) in Deus Ex: The participant has the choice to both battle or fly, ensuing within the protagonist’s brother’s loss of life or survival.

As designers, we’re restricted by the medium in each method that we in flip empower the participant. (Sylvester, 2013)

In line with Sylvester(2013), “the cleanest answer to the human interplay downside is to not do human interplay”. Sylvester offers the instance of Bioshock, the place sane characters solely communicate to the participant over radio or by unbreakable glass, and all characters that may be confronted nose to nose are violently insane.

Richard Rouse III differentiates, amongst others, between character simulation and drama administration as opposing and mutually balancing storytelling methods.

Character simulation refers to the results of AI randomness along with participant company – it deviates from the authored story in the direction of a free one. Drama administration, then again, steers the expertise again in the direction of the authored path. Rouse attracts the comparability to a DnD dungeon grasp, who permits for lots of company for the participant, however continually steers issues again to the story meant to inform. (Rouse, 2016)

In conclusion, when designing a alternative system, no matter its used channel, we are able to use a set of situations to manage for passable decisions:

  1. Relevance: Decisions touch upon, elaborate on, and align with the theme.
  2. Readability: Decisions are simply comprehensible for the participant. There isn’t a pointless cognitive load.
  3. Reactivity: The sport world can reply in a significant method. There’s a mechanical final result from the alternatives. There generally is a “sure, and”.
  4. Ambiguity: There isn’t a clear reply, and each profit comes with a draw back.
  5. Expressiveness: Decisions enable the participant to inform their very own story, and venture their desired character onto their avatar.
  6. Parity: At the very least one of many choices permits for the avatar to behave because the participant would in that scenario.
  7. Actionable: Decisions will not be pure emotional expressions however actions into which these feelings translate.
  8. NPC company: The selection doesn’t undermine the vividness of secondary or tertiary characters.

Earlier elements:

Half 1: Prologue

Half 2: Setting and Instruments

Subsequent elements:

Half 4: Construction and Units

Half 5: Character Design

Half 6: Time and House

Half 7: From Principle to Observe


Sylvester, T. (2013). Designing Video games. O’Reilly.

Hudson, Okay. (2011). Participant-Pushed Tales: How Do We Get There?.

Renke, R. (2020). On Participant Taxonomies and Motivations – Half 1: Psychological Foundations.—part-1-psychological-foundations

Schwartz, B. (2007). The paradox of alternative.

Pink, H. (2017). Snap to Character: Constructing Robust Participant Attachment By means of Narrative.

Burak Emre. (2019). Youtube.

Sport Guides. (2016). Duke Nukem Ceaselessly Information.

Grip, T. (2016). SOMA: Crafting Existential Dread.

Brown, M. (2018). Emergent Storytelling Strategies in The Sims.

Remo, C. (2019). Interactive Story With out Problem Mechanics: The Design of Firewatch.

Elisabeth, M. (2017). Saying “Sure, and” – A precept for improv, enterprise & life. IMPROVE.

Jayanth, M. (2016). Neglect Protagonists: Writing NPCs with Company for 80 Days and Past.

Ingold, J. (2018). Heaven’s Vault: Making a Dynamic Detective Story.

Kennedy, A. (2016). Selection, Consequence, and Complicity.

Kaufman, R. (2019). Narrative Nuances in Free-To-Play Cellular Video games.

Packer, L. Ask the storyteller: The story triangle. (2014). True Tales Trustworthy Lies.

Rouse, R. (2016). Dynamic Tales for Dynamic Video games: Six Methods to Give Every Participant a Distinctive Narrative.