Coming from a developer who's motto is "playstyle matters" it is no surprise that Epic Mickey lists player choice as a prime marketing feature. It joins a bevy of titles in recent years that have offered the same. Epic Mickey engrains its choices into its central mechanic, the ability to create or destroy the cartoon world around you with paint and thinner.
By the time I sat down with the game I was well aware of what to expect. The ability to befriend or obliterate enemies, the power to reveal platforms or destroy obstacles and the fact that these decisions would impact NPC's interaction with you. In light of this I readied myself for the string of tough decisions to come, picked up my Wii remote and started a new game wondering whether I would be a heroic or delinquent Mickey.
After the obligatory tutorial sequence I was faced with my first enemy and thus first decision... smite or befriend? After wrestling with indecision I gritted my teeth and did what anyone would do when faced with a difficult choice, put it off till later. Avoiding their gaze I snuck my way past them to find an NPC caged and placed on a catapult and a nearby chest. The proposition, open the chest and send the NPC flying or sacrifice the chest to uncage the NPC. Fighting the compulsion to take the socially acceptable route I shunned my responsibility and left the situation as I'd found it.
And so my journey through the Wasteland continued in the same vein. I found that broken paths begging to be painted back in could be negotiated with a deft double-jump, groups of enemies were avoidable and the player able to fix broken machines without saving NPC's to do it for them. Throughout the game there are instances where my laissez-faire attitude could not be upheld but by and large I found that, unlike a great deal of games championing "moral choice", progression wasn't halted until I'd made up my mind.
Why did I feel strongly enough this experience to write a blog post?
The player isn't responsible for everything that happens in the world. When the player doesn't carry the fate of the world on his shoulders, the story can be about choices of a WORLD †rather than the protagonist's actions. An autonomous world feels a great deal more believable than an egocentric one where all action is instigated by the player.†
By introducing the possibility of ambivalence you change the question players ask of themselves. "Am I good or evil" becomes "am I qualified to make this decision". The first asks for a reaction, the second leads to gameplay as the player finds more information in order to answer the question.
So to try to get a cohesive message from all of this? The possibility for self reflection in games excites me. Introducing an ambivalence option into moral choice systems widens the range fo questions the player asks themselves. This excites me, more please! †