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Temptation and Consequence: Dilemmas in Videogames
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Temptation and Consequence: Dilemmas in Videogames

November 16, 2001 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

In Lionhead's Black & White, every player must at some point make a crucial decision: to approach the game in the role of benevolent deity, casting good and order over the land, or to upset the lives of the villagers and wreak havoc as a vengeful god. The method of resolving the dilemma requires the player to combine their gameplay expectations, ethical tendencies, and metaphysical aspiration to deliver a tailored response. But the role of temptation and decision-making in videogame design isn't always presented as blatantly as it is in Black & White -- nor should it be since, as with any design technique, it can be overdone. However, when treated with tact and a delicate touch, the interactive medium of videogames allows the "dilemma" to become a potentially powerful instrument capable of greatly enriching the gameplay experience and engaging the player in a meaningful way.

Even the earliest videogame designers understood the role temptation played in enhancing the gameplay experience. In Space Invaders, for example, the primary goal was to remain alive for as long as possible (the assumption will be made here that the gameplay itself is the reward for playing, as very few players are likely to feel much lasting satisfaction if, by some design, they were able to obtain the high score within only a few seconds of actual gameplay). By and large, this simple goal coupled with the minimal mechanics of gameplay allows us to predict the player's strategy with some certainty-they will spend most of their efforts dodging the bombs of the descending aliens while returning fire to reduce the threat.

However a secondary goal also exists in Space Invaders, that being to gain enough points to earn a bonus ship in order to prolong the gameplay experience. While firing incessantly at the rows of marching aliens is one way to achieve this, the game introduces an element of temptation in the UFO ships that occasionally dart across the top of the playing area. Despite providing no inherent threat, the arrival of the UFO nonetheless becomes a compelling target by promising the player a mystery point bonus, and thus, a possible shortcut toward their secondary goal. Should the player ignore the temptation and continue with their defensive tactics? Or should they allow a momentary distraction in the hopes of blasting the UFO and gaining some extra points towards a bonus ship? At this point, the player's response becomes a decision about their priorities and the risk they attribute to each of their options. Every moment during a game like Space Invaders requires the player to continuously evaluate, analyze, and react to the temptations and dilemmas unfolding in the game. It is no coincidence that many of the earlier videogames featured these obvious "point bonus" temptations. Pac Man had fruit, Dig Dug had vegetables, Centipede had spiders, and Frogger had flies. All these games shared the same secondary goal of obtaining a higher score, making the point bonus incentive an attractive temptation.

All videogames include some element of ongoing decision-making and response, making the dilemma a crucial weapon in the game designer's arsenal. The difficulty, however, lies in crafting the dilemma in a non-trivial way that will cause the player to feel as though their actions will significantly determine or affect their experience later in the game. The greater this sense, the more immersive the experience will become. Deterministic games that take place "on rails" with a linear, repeatable sequence of pre-defined events triggered by the player's arrival do little to instill a sense of genuine involvement. Such titles, which include many platform and first person shooters, still remain entertaining and popular with consumers. However, the reality remains that they present little more to the player than a skill-based puzzle, with the interactivity limited to decisions made about the control of the onscreen character. Without introducing legitimate decision-making of some notable, lasting consequence to the player, interactive entertainment cannot reach its full potential.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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