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



“Every little thing 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 couple of story’s setting and construction, drawing similarities to different media akin to screenwriting. Nonetheless, movie is just not 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 power to make selections and take significant actions that have an effect on the sport world”.

In keeping with Kent Hudson(2011), company is crucial to happiness if we comply with self-determination principle(Deci, 1985). The component of autonomy in SDT describes decision-making as one in all three key skills 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 could be damaging. The notion of absolute freedom of selection is contradicted by psychologist Barry Schwartz in his guide and 2007 TED speak “the paradox of selection”. In keeping with Schwartz, the overflow in decisions in the end finally ends up decreasing happiness. The speaker discusses two damaging results ensuing from this overflow.

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

Second, even when we find yourself making a selection, we can be much less glad than we’d have been with fewer choices, as a result of precept of alternative price. 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 is dependent upon what we examine it to.

Third, alternative price results in escalation of expectations. With extra choices obtainable, expectations go up. As Schwartz places it, “you’ll by no means be pleasantly shocked as a result of your expectations have gone by means of the roof”. Schwartz concludes “there isn’t a query that some selection is best than none, but it surely would not comply with from this that extra selection is best than some”.


Many company issues, based on Sylvester(2013), seem when the participant’s motivations do not align with the avatar’s. The creator cash the time period “desk leaping”, referring to Deus Ex‘s character controller’s means 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 means of 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 may translate.

In keeping with Sylvester(2013), we will disallow desk-jumping totally, nonetheless, this weakens engagement by destroying suspension of disbelief within the sport mechanics. Disallowance is subsequently a legitimate repair for the symptom that nonetheless would not handle the underlying challenge. This apply is in itself a dangerous one, as Pink(2017) warns. He recommends as a substitute to “sacrifice playtime to sync the avatar’s emotional state with the participant’s motivation”, and advises to be “conscious that each time 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 effectively when fictionally justified. Sylvester(2013) provides the instance of critically acclaimed Portal. Portal would not remedy any of the talked about issues, as a substitute, 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 any blood, no animation. Ignoring the apply, the place attainable, is commonly higher than disallowing or punishing it, because the participant feels much less managed, and because of the shortage of outcome, quickly loses curiosity in it. (Sylvester, 2013)

Determine 1 reveals 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 attainable to kill the primary questgiver. The sport doesn’t keep away from it in any means, granting full company to the participant. As a substitute, 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]. Recreation Builders Convention.

On different events, we will 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 informed off by his boss. It’s a humorous response to a humorous motion by the participant. Typically, akin to Duke Nukem Endlessly, these sort of actions is immediately integrated into the mechanics. The well being bar is changed by “ego”, which expands each time Duke performs pinball, lifts weights, throws basketballs round, and harasses strippers. This reinforces Duke’s over-the-top macho characterization. (Sylvester, 2013)

Determine 3: Recreation Guides. (2016). Duke Nukem Endlessly Information.

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

We’ll confer with this feature 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 automated pawn actions to participant intentions. He provides two reverse examples in Assassins Creed; when the character robotically jumps over a roof whereas the participant is working, that is agreeable, because it matches the traditional instinctive habits the consumer would have when being that character. On the other aspect, gripping on partitions in the direction of an unintended aspect is non-agreeable action-outcome.

It is very important observe that the participant’s motivation would not want to come back from the identical supply because the avatars, solely the identical objective. The avatar in Name of Obligation is a soldier motivated by honor, loyalty, and concern, whereas the participant is motivated by vitality and leisure. (Sylvester, 2013)

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

Given the opportunity of an avatar’s automated actions, Kent Hudson(2011) attracts additional significance to equality between participant and character. In his speak, he says that usually the character is represented overpowered whereas the participant simply has to “make it alive to the following cutscene”, and coining the specified reverse below the time period of unified company, which can herein be described as parity of energy to be able to comply with 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 means because the avatar?

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

  • Agreeable Motion-End 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 continuously listens and reacts to each resolution the participant makes, specific or implicit.

Consider it this manner. In keeping 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 means of emergent narrative. We do not need gamers to really feel incompetent, as a substitute, we wish their worldview to be acknowledged to be able to inform our story by means of their lenses.

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

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

The design strategy to 80 Days assigns company not as a impartial resolution. In keeping with Jayanth, “it would really feel unfair to the participant, however possibly unfair is not the worst factor a sport could be.”

Ryan Kaufman(2019) talks concerning the narrative triangle as a type to signify 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 Sincere Lies.

Kaufman makes use of this triangle precept to clarify that even in usually bipartisan dialogue between NPC characters, it’s at all times greatest to grant the participant a level of interactivity. This will translate to one thing so simple as asking the protagonist for an opinion(Kaufman, 2019), and paves the way in which for whole 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]. Recreation Builders Convention.

“Freedom is just not value having if it doesn’t embody the liberty to make errors.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

Freedom of Selection

John Ingold(2018) differentiates company from freedom, defining company as ” the participant’s means to formulate methods, execute plans, i.e. Act based on his personal logic.” To entry freedom, however, we moderately 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]. Recreation Builders Convention.

In keeping with Ingold, it’s completely tremendous 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 arrogance of getting the identical choices on a regular basis, giving the power to plan beforehand. Nonetheless, based on the speaker, this drawback goes away when the participant can belief the creator 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 kinds of backgrounds, this ultimately interprets into a necessity for non-binary choices, i.e. There ought to by no means be one best reply. As Josh Sawyer(2012) places it, we need to keep away from excessive decisions. There must be a visual notion of excellent and dangerous, however on the similar time, the obtainable decisions ought to lie someplace inside that spectrum and never on the extremes. Sawyer refers back to the Greek tragedy Selection Agony to offer an instance of how each ends ought to have a tradeoff.

Following Failbetter Video games CEO Alexis Kennedy (2016), whereas it’s unattainable to precisely estimate the alternatives a participant may need to take, we will cut back them to their emotional nature. Paradoxically, these feelings are already manifested within the gamers head, nonetheless, as a substitute of giving a selection between already manifested emotional states, we will present actions to specific that emotional state. (Kennedy, 2016)

Kennedy(2016) describes three additional circumstances to be met for “decisions”, a time period used interchangeably with “choices”, to be compelling. Selections first ought to touch upon, elaborate on, and align with the theme. Second, must be attainable for the participant to clarify 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 satisfaction and possession. With the primary iteration(left), playtesters felt unhappy with the binary selection, however the branching afterwards felt emotionally satisfying. Attachment within the last model had been elevated by offering all decisions directly.

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



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

  • Interactivity: Capability the sport provides the participant to behave on it

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

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

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

Selection by means of Gameplay

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

These actions comply with the sport’s mechanics, which normally are about transferring, gathering, leaping, or battling. We are able to use these interactions to specific 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 means of 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 demise or survival.

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

In keeping with Sylvester(2013), “the cleanest answer to the human interplay drawback is to not do human interplay”. Sylvester provides the instance of Bioshock, the place sane characters solely converse to the participant over radio or by means of 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 strategies.

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, however, 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 continuously steers issues again to the story meant to inform. (Rouse, 2016)

In conclusion, when designing a selection system, no matter its used channel, we will use a set of circumstances to manage for passable decisions:

  1. Relevance: Selections touch upon, elaborate on, and align with the theme.
  2. Readability: Selections are simply comprehensible for the participant. There isn’t any pointless cognitive load.
  3. Reactivity: The sport world can reply in a significant means. There’s a mechanical final result from the alternatives. There could be a “sure, and”.
  4. Ambiguity: There isn’t any clear reply, and each profit comes with a draw back.
  5. Expressiveness: Selections enable the participant to inform their very own story, and challenge their desired character onto their avatar.
  6. Parity: A minimum of one of many choices permits for the avatar to behave because the participant would in that state of affairs.
  7. Actionable: Selections should not 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 Gadgets

Half 5: Character Design

Half 6: Time and Area

Half 7: From Principle to Apply


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 selection.

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

Burak Emre. (2019). Youtube.

Recreation Guides. (2016). Duke Nukem Endlessly Information.

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

Brown, M. (2018). Emergent Storytelling Methods 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 Sincere Lies.

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