Freedom in Gaming: “What will you do?”

At work I was walking to the local supermarket for dinner the other day with a colleague. We chatted about the usual, what you did at the weekend, dungeons and dragons. You know as you do (also hi to that friend if your reading this!)

Anyways we were talking about DnD and I was explaining the game and how one of the big draws of the game is the total freedom you have to act any way you want. It can be daunting to new players not used to being hemmed in by rules and limitations. DnD offers near total autonomy to the party, total freedom*.

*within the limitations of your character and not without consequences but the thought is there!

It’s amusing to see new players freeze at the phrase “what do you do?” it’s a daunting question to answer when there is little support. But it got me thinking.

In video games freedom of choice, free roam and open world are touted as huge selling points. Bigger worlds, more freedom and more choice are praised as liberating games and diversifying gamers experiences. But freedom does not a good game make.

Freedom impacts on the narrative. Put your hand up if you instantly ignored the main storyline and did everything but because the chance was there. I know I do! Compare the Skyrim to Last of Us, the Last Of Us is a more streamlined focused around a narrative offering a smoother and more engaging and detailed story. As opposed to Skyrim where the main story is disrupted by …. hey look a cave to explore!

Freedom in gaming also requires space. To offer a sense of freedom game developers need to give space for us to play around in. Sadly we aren’t in an age of super computing games consoles. So to make a game huge often it feels desolate, Boise Of virtual life and generic. That’s because to fill a truly massive free roam world with unique characters, huge populations and purposefully crafted landscapes would take serious time and money and some serious hardware to play it!

Games also sometimes resort to an illusion of choice. The desire to offer players freedom can lead to a half way measure. Telltale’s Walking Dead is a prime example, I love the game but in the interest of offering player choice some decisions are offered to gamers that feel redundant in the scheme of things. Vampyr is a modern game that has done choice pretty well. You can choose to kill people for more XP and power but in doing so the districts in the game suffer and the games ending is changed without you even knowing it can happen. Leading to a sense of freedom and consequence.

None of this is to say freedom is bad. Free roam games and player choice offer amazing experiences and changes for gamers to have unique and diverse experiences. To be railroaded through a game can at times be less engaging and satisfying.

Freedom is just one of many mechanics in games that can make them unique and special. Varying levels of autonomy offer gamers a wide range of experiences. In DnD the near total freedom is a huge draw offering a chance for critical thinking, imagination and exploration. DnD allows you to set your own boundaries, you want to lick the Dungeon wall, see how it tastes? no problem! In other games less freedom allows other experiences and mechanics to take the fore. More focused games offer engaging, emotive and beautiful narrative experiences.

In your gaming experiences what moments of choice or freedom did you love or hate? Ever been overwhelmed by choice or feel your decisions were ultimately pointless?

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