Which I’m not going to talk about, that’s all just context for you, because that’s what brought me to what is my little hotbutton phrase – authorship in games.
Specifically, he and Hocking both compare moral choice in games to the moral journey of a character in a novel – the writer of a novel can always express the character’s regret at an early decision through the rest of the novel. Giesbrecht writes:
“Yes, the novel chooses what the character believes about the consequences of their actions – the regret is authored.”
Well, sure, it’s a heck of a lot easier to write “Bob regretted his decision” than it is to make a player feel regret over their own choice, but they’re very different feelings (reading one and experiencing the other).
There’s also a really fine line between making the player regret a decision and making them hate the stupid game designer that didn’t inform them of the consequences of their decision. Assuming you buy the fact that there is a distinction between the two, how would one go about creating the former without the latter?
Here’s my hypothesis – give a player a choice to perform an act with clear short term and long term effects. The short term effects are overall positive (maybe not strictly positive, you may want some negative or ambiguous effects just so the player doesn’t get suspicious that we’re trying to do exactly what we’re trying to do). The long term effects must be declared to the player.
(Most RPGs that aim for ambigous/conflicting moral choices still fall prey to this problem - yes, in an ideal world you should be able to have ambiguity surrounding the effects of player’s choices, but until we establish a language as a medium for what choices can be ambigious and what can’t, it often ends up just being annoying for people to play a game that messes with the few premature rules we have established).
The player must be truly be the one making the decision to prioritize the short term benefits over the long term effects (such that eventually when the long term arrives, said regret is achieved). There’s some room to play there – how much do you spin and sell the short term benefits over the long term ones? I’m thinking you can get away with as much salesmanship as you like, downplaying the long term, as long as you’re honest about what the effects are (so spin them how you like).
Then when it comes time for the whammy, remind the player why they picked this choice - because of their greed over the short term benefits (and not because of the scheming designer). And some of the people who follow this path should feel regret – not all of them will, and neither will the players who picked a better longer term solution. Does that mean it’s not authored?
Yeah maybe in a zen sort of way, like if a book goes unread, was it really authored? I know, it’s just a word, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a nice word, authorship, you know? Like you spent some time thinking about the game you’re presenting to the player, like there’s some weight to it, I don’t know.
So how would you author regret in a game?