Sinister Soups Serving Musings On Game Development and Play


But You Must!

The title of this post is a quote from a very famous and very popular game. It's also somewhat of an inside joke between myself and a friend of mine, and the why of it will become clear in a moment.

There are plenty of linear games out there, where you are shepherded from point A to point B without any choice of where to go next. I'm not going to say that this is unacceptable, something that should never be done, because there's room for all sorts of games out there, and sometimes keeping a game linear serves the maker's vision well. If you have an exciting, interesting game, and you want me to see it in a specific way, I won't begrudge you that opportunity, and hopefully it will turn out to have been the correct choice.

However, there is always danger in removing or constraining a player's agency; a game is meant to be played after all, and not all people will go along with you willingly. Whether its superfluous or excruciatingly long cutscenes, linear levels, or open areas that are too small and with too little to interact with, many people will not be pleased with arbitrary limits on their freedom to play their way.

But, as I say, I can accept that sometime a game must send you along a particular path. What I can't understand, is why some games insist on pointing out that you have no choice, by giving you a choice without any meaning.

The Zelda games are pretty bad at this, or maybe it's Nintendo games in general. This brings us back to this post's titular quote, which comes from Ocarina of Time, a game considered by many to be the best Zelda game, or even the best game of all time.

In the interest of full disclosure I'll note that I don't agree with either of those sentiments.

In Ocarina of Time, there is a point where you, as Link, the Hero of Time, speak to Princess Zelda, and she gives you what is essentially a quest. I believe it is a quest to retrieve the Spiritual Stones and unlock the Temple of Time, but I could be wrong, it's been a while. In any case, she tells you the task she want you to do, and then asks if you will do it. You are given two clear choices, one to accept, and one to decline.

Most people who played the game, probably just hit Yes and moved on with their lives, but what happens if you hit No?

But you must!

So, will you do it?
- Yes
- No

If you keep saying no, she will keep telling you that you must, until you give in and accept your wretched fate. At that point, it just feels like the game is toying with you, or possibly trying to break your will: "You will accept my quest, dammit, struggle all you want."

Since this is obviously a key point in the game, and it wouldn't make sense for Link to turn around and become a pig farmer or something, why in the world do they pretend to offer you a choice? It would be easier to just walk you through that part of the game, make it a plot point like any of the others. I may not feel like I have a choice if you do that, but I don't have a choice now either, and at least that way you can move on with the game without this weird little intrusion into your epic adventure:

And so it was, that the Princess told the Hero of his task, and lo she did plead with him to take the world's fate upon his shoulders. But the Hero, fickle and cowardly as he was, refused the Princess her request.

And so it was that the Princess plead again: "But you must!" She told him. And again did the Hero deny her.

86 times she asked, and 85 times he refused, until at last, tired, hungry, and annoyed, he relented, and so the adventure began...

So yes, I think it silly to give the player a choice only to then refuse to accept that choice. The moral of the story is that if you're going to take the player's agency away, do it quickly and seamlessly, and don't taunt or confuse him with it.

On the other hand, if the designers of Ocarina of Time had done that, then my friend and I would be denied a hilarious line to overuse in everyday situations.

So I guess there's that.

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