Player Choices in Galatea and Gone Home

One of the interesting parallels that I noticed between our discussions of Galatea and Gone Home was on the topic of choices–not the choices that the player makes, but the sum total of choices available to the player, or, in other words, the amount of interactivity available to the player. In Galatea, for example, Eric expressed frustration at the fact that he could not ask Galatea about certain topics that seemed logical to ask about, yet the player was able to touch every wall in the room, to (seemingly?) no effect. In Gone Home, there was a multitude of (seemingly?) innocuous objects with which the player could interact (e.g. soda cans, pens), whereas with other objects (e.g. Terry’s porn), Kaitlin would actively refuse to interact with the object despite the player’s requests to do so.

In some of these cases, the choices or limitations seem to make sense, whereas in other cases, they might seem like arbitrary or artificial choices made by the creator(s) of the game. I briefly mentioned this point in our class discussions, but I think that these issues inform an interesting dilemma that game creators (and interactive fiction writers) face: striking a balance between telling a cohesive narrative that explores the themes that the creator considers important, and giving the player enough choice that they do not become frustrated. This dilemma is by no means restricted to these two works. The producer of Final Fantasy XIII, Yoshinori Kitase, responded to criticisms that the game was too linear by saying, “[…]we’ve got a story to tell, and it’s important the player can engage with the characters and the world they inhabit before letting them loose.” Roger Ebert’s notorious claim that video games could never be art was based, in part, on the interactivity of the medium.

Furthermore, the examples of Gone Home and Galatea exemplify the issue of not only how many choices the player should be given, but what specific choices the player should be given. Should the player be allowed to touch the walls? To talk about certain topics? To push past the playable character’s discomfort and look at her father’s porn? To pick up every single soda can in the house? What does the ability, or inability, to complete a given action communicate to the player, and how effective is that communication? Is there value in making the player frustrated at not being able to complete an action they believe they should be able to complete?

These questions are probably more valuable to game creators than they are to gamers, and their answers most likely vary from game to game, but I still think the issue is worth pondering for “readers” of games and of interactive fiction, because they may help us better understand our frustration and bewilderment at being able to complete certain actions and being unable to complete others, and perhaps sympathize a bit with the creator. Personally, I’m still on the fence as to how well these works struck the right balance between narrative and interactivity. What are your thoughts?

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