Since video games were invented, choice has played a crucial element in their game play. Whether to jump over a barrel or climb a ladder in Donkey Kong, turning left or right down a path in Pac-Man, or when and where to use magic in Golden Axe. These choices were created to be short term, in the moment, live or die moments that essentially gave the game the ability to suck up as many quarters as it could from your pockets. In today’s vast landscape of gaming these type of choices still exist in just about every genre of game you could name, however
Bioshock is considered by many to be a masterpiece in gaming and within it’s complex narrative about personal power clashing against group needs is the choice to harvest Little Sisters for power or set them free. This choice is not one of simply picking more power versus less power because Little Sisters are innocent young girls who were genetically modified against their will to become harvesters of Adam, a source of power in the Bioshock universe, and your choice of harvesting them boils down to whether or not you want to kill helpless girls for your own greedy needs. That is a long way from choosing which character to be in Street Fighter II.
Another game with a long lasting moral choice is GTA V. Although the game is rife with little insignificant choices, a huge moral one pops up late in the game when you have to choose exactly how to torture a man in order to extract information from him. Yes, you read that correctly. A video game forces you to choose which method of torture to use on a man in order to continue playing the game. This scene generated a huge amount of controversy, which is something all GTA games generate, and a simple child’s toy was able to start a dialogue on the use of torture in real world scenarios and whether or not it is an effective tool for extracting vital information from foreign agents.
The last example of a game rife with tough, long lasting, moral choices is Dragon Age. The premise of Dragon Age is to build an army by calling various nations to honor their treaties with the protagonist’s group the Grey Wardens. Each faction the player encounters forces the player to choose between the present good and the future good. You have to choose whether or not to side with a bunch of blood thirsty, revenge seeking, savage werewolves or the ancestors of the Elves who cursed them. You are forced to choose between a scheming dwarf who will lead his people into a new golden age or a dwarf who is honorable but will eventually lead his people to ruin. Don’t get me started on the choice of allowing the Dwarves to create powerful Golems from unwilling Dwarves or allowing this tide turning technology to fade into obscurity.
Games have come a long way from the flat, two dimensional, get the high score arcade cabinets of yesteryear and have evolved into thought provoking stories whose choices stay with you long after the game ends. After all, you won’t likely remember which way you turned in Ms. Pac-Man that lead to your defeat but you will always remember the time you allowed a tower full of mages to be slaughtered in Dragon Age because you thought they may be possessed by evil.