Posted July 27, 2013 by Sal Mancebo in Features

Why Choices Can Break Immersion


I’m not going to lie to you, I really freakin’ like video games. They’re crazy fun most of the time, but sometimes their fantastic and quizzical forays in alternate universes and lives can result in a person completely drained; left to ponder on the meaning of a mixed reality and how the decisions they or the character they played had made throughout the game impacted said “reality”. With many of these games, you’re in control of these actions, other times not so much, but they both have valid connotations to the games that they’re connected to and with good reason. The aggressive push for valid and meaningful game play choices leaves the gamer somewhat satisfied, but usually ends up hurting the actual story. One go-to example of this is Grand Theft Auto IV.

In Grand Theft Auto IV, you’re running around as Niko Bellic, a former soldier from Europe who has gone on a voyage to America to leave his troubled past and to keep some money-grubbing goons off his back. This does not work in Niko’s favor when he realizes that the person he’s meeting in Liberty City, his cousin Roman Bellic, has been gambling with the wrong people, owing them money and eventually ends up right where he started: Fighting off thugs, being kidnapped, tortured, shot at — but Niko Bellic seems to at the same time hate fighting, causing people pain and seemingly simply wants to escape it all. This is where things go awry.

See, the main game play appeal to Grand Theft Auto as a series is having the liberty to do whatever you’d like to do. Regardless of whether it is Carl “CJ” Johnson, Claude, or Niko that you’re piloting, the player decides the main characters’ actions and despite whatever emotion the game is trying to make you feel, knowing how I play the game, they don’t exactly always match. This leads to an extreme disconnect from what’s happening in the cut scenes and in the game play sections — which eventually leads the story entirely shifting on its head. By the end of the game, Niko is screaming in blind rage at the “bad guys” as you shoot at them, only a few missions after you had to chose whether to kill the man who started this entire trouble for you or not. Do you see the problem here?

There is something horribly wrong with Niko Bellic

Maybe this is the intent from start to finish — the frail and yet increasingly addictive life of killing for money had corrupted Niko Bellic, but here’s the catch: This is all happening at the same time as he is talking to Roman about his past, showing regret, working for Playboy X and Dwayne to murder and steal from people. He joins with the Irish gang to rob a bank. You see, the only conclusion a person could make outside looking in is that Niko Bellic is a idiopathic murderer with multiple personalities and a proclivity for lying. This is clearly not what Rockstar wanted, I don’t think. While you’re left to feel for Niko you’re also let loose on the city to run a car into a poor woman waiting at the corner next to a fire hydrant while at the same time careening into the side of a building — on purpose (or perhaps not if I remember the driving controls at all).

All’s I’m saying is that if you’re going to give the player a choice in a video game, have it be a variable to how the player plays the game. I would much prefer a game where the story is crafted around how I play — perhaps this is wishful thinking but I think that giving that to the player would benefit someone much more than pushing a story on them. Maybe I’m completely wrong on this subject, maybe there’s something I’m missing here that I haven’t really seen fully, but the point itself sticks in my mind. Personally I think it’d be cool to have a game that doesn’t just throw cops after me when I shoot someone in the knees with a 12 gauge. I’d like for the story to be crafted by me, even if by the smallest degree — without having to go through dialogue trees. That would be absolutely amazing.

Sal Mancebo