The Problem of Permanence

July 14, 2009 § 1 Comment

Do we need “permanence” for ethical dilemmas in video games to have meaning?


Manveer Heir, game designer at Raven Software, has been busy pondering over how we might somehow improve the impact of ethical dilemmas in games. Along with three other factors – “narrative”, “consequences” and “obstacles” – he talks about the idea of “permanence”. He comments that “all the other elements do not matter if there’s no permanence to the game”. He believes that the possibility of allowing players to save and reload certain parts of a game – to allow them to play out, at will, different choices or alternative endings – robs an ethical decision of its significance. He puts it like this: “a dilemma ceases to be a dilemma if you get a do-over. Save games unfortunately ruin this.” He then goes on to suggest that we should make certain sections of the game unalterable once they’ve been passed through, making the choices you’ve made at those points final.

In one way I can see where Heir is coming from. If you can go back and change a decision you’ve made as many times as you want, then there’s no real risk attached to the decision in the first place. You no longer have to think carefully of the repercussions because they can always be avoided. A more interesting question, though, is what drives players to abandon their original decisions and go with something else.

Curiosity? Maybe.

I, however, have a different theory and it’s this: if players felt an ownership over their decisions, if they felt those decisions properly defined them, then they wouldn’t feel the need to go back and change them. It is because these decisions are never fully embraced by the player in the first place that they are so easily discarded. So, the problem, as I see it, is more of poor writing – of not producing dilemmas which are challenging or interesting enough to engage with – and the idea of imposing a restriction on save/load points misses the issue.

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The Silent Art Form (Work in Progress)

June 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

As someone who is primarily interested in films, video games and television dramas, it should come as no surprise that I have a great fascination with the art of storytelling. Roger Ebert may have said that video games are not art; maybe he was right, but many video games do have a narrative structure and, ironically, there are some video games out there that are actually purer examples of storytelling than most movies today. And I’m not sure even he could disagree with this.

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