Decision-Making in Video Games

by Rachel Baker on September 17, 2014

I have seriously been playing video games for about seven years now; and I am fine with admitting these video game years have completely and utterly enhanced my life. The first games I ever played was Fable 2 and then Oblivion with a whole smattering of other games from Spyro, Guitar Hero, and anything else that was available from the local blockbuster before we were ready to commit to owning a specific game. I now really only play RPGs with the occasional Gears Of War family night.

In our household, someone is almost always playing a game at some point during the day/evening; and for the most part, its a family activity (meaning more than one of us is in the room and we are almost always talking about something in the game that just happened or will happen or should happen). Gaming is a great family night activity; and I think because of our family gaming, we probably understand the kids and they us a whole lot better. There are very few things that are awkward as topics of conversations because we’ve not limited gaming to PG rated games – and our kids know they can (and have) talk to us about anything because everything can be done with a game setting as the beginning of the conversation to help ease any difficulty or awkardness. Further, you learn a lot about how your kid thinks when you watch them make the most important decision of the game, even when they don’t know you are watching. This is not to say we don’t have shooters and plain arcade games in our rotation – sometimes, its cathartic to dump a bunch of bullets in aliens or zombies, and not think about having to make any decisions; and running through levels trying to solve puzzles help to give real time challenges different perspectives.

Since those early times, I have played my share of Bethesda, Ubisoft, Lionhead, and Cyrstal Dynamics/Square Enix, Epic, Bioware, and EA. Just about every game has had an emotional decision-making component to it, at least that’s the way I have felt with games like far cry, mass effect (all three), hell, even Skyrim has the emotional decision-making component (can’t just not fight the dragon in the towns or your favorite NPCs who you sell to will die). And while there is a logic component to the decision making process in all these games, if one truly plays the game for immersion purposes and not just to beat the game, there’s always a level of emotional decision-making involved.

Recently, the kids have been into playing the Walking Dead series; and they both seem to be enjoying the timed decision-making moments. They both tend to get a bit flustered about what decision to make, how to say something or which person to support, but for the most part, they are enjoying the game. What’s most interesting though is when one has played it, the other has not, and then they talk about what decision was made and should they make a different one. Watching this process is truly amazing and one that would make any parent proud. I did not get into the Walking Dead on television and I’m not really sure I have any desire to play the game, but I’m enjoying watching the kids play it.

The main character, Clementine, has some seriously difficult choices that no kid should have to make; and based on how our kids work though the storyline, I am quite sure they would be just fine if there was a zombie apocolypse and they had to make some of these same decisions. They may have a bit of post-traumatic stress when it was all said and done, but they’d survive and they’d survive better than most…and they’d only pull the trigger when they absolutely had to. They’d find food, they’d sneak around the zombie hordes and, of course, the hordes of bad people, and they’d get to safe places.

I say this all a bit tongue-in-cheek; but truly, because of the games we play as a family, individually and together (where we discuss decisions and talk about consequences), I know that our kids are going to be just fine.

I hope that video games never ever lose the decision-making components of the gameplay. Its through these moments that we are forced to really think about our values, and how we would deal with situations before they actually happen and they really mean something. Sure, we aren’t actually being forced to decide who will be part of our team in the end while we save the world; and we don’t have to choose between our girlfriend and the insane tribal girl; and we don’t have to really decide whether we want more money or for people not to starve. Each of these choices though represent something in how we view the world and the values we stand for. There is almost no better way to really discuss the consequences of their actions with your kids than watching them make these harsh decisions throughout a video game and seeing how the end game plays out.

This article was written by: Rachel Baker – Click to Become a Patron or to follow on Twitter.

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