The Rise of Choice Based Games: What Makes Them So Popular?

By: Sarah White

episodic gaming

Though choice based games made a rise in the early stages of video games, they didn’t gain enough momentum to break out into the mainstream scene until much later. Telltale Games, Inc. released The Walking Dead: Season 1, a decision based game that was released in episodes and seasons that captured the attention of many gamers. Telltale Games has since released more of these games for other popular franchises including; Game of Thrones, Borderlands and The Wolf Among Us. Many other games have followed this popular trend, making their own choice based games such as Until Dawn and Life Is Strange. But what exactly makes them so popular?

For me, or as far as I understand, choice based gaming offers a new method of submersing players within the story. Since these games are based almost entirely on plot, they offer a more complex plot with several dynamic characters. These characters are ones that players bond with, form a relationship, and almost always have to make a decision that often reflects an ethical dilemma. Some people may argue, that most of the endings seem to be the same regardless of the choices you make. However, I don’t think it’s about the endgame scenario, but the intensity of the choices getting there. Choice based games often test the player with choices that make you question your morality or desire for justice. And each ethical question often drastically changes the main plot of the story. Small questions often reflect your personal choices and prerogatives as you may like one character more than the next guy, but more often than not these small choices just change the dialogue between the characters.

The other factor for their popularity is simply that the fans of the series want more from their favorite fictional universes. The Walking Dead fans want to hear the stories from other survivors. Game of Thrones fans want to know what would happen if they lived in Westeros. And so on and so forth for each choice based game with a preexisting fan base. Yet, we cannot consider this a primary factor of popularity since other games like Until Dawn or Life Is Strange did not have this preexisting fan base and they are the only installments in their respective universe.

Since we can’t consider preexisting popularity, I think the biggest thing is personal preference. Some people like to control the outcome of a game. Some people enjoy a plot that is not fixed or set in stone. It makes a game significantly more re-playable. You can replay the same game over and over by making different choices and getting a completely different plot or story arc in return.

Regardless of what makes them popular, many companies seem to be jumping onto the choice based gaming bandwagon. Whether you love them or hate them, I don’t think they’re going away any time soon.

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One Response to The Rise of Choice Based Games: What Makes Them So Popular?

  1. Blair Farrell says:

    I think these are great examples of recent choice based games, but I think it started a little further back. Mass Effect and its choice based system across an entire trilogy was certainly an inspiration for these type of games, same thing with Heavy Rain on PS3. Though not entirely changing the story that much, a lot of games last generation had binary good/bad paths like inFamous or Spider-Man: Web of Shadows among I’m sure others I’m forgetting.


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