Friday, December 10, 2010

Awesome Video Game Moment: Deus Ex

The Game
Deus Ex is a first person shooter/RPG set in a dystopian cyberpunk future. You play an agent that works for a fairly shady government agency. There are lots of story choices in the game primarily revolving around whether you want to be a good little agent and follow orders or whether you’d rather ultimately go against your current employer’s seemingly immoral objectives.

The Moment
Your character is in an airplane hangar talking to a suspected terrorist who knows something about your brother. Your partner shows up and demands that you kill the man on the spot. The man is badly hurt but continues to talk and your partner continues to tell you to kill him. The only options the game is really indicating are that you can wait for your partner to finish him off or kill the guy yourself. I didn’t like either option. In a fit of frustration at the bloodthirsty AI partner, I decided to shoot my partner instead. I didn’t expect the game to even register this action. If it did, I assumed it would just have her make an irritated remark about watching where I shoot. Instead, she promptly dropped dead. I had spared the dying man enough time to finish his story and got to learn something more about my brother.

The Awesome
I loved this moment because it was the first time (and really one of the few times ever) that I felt like I went off the game’s script, but the designers let me do it anyway. Clearly I wasn’t actually off script. It wasn’t a bug in the game. The designers had clearly programmed the possibility of her getting shot in that moment. In fact, it’s a bit of trickery because if you try to kill her at any other point she does just make an annoyed response about watching where you fire. However, in this moment, I was fully engaged and believing that I had just made a real choice. Not selected an option that the game had given me, but a true, from the gut choice and the game world had reacted appropriately. It was also the first time a game really let me decide to keep or remove a character from the story line.

Getting The Moment Back
I think this is a type of moment that lots of games should strive to achieve. It’s tempting to let the player know explicitly every option that is available. The fear, of course, is that if you don’t, a large portion of players may never even see certain content. Still, it is worth endeavoring to achieve at least a few moments in your game where real, meaningful story options are available even though the game doesn’t list them clearly amongst your options. If a game manages to get players to choose these unlisted options, it means the designers have succeeded in something really wonderful. They made the player just feel that the course of action was the right thing to do. The design of the game was elegant enough to trick the player restrained to the rules of the game world into believing they were actually in a world where they possessed true freedom of choice.

GUG Perspective --> Check out our friends at Growing Up Gamers who tackle this topic with more of a personal, family touch. Please share you thoughts and comments on both blogs.


  1. I enjoyed the post! Yes, sometimes games are so scripted that the choices they offer are irritating. Including an interesting "unlisted option" is great.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting Randy.

    I love that my take on this topic was very much about an actual moment within a game that I enjoyed while the Growing Up Gamers take on the topic was all about moments shared with family while playing games.

    Its fun to see the two unique perspectives on similar topics.