The value of false choices in narrative

Speak of the devil: Kieron Gillen of Rock Paper Shotgun has written up a fascinating analysis of the purpose behind Starcraft 2’s largely empty player choices:

Heroic lead characters rarely make mistakes in fiction – at least, crushing ones. The exceptions come right at the start of a story, and the story is about recovery from that failing. Because if they make too many mistakes, they stop being heroes. Jack Bauer going in to rescue a hostage after being told it’s too dangerous doesn’t usually lead to the hostage getting their throat slit. It leads to Bauer stabbing them in the eye with his celphone.

Because, in fiction terms, the writer is almost always on the side of the hero. In any fair universe, Batman would be annihilated from orbit by the first supervillain with any sense. However, the odds are stacked on his side. They won’t act with the full level of their powers, with the full freedom that a human would do – because if they did, the hero would be negated. Whatever Batman does, will be basically right. Batman always wins.

The effect of Blizzards choices about choices means that it always results in a heroic story staring Raynor. It’s a story which each player customises according to their own decisions, but it’s still a heroic story. Because if Blizzard gave you room to fuck up, they wouldn’t end up with a hero as heroic as they need to.

Because – this is the key thing they’ve realised – the idea of “meaningful decisions” doesn’t necessarily mean that any of those meaningful decisions need to have a negative consequence.

Go ahead and give it a read.

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