The modern gamer is spoilt for choice. The selection of quality titles for us to play is huge, so no matter what your taste, there is surely something out there that will keep you satisfied.
Amongst the most popular games are RPGs; it's a genre that has really progressed in recent years. These are tales of adventure and excitement, but more recently morality and conscience have been taking a much more prominent place in the thinking of developers and gamers alike. Now it is common to be presented with decisions that carry with them far reaching implications.
RPGs are increasingly offering completely different experiences to gamers, depending on which way you play. Often the paths diverge at good and bad, but even this line is now being blurred. There are often moments in games that hinge on the actions of the player, and the decisions we make in these moments nearly always define our overall experience within these fictitious worlds.
But gamers can, increasingly, have their cake and eat it. For me it was highlighted again when playing Skyrim; when I was presented with the choice of joining with either the Imperial forces or the Stormcloaks, I had to go back to an autosave because I wasn't happy with my initial choice. I decided that I wanted to be a Stormcloak and seeing as this was such a pivotal decision at such an early stage in the game, I felt it was only right that I went back and changed direction.
Going back and changing course so early on in a game is understandable. Especially on something so central to the games overall story. But this trick of revisiting past saves and replaying events is one that has been embraced by a growing number of gamers.
Bioware's RPGs are probably the best examples of games that offer players defined routes to take. They usually present gamers with a black and white decision (sometimes grey) to make regarding a dispute or conflict. It is not unusual for Bioware to then tie the resulting outcome to the conclusion of the story. It is cause and effect in action, and something that is used to create a unique experience for the gamer; developers want you to feel like you owned your adventure, they want you to feel like it was your story.
In Dragon Age: Origins, players were presented with a choice; help out some terrorised wood elves by killing some aggressive werewolves, or help the werewolves lift a curse put on them by a malicious wood elf. Whoever you side with turns up at the end of the game and joins in the battle against the Blight, an added dimension to think about when making your choice. Knowing that whoever I helped would come back and help me during the endgame swayed my thinking, so I went back and replayed the end of the quest, changed my decision and got an army of werewolves to help fight the final battle.
Whether it is for achievements/trophies, or just out of curiosity, gamers are now playing out one scenario, finding out what happens, and then going back to a save and doing it the other way. I imagine it is something that drives developers crazy, by offering different paths for players to walk, their intention is to add weight and gravitas to the choices we make. When I got infected with vampirism in Oblivion, and then promptly went back to an old save game, I was interrupting the experience that Bethesda had planned for me. Even more so when I went back and replayed a pivotal moment at the end of Mass Effect; upon reflection I wanted Ashley to survive and so I went back and sacrificed Kaiden instead.
I'm not alone; I wonder how many people blew up Megaton in Fallout 3, only to go back to a previous save so they could reinstate the city. Whilst I avoided that particular back-track, I massacred the inhabitants of Ten-Penny Tower (because they had it coming), only to go back to a previous save purely because my character was a paragon of virtue and wouldn't have done that.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is a game that is flying in the face of this tradition. When you make a decision in TOR it is set in stone, and it is proving to be a refreshing change of pace for many. The knowledge that your actions have far-reaching and unalterable consequences adds weight to each choice, and as a result making decisions has become exhilarating once again.
In this day and age we gamers are a privileged bunch; computer games have never been as engaging, and they're only getting better. Part of the appeal of these games comes from the stories that we're told, and our increasing involvement in them. Developers are always trying to create more immersive worlds for us to explore, and in future I'm going to try and meet them in the middle. Playing Star Wars: The Old Republic has reintroduced me to the thrill of living on a knife edge; to making choices that matter and being accountable for my actions.
From now on I'm going make my decisions and live with them, and hang the consequences.