Until Dawn and the Illusion of Choice

Illustration for article titled Until Dawn and the Illusion of Choice

There are so many good video games out right now, which means there’s so much good writing about video games, too. Worth Reading, our weekly guide to the best commentary and observations about games, is here to help.


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Illustration for article titled Until Dawn and the Illusion of Choice

Many folks play Metal Gear Solid games with the expressed purpose of not killing anyone. That’s generally my strategy, though I don’t have a problem downing some fools if they get in my way of finishing the mission. Joshua Cauller avoids death, as well, but for a different reason: in a way, it allows him to express (and practice) his religious tenets. Given he’s a writer for Game Church, it’s not a surprise to see his work has a Christian bent, so I’d like to hope the comments below will respect that, even if you don’t agree with his views.

After marking my enemy and crawling several dozen meters on my belly, I sneak up and grab my enemy by the neck. I put him in a sleeper hold until he passes out, strap a Fulton Extraction balloon to his waist, and send him flying away to be recovered by my cargo airplane. A few minutes later, I get confirmation: he’s one of us now. Suddenly we’re forever friends.

It’s ridiculous and short-handed, but it plays into something I long for. I’ve always wanted to play a game that let me love my enemies as Jesus might. MGSV becomes this enemy-converting power fantasy where I get to preserve the lives of my enemies, offer them a job, and promise to fight for them when they come under attack. We become allies. I know in the real world no abducted enemy would ever be so quick to turn sides and join his opponent’s forces so easily. But I can’t help but feel like Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain allows me to love my enemies as I believe Jesus might. I mean the way Jesus told us to love our enemies in the Gospel accounts isn’t something that comes up terribly often in games. So even when it’s simplified in The Phantom Pain it feels like a win.

Illustration for article titled Until Dawn and the Illusion of Choice

The horror genre has...problems. While it’s my favorite, I’m not blind to its issues, especially in regards to its treatment of women. Until Dawn tries to address this with an ample number of female characters and turning some horror tropes on their head. But while Bianca Batti says Until Dawn makes some of the right moves, she’s also critical of what it doesn’t allow for. Specifically, as a game all about player choices, it doesn’t give players an opportunity to disrupt certain story arcs, such as the stereotypical cat fight between two exes.

It seems to me that a lot of people talking about the gameapplaud it for being “genre-changing across the board… in terms of narrative and design innovation” or for allowing “you, the player, [to] finally make all those decisions you’ve been shouting at the screen for so long, every time an idiot does something wrong in a horror film and gets themselves killed as a result.” But do we really get to make all those decisions? Or is what we’re dealing with here, in part, the illusion of choice?

I ask this thinking about one particular interaction between the characters Jess and Emily, a scene in which these two women begin fighting over Mike, Emily’s ex- and Jess’s current boyfriend. In a scene just prior to this, a scene in which we play the character Matt (Emily’s current boyfriend), I was able to navigate a conversation about Matt and Mike’s current and former relationships with Emily so that their interaction ended up being resolved in a “let bygones be bygones” sort of way. The choices I was able to make while playing Matt allowed me to diffuse the situation and avoid confrontation. Not so in the altercation that occurs between Jess and Emily. There doesn’t really seem to be a way to make choices that would result in a more amicable interaction between these two women—because we don’t really get to make choices as either of them during this particular scene. In fact, we witness this confrontation while still playing through Matt, and the only choices we can make during their argument are to choose sides by telling one of the two women to, in essence, knock it off. Thus, instead of “let bygones be bygones,” here, we get “bitches be crazy.”


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You can reach the author of this post at patrick.klepek@kotaku.com or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.



Choice isn’t an illusion just because you can’t choose to avoid one or two things you specifically don’t want.

Those facets don’t render all the other choice controls meaningless.

Oddly, this debate reminds me of the similar inverse issue people had with Beyond: Two Souls; because the game made no effort to illustrate how your choices affected the narrative in tons of little different ways, people assumed the game was essentially linear aside from two or three little differences. In reality, there are many things that change based on your choices, but the game never bothers to put up a flag saying “JODIE WILL REMEMBER THAT,” so reviewers/players never really noticed.