Unlimited options vs. Engaging story

So I’m a gamer, and I love a good computer game.

Some games give you freedom to explore, others give you a rousing story. Can you have both? I’m not so sure.

Games come in all varieties, but there’s one kind, often called open-world game, in which you can, well, play around to your heart’s content. There may be a main goal (Save the princess!), but if you don’t care about that, you can go off to explore a nearby dungeon, or just trudge by foot across the terrain looking for flowers. Maybe you’ll meet a monster, get bitten, and end up a werewolf! You just don’t know.

Then there’s another type of game, which in game-genre terms might be all sorts really, but where the game writers have invented a story, and you get to follow along. There’s still stuff for you to do of course. Traditionally, there’ll be a cut scene where you get to see a bit of the plot, then you whack a bunch of monsters, and when you have succeeded in said whacking, you get to see another cut scene. Like a reward, in a way.

So, reading that description, you might think an open-world game is the ultimate fun. No cut scenes, just interesting things happening to you live, and you’re free to do any damn thing!

Sort of like life.

(Except with less laws, typically. :-D)

Anyway! There are also games that do a mix of the two, and when they manage it successfully, you get a great game where you have options, and the choices you make really affect the story. (Try the fantastic Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy for a great example.) But putting those aside, generally speaking, I’ll take the no-choice game over the open-world game any day, provided the actual gameplay is fun.


Well, because it cuts out the boring bits! Life has a bunch of them too. For instance, I waited in line at the pharmacy this morning together with a whole horde of other people who’d discovered the explosion of pollen and now needed allergy medicine. (My allergy is extremely mild, lucky for me.) Was standing in line fun? No, not really.

If it were a game, would I want to spend time standing in line to buy medicine to fix the wounds that big ogre gave me?

Again, no.

Linear games cut out the boring bits.

(Just like good fiction, really.)

Of course, great games often have very few options, but make you feel like you have a lot of them. There’ll be a linear path of interesting plot, but it’ll feel like you, the gamer, is the one figuring out what to do next.

You get to feel smart and entertained, all at the same time! What’s not to like?

What about you? Do you prefer open-world games, or more linear ones?

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4 Responses to Unlimited options vs. Engaging story

  1. Regina says:

    I’m not a gamer but several of my friends are (and, big reveal, I met my husband at a weekend of unfettered board gaming!) so I’m passing this post along to them. However, I *love* this:
    “Linear games cut out the boring bits.

    (Just like good fiction, really.)”

  2. I prefer linear games as well. I like having a main quest with limited side quests. I get tired of trudging endlessly through a world in search of random items, towns, etc.

    • Sara Thorn says:

      Yes, exactly! Choices are good… but only if they end up in interesting events.

      I’ve been wondering lately if it’s just that I’m getting more impatient as I get older. 😛

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