It may be hard to believe, but I’m an opinionated person. Something with which I’ve always had difficulty is not saying certain things that come to my head–a trait I learned fairly early on when I first lived in the United States.
Therefore, I’ve come to appreciate games that offer me this choice. Yes, I do appreciate the whole text adventure games where I can explore every option, but I’ve come to grow wary when it is done just because it’s been done before and worked in a different setting. Hence my qualms with it in The Darkness. Contrast that with another game I’ve been playing concurrently, Fallout 2.
As was pointed out over at Versus Cluclu Land, one can say the wrong thing in these games. It is entirely possible to make a comment that will have you finding yourself in a bout of fisticuffs (or a shoot out, as the case may be); both of the first two Fallouts give you options to say snarky, sometimes rude things–and while it may be amusing, you have to weigh against whom you say these things. Of course, these games being the way they are, and it being somewhat difficult to stop progress to the end goal completely, I’m finding myself saying certain lines without trepidation. In the second game there is even a perk to be able to have good dialogue options highlighted in green, and poor ones blaring dangerous red. This is a world where your choices have the option of mattering–somewhat.
In the end, it might not even matter. While I’m playing Fallout 2 fairly straight forward, with no end goal in sight beyond finding the mythical GECK, I do realize there may be an effect of which I’m not entirely aware, but which will be divulged in time. For instance, my option to not wipe out the ghouls of Gecko to obtain my Vault City citizenship will probably have longer term effects, even if I don’t see them until the ending of the game. If I accidentally say something wrong and end up in a fight, I go along with it and see where it will take me. I am not deciding whether or not my character will end up ‘good’ or ‘evil,’ but playing it as I would expect this personality to do so. I am, quote unquote, roleplaying and acting.
Which is the problem. I’m not entirely sure how much this exists for other gamers, or why it would. I appreciate these dialogue options, ones where I can burn a bridge unless I reload, because it gives me the illusion of making choices that matter. However, for all the praise I may lavish on Fallout for its drawing me into the world, I don’t really care about the characters one way or another. This is probably largely due to the time separating me from that era, but I’ve had much more meaningful relationships with characters in games now. The followers I have are just props I use to win a battle, but my interaction with them beyond that leaves me yawning and wondering when they’ll shut up about needing Stimpaks or wanting a drink. They work well in setting a backdrop and setting, but as for feeling any empathy? My roleplaying stops at that moment.
While I do not like the way dialogue is handled in The Darkness (or the other game I’m playing, The World Ends With You) because it may as well have been relevated to a cutscene for the amount of input I actually put in to the conversations, there is a small portion of me that cringed in the beginning of the game as Jackie Estacado finishes the first part of his tale, the build up of the tale on his first time dying–you are proven powerless. Which may be the point of the ‘choice’ of dialogue, but I feel there were better ways of giving that illusion. There is good dialogue that occurs (alongside the bad), but it is usually when I’m not given even the smallest sense of empowerment over these choices. When given the option of loading if I don’t like the outcome, as with Fallout, I’m left with the feeling that my choice has no real consequence unless I imbue it with that meaning. Contrasted with with The Darkness, I cannot avoid certain parts of that game, and I am on the railroad to this point, numbly selecting the dialogue options as they occur, until they lead me to these events.
I do, by the way, imbue Fallout with that meaning. While I often appreciate new gameplay techniques, I’m often more drawn in by the power of the story that can be told. Instead of being one who held his finger in place and looked through all the options of the choose-your-own adventure book as he came upon them, I would happily go trodding along and then just restart when I wanted a different series of events. Both of these games have their strengths and weaknesses, and I’m appreciating them both for different reasons (rest assured, both have their pulpy roots firmly in place); whereas Fallout 2 has me caring about the world and this future (hopefully) alternate timeline, I don’t care for The Darkness‘s locale of New York, for example. Much like with Hellgate: London, the setting offers me something in terms of accents and setting, but it is just a backdrop to the story that is told. It may be because I’m limited to such small sections of it, but it ultimately doesn’t matter to me that this is New York–it could be any metropolis.
This all leaves me wondering what the next step in interactivity with dialogue options will be, and how many games will jump on the bandwagon just because it’s there. Fallout‘s dialogue system would not work in The Darkness–I don’t want it there. When was the last time you felt something your character said in a game actually mattered, though? It’s something I’m not sure we’ve quite captured fully, or possibly can.