The Perils of Choice

This is the second lecture I gave at a Games+Learning+Society conference (in this case, GLS 2006). My first presentation, at the 2005 GLS, which was something of a close reading of Metroid, was unfortunately not record, and so lost to the sands of time.

Prior to giving this lecture, I had been thinking a lot about how choice plays out in games, and the funny ways we talk about it. I remember distinctly that all our advertising copy for Take No Prisoners, back in 1997, was emphatic in emphasizing the numbers involved with our game: 12 weapons, 23 items, 3 vehicles, and so on. And even then, I remember thinking that it really felt like it had no meaningful connection to how it felt to play the game. The number of choices seems weirdly disconnected with the moment to moment choices players were actually making in the game. Over time, I noticed this kind of pattern repeating, and many more like it. Our language about choice in games is peculiar.

I had also, not too longer before, read the Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz, and it pretty clearly influenced my thinking here. It's a good book, by the way. It made me much more aware of counterfactuals and satisficing.

This is definitely a bit of a glossy lecture, like such things tend to be, but I think I make at least a few interesting points.