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October 08, 2010

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Agency and commercial success are not mutually exclusive, either, as MineCraft is now demonstrating.

This is the most intelligent thing I've read in some time. Thanks for posting it.

To make a blatant oversimplification: What we might be seeing here is a general ebb and flow of agency vs. cinematic experience. We used to have games that were all about playing, with little or no story involved. At first, the concepts and game mechanics improved, then story inched its way into games and suddenly, agency had to be turned down somewhat to allow the story bits to shine. And now we've arrived at a point where cinematic experience over gameplay is generally frowned upon, so the next couple of years will establish a standard where story doesn't subvert gameplay but enhances agency in a meaningful way by allowing for player expression and, of course, moral choice. I'm not saying this will be particularly easy, but I'm looking forward to those games. :)

I hope that games such as Human Revolution will give modern audiences a kick that hasn't existed for a while- games with a high degree of agency that are visually arresting. Fallout: New Vegas has to use its agency and writing to make up for an engine that felt dated in certain paces when it was brand-new.

Fallout: New Vegas and the Fallout franchise as a whole have relied on high agency to create a rich gameplay. I think a good measure of high agency is how many players feel compulse to replay the game, and I don't think there's many like Fallout where there's a clear incentive to not only chose different kinds of characters but make different choices which like forks in the road lead to different paths.

I'm not a purist but the argument of agency vs. cinematic experience feels like a mute point, video games cannot out-cinema cinema, so even as some elements from other mediua can lead to innovation in video gaming, what should always be the aim of video gaming is what makes it special, and agency is not something easily found or realized in other digital media, if ever. So while there is a value in improving narrative or adding cinematic effects in video gaming, it should never be at the price of trimming down agency.

This is a great article, I've posted some excerpt on the video game canon ( http://videogamecanon.com ) and I hope more people in the video gaming community will gain some awareness that gameplay does trumendensly benefit from a high level of agency.

Regarding the Fallout series, while I enjoyed playing Fallout 3, I actually had a lot more fun playing Fallout 2, if anything because in the latter, you have a huge influence on the world game: I remember the ability to tore entire cities apart, or the lasting consequence of choosing between different mob gangs, killing certain characters or joining certain leagues... the impact of the player had in Fallout 2 was substantially greater than the one in Fallout 3, and I don't count the number of times I started the game from scratch and took different paths, it was one of the best gaming experience I ever had, and one that is surprisingly hard to find these days.

Good survey of the issue... but no mention of strategy games? The original high-agency genre?

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