Originally posted at Shell Games Blog.
Sometimes, it's very easy to overlook the power of words. Lost amidst the bright flashing special effects and bold images, the written word's communication seems to take a backseat, furnishing only integral information regarding the rules or plot. How they're chosen, though still deliberate and important, is often an under-appreciated art in the video game world. Though often the analysis and respect for the written word is resigned to books, there is often much to be learned about our experiences in games through the text offered, from the meanings behind dialogue all the way down to the choice of the font.
Of course, plenty of games do well with minimal visual stimulation—visual novels, adventure games and the like can easily shed their modern graphical veneer and still be unforgettable experiences. The most obvious style, and the one that today's game uses, is that which forgoes all images and takes back some of the near-mystical wonder of words from books and stories: the text-based game; and Choice of Robots, from Choice Of Games, is a rather sprawling, thought-provoking one at that.
Choice of Robot assigns you the role of a grad student whose specialty is electrical and robotic engineering. Your gender, your sexual preference, your attitudes in general are all shaped by the decisions you make. In addition to your own character, the choices guide the advancement of your primary objective, the construction of a specialized robot. By making design decisions and influencing your creation, you enhance or degrade the robot's grace, autonomy, empathy, or appeal to the military. At times, the decisions that lead to these changes will surprise you as one seemingly unrelated interaction will cause your focus or your robot to respond in favor of one stat or another.
In addition to influencing your robot friend, you can also make and lose human friends. Your acquaintances in life will help your professional life, hinder your efforts, put you in difficult situations or perhaps even fall in love with you dependent on how you treat them. You can even play it cool with your human compatriots and eventually fall for a robot lover of your own design! Or perhaps fly solo through it all, keeping your friends happy and your enemies grinding their teeth.
Choice of Robots' biggest strength is the detail and thought that went into telling its story. The plot spans on for several chapters, through various stages of your life, while the decisions you made stick with you and affect just how you will deal with the world as it responds to your life-changing machines. Though the game is a relatively straight-forward forked path narrative, the intricate ways you can weave through potential endings are quite impressive. There are a large number of achievements to be earned through experimentation, making the game's re-playability about more than just seeing the other endings. Will you be able to keep your professor happy? Will your robot be able to blend in seamlessly with the rest of society? Will your robots fight on the front lines or be used to heal the sick? The possibilities aren't endless, but Choice of Robots manages to grab your attention and keep you engaged as you read and click onward to whichever eventuality you may cause.
Choice of Robots' text-based gameplay forgoes what many today would consider necessary for an engaging game: graphics. Its resemblance to a choose-your-own adventure book should remind us what popular games with branching choices really are when boiled down to a basic level. Choice of Robot's explores the notion that robots can represent both the previous and next steps of humanity simultaneously. By giving us a story in which the decisions we make impact our robot and the world around us, it reminds us that the power of change is not inherent in our humanity, but more precisely evidenced in our actions. Much like the way Choice of Robot's story presents us with a spectrum of autonomy and empathy, allowing us to consider the breadth of sentience, so too does its structure remind us of the connections held by all sorts of games.
Video games offer us the illusion of a journey through a programmed reality, with even the most open-world game falling within limitations of design. Much like a book, a song or even a robot, these constructs are finite in form. However, its our interpretations, our interactions, our little tweaks, quirks and emotional connections that cause those barriers to partially dissolve, allowing our experiences to be both unique and prescribed at the same time. Whether you're playing a sweeping adventure game like Skyrim, a quirky RPG like Undertale, a guided platformer like Never Alone, or a text-heavy game like Choice of Robots, you're engaging in the same process. You're interacting with art. You are playing a game that allows you to consume a story, understand a world, and make it to one conclusion or another through your actions. Choice of Robot's gives us the opportunity to explore the idea that we construct these experiences just as much as the game itself does. Much like you and your robot, understanding is found when the two overlap. What you end up with depends on you. And it didn't even need to include you in the credits to make you feel that you were involved.
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