Recently, a number of our posts here have focused, in ways directly or indirectly, on challenges associated with being adult gamers. As much as we might not like to admit it, as we grow older, our gaming habits change, sometimes by choice, often by necessity. Demanding jobs, growing families, and surmounting financial concerns all eat away at free time that we may have once had to devote to games. In my gaming life, the requirements of the real world have especially impacted one of my gaming habits in particular, that of playing through a single game with multiple characters and having each follow a distinct path.
Several years back, Mass Effect kicked me square into the world of story-based and choice-driven games. At that time, I had time to game almost daily. Because of that, and the fact that I found ME’s story and “choices” really appealing, I was able to play through the game several times with different Shepards of different classes and backgrounds. Having the ability to follow a single storyline made up of my character’s (or my own) decisions — going Renegade, Paragon, or some combination thereof — was very new and very addictive. And, because I had the time, I was able to follow through with my decisions to the end of the game. If I didn’t like the final outcome, it was okay, because I’d simply go back, create a new character, and take a different path. I saw little reason to change my courses of action mid-game (i.e. return to previous save points) if things didn’t turn out to my liking.
After wringing out every ounce of play I could from ME, I sought the same from any subsequent games that allowed for choice as a matter of gameplay, from future Mass Effect games to Dragon Age to Fable to Skyrim. I wanted to play as multiple characters in a single game every chance I got. I wanted to pick a path and stick with it through an endgame. And then I wanted to start over and pick a different path to see if it led elsewhere. And I did as long as time permitted. Those were very good times indeed.
But as with all good times, eventually they had to come to a close. Slowly, my free time disappeared into house projects and other non-gaming meanderings. Weathering this change wasn’t easy (and still isn’t), but it’s the way things had to, and have to be. At present, I’m lucky to get in a single playthrough of a grand RPG that’s replete with intricate stories, diverse endings, and dozens of different ways to get from a game’s beginning to its end. And still, whenever I get to a point of making a major choice in such a game, my brain always thinks, don’t worry, you’ll be able to play through the other path with another character. Sadly, I have to tell it to shut up.
What’s bringing about all the chatter about setting paths and changing outcomes in games is Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game that, five or six years ago, I would have played through at least two or three (or more) times with different heroes at the helm. And because I know there’s just no way I’m going to get to a second playthrough in a timely fashion (let alone feeling like I’ll never make it through one!), I’m playing the game in a markedly different way from my usual RPG approach. Instead of stalwartly sticking to and living with my choices, I’ve been altering them mid-game (i.e. returning to previous save points) if I don’t like the immediate outcome. Part of this process is stemming from the fact that I want to know right then and there where the other path(s) go because I don’t have time to dilly-dally with seemingly “bad” choices. Being familiar with the DA universe, I know what I want for my character. And if a decision made doesn’t match that vision, I need to change it. I can’t stick to my gut reactions and first impressions because I simply don’t have the time to indulge.
I realize this practice isn’t exactly revelatory in gaming, but it’s new for me, and has led me to wonder just how common it is. When playing these games where choice is a big component of gameplay, are we of a general mindset to see our decisions through to the end, or do we tend to change them up while playing? That’s the question I put to the community today. Vote in the poll below and/or leave extended thoughts in the comments. Also welcome are conversations on how your gaming habits have changed as you’ve gotten older. What gaming issues do you face as an adult that you never considered as a younger player?