Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Epic Mickey Offers No Choice

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 4 Jan 2011 12:00
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In the Epic Mickey case above, neither of the two options available takes any more effort than the other. Taking the evil option then is being evil for the sake of being evil, which is really just wilful stupidity, like having dinner at the Heart Attack Grill. No one is knowingly evil. History's greatest monsters all believed they were acting towards the greater good, that's what made them so terrifying.

Another way creation/destruction was used in Epic Mickey was in battle. Every enemy, including bosses, is dealt with either through (re)creating them or destroying them (there are a few enemies that can only be destroyed, which I felt rather undermined the dual choice mechanic that the entire rest of the game was built around but oh well). Using creation juice would "fix" the monsters and turn them good again with no apparent ill effects. So there was absolutely no reason not to do that. Callously wiping them from existence becomes the evil-for-evil's-sake option again.

With a little twisting this could have been a much less straightforward choice. What if the enemy creatures are in constant pain? You can use the creation tool to calm them and remove their murderous instincts, essentially lobotomising them, but is it right to force them to exist as constructive members of society when their existence is torment (leaving aside the Clockwork Orange-y issue of taking away their free will)? In that case, deletion would be kinder to them, but not so much to the larger community. It takes it away from the straightforward right-and-wrong towards Terry Schiavo territory.

It makes me wonder what other binary choices one could base a game around other than good/light/hooray versus bad/dark/boo. The Mass Effect series has that "Renegade versus Paragon" system where the former is unafraid to tread on a few toes in pursuit of the ideal end result and the latter feels looming galactic apocalypse is no excuse for not making sure everyone has a nice day. Even that isn't above a little jerkiness for jerkiness' sake (see: decking reporters in the face), but the choice that sticks in my mind is one from the first game, in which a bereaved husband asks you to get his wife's corpse back from a research lab so he can give it a proper burial.

Now, this is something quite apart from the established dichotomy of diplomacy versus no-nonsense results, it introduces the whole other ball game of scientific rationalism versus emotional sentiment. Could be all kinds of important uses could have been made of the silly bint's carcass, and in the ground all she's going to do is give the worms a party. But then again, there's plenty of other nice corpses around and no reason to antagonize her relatives, who really need the closure to move on.

That one really comes down to the much larger question: is it better to be happy and ignorant, or miserable and have all the answers? If that dichotomy had been the basis of Epic Mickey, it would have been a lot more interesting. You could either spray enemies with Ignorance juice, which sends them into a dream of paradise but in permanent coma, or Answers juice, which gives them full understanding of the universe, but makes them too busy weeping into their cappuccinos to fight.

There are loads of morally blank dilemmas that dual-choice games don't explore enough. Would you give up a miserable but familiar existence for an exciting but unknown one? Would you rescue one baby or five old people? Is Coke better than Pepsi? Well, yes, but they both make you fat.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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