If I Could Do It All Again

Link Eyes

If you could go back in time and make different choices, would you?

If you could go back in time and make different choices, would you? This kind of question has come up often in different movies, shows and books, and is an inquiry that is quite hard for me to answer. These other media simply follow characters that deal with such questions of variant past choices; however, the replay value in gaming actually brings the question front and center. As such, gaming has helped to shine some light in this area of ambiguity for me.

The Narrative Branches of Games

Games vary in the amount and impact of player choice. Many games, like Heavy Rain, have a bad ending, a regular ending and a good ending depending on certain choices in the game. Some games have completely variant paths often stemming from some set of decisions, like Tactics Ogre or Star Fox Command. Others, like Last Story, are fairly linear with choices that are generally related to flavor. Still other games  have choices that impact gameplay but not necessarily the story, link in Fire Emblem or Persona 4.

These are some good starting points. In general, there is a good blend of these and everything in between in games. I’m going to consider my feelings towards each of these, and hope you do the same.

Let me note that this is going to be a hypothetical piece concerning the scifi “what ifs” that spawn from the possibility of time travel. There is much more to say on the practical implications of replay in life as it relates to trying new things and perhaps starting a new. But that is for another piece.

Bad-Regular-Good Ending: Who wants to get the “Bad” ending? I know I certainly don’t. For games with endings that are easily categorizable onto this goodness scale, I’m going to do what I can to get the best ending, and I don’t really care to see what would have happened had I made the “wrong” choices.  I know people that want to see every ending and will bother to do so… that’s just not me. I couldn’t bring myself to get the bad endings for 999 once I had the best ending, for example.

Variant Paths: These games have events unfold differently based on your choices, but not necessarily in a linearly “good” or “bad” way. Tactics Ogre, for example, has a fairly early fork in the road that sends the story down one of two entirely variant paths.

With this kind of setup, I have a “what intrigues me” mentality. With Tactics Ogre my brother and I did both paths (at first not realizing the choice mattered at all), and I can’t remember if we heard from somewhere that the choice matters or if we just picked the other choice to try something new. Considering the choice, I know that I would be hard-pressed to intuitively choose it without previous knowledge of the impact it has (it doesn’t help that the line the main character says sounds way better than the line you have to choose).

In Star Fox Command, I played through a couple times, got some of the endings based on intuition choices and then stepped away. In Devil Survivor, I did all the endings, but found it much harder to motivate myself to choose the paths that I would not necessarily consider good options in a real life setting (you know, that ever-so-common real life setting where I am a demon summoner and have to choose between angels and demons in a war on our planet). In Devil Survivor 2, I could not be bothered with two of the endings as they embodied polar extremes and made me feel uncomfortable just considering them.

Flavor Choices: This design choice has gained popularity recently. In games like The Last Story, 999 and Persona 4 we see many choices that do not impact the story at all, but instead alter maybe 2 or 3 lines of dialogue.

The completionist in me flies right out the window in this category. I feel somewhat bad because often a lot of thought has gone into these interesting different side conversations, but even in replays, I can’t bring myself to click on different choices. I cringe a little saying things that I wouldn’t really say if I were thrown into these different settings… though I highly recommend the sexual innuendo side conversation in 999 at the elevator if you are playing that. I laughed out loud.

Gameplay Choices: Finally, we have the choices that may have flavor components, but also have a very obvious gameplay impact. We see this in the relationship building in both Persona 4 and Fire Emblem. I’m sure people make different choices for these in a wide spectrum from heavily on the side of flavor to leaning on the functionality side.

For me, it depends on the game. In Persona 4 I was more interested in talking to the people to see how their story evolved, and was less interested in specifically being able to level certain types of creatures. In Fire Emblem, I built relationships more for functionality purposes with only a vague eye to the narrative flair involved. I will make different style choices in varying games, but following a bit of a recurring theme, I run into some dissonance when trying to change up my choices when replaying games.

Replay Value in Life?:

So does life have replay value? I think for me, not as much as one might expect.If I could go back in time and do things differently (all possible ramifications of affecting the past aside), I would generally change very little. This likely stems from a combination of my optimistic views of life and general complacency with how my choices have formed who I am today.

If I could go back in time and do things differently, I would generally change very little. This likely stems from a combination of my optimistic views of life and general complacency with how my choices have formed who I am today.

Would I change nothing…? No! that would be silly. I would love to take back one or two things I have said over the years. You know, one of those times I misunderstood what someone said, and returned with a ridiculous comment leading to endless personal shame long after everyone else involved has forgotten about the event entirely (that’s a thing right? Not just me?). Or perhaps change something like the time I really badly sprained my ankle.

What else would I take back? I suppose if I could take back a “bad ending”, that may be hard to pass up as well. If I knew I was going to get hit by a bus and I could stop it, then I would. I’m all for every experience being one of learning, but that doesn’t help much if I’m dead.

I’m all for every experience being one of learning, but that doesn’t help much if I’m dead.

Beyond a certainly “bad” ending, I don’t think I would want to change the course of my life. It’s very hard for me to say that there is a goodness scale to the way my life turns out. The complexities of human experience and emotions are vast and I couldn’t say any one path is strictly better than another path. Perhaps choosing a different career could be more enjoyable on a day-to-day basis, but there is so much more to consider… like the friendships we build along the way.

The thing with life is that there is no guide out there telling us that there is a better or super interesting ending, and rerunning my life making decisions that seemed intuitively less optimal the first time, seems like it would feel wrong to me.

The thing with life is that there is no guide out there telling us that there is a better or super interesting ending, and rerunning my life making decisions that seemed intuitively less optimal the first time, seems like it would feel wrong to me.

That being said, I can see the allure of going back and changing one specific thing, for example, choosing a different college or taking a different job offer. But it’s just not for me. Though I would love to get my hands on some sands of time… some quick 10 second reversal could be handy 😉

At least… that is my view as a 23 year old who is currently quite satisfied with his life. If my life goes to hell in a handbasket maybe I will look back on this and think myself a fool.

Anyways, that’s it for now. Without worrying too much about the ramifications and logistics of time travel, what kinds of things would you go back in time for? Would you try to craft your world interaction by interaction to be the best experience possible? Or perhaps change some of the small stuff? I hope you guys comment on this one because I think there is a lot more here, especially because my opinion on this is quite fluid. I’d love to hear some situations, hypotheticals and logic that make me question everything I just wrote!

Now let me pass this conversation off to my brother! I have piqued Dust’s interest and he is thinking that this may be the perfect time for WILA FF XIII-2 to expand on this concept. So check back in on Friday to read some of his thoughts on the subject.

Thanks for stopping by! Till next time, game on and learn on!

~Dylan

4 thoughts on “If I Could Do It All Again

  1. omegaCarotene

    as i was reading, i was wondering when that nod to PoP: the Sands of Time would occur~ 😉

    this topic does seem like it has potential for some interesting philosophical & gaming discourse, but i honestly can’t (atm) think of a good hypothesis or situation with which to challenge/engage what you’ve written. bug me about it another time 😉

    what i can say, though, is that i’ve just been reminded of the “death replay” sequence in the platformer Super Meat Boy: upon completion of a stage, a replay of ALL of the player’s attempts at completing said stage is shown, displaying all of the player’s failures in a kinetically squishy and gory—albeit cartoony—blood-fest, out of which emerges that one victory (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFQNHlRot_g). there’s something sadistic and yet oddly satisfying about those watching replays… >[:)

    Reply
  2. connorbros Post author

    Thanks for the comment! Haha yeah Prince of Persia just had to sneak it’s way in there. It’s actually quite bizarre to me how convenient and useful a 10 second time reverser feels instead of a full blown time machine to me. I guess I time machine would do very little if the Dahaka were about to pound my face in 😛

    That is pretty neat haha. I never got around to playing Super Mean Boy. I should do that at some point. Though that reminded me a little of the setup for the Rayman Legends demo game on the Wii U and the concept and the general concept of being able to see everyone else’s run relates to an article that is in the works for sometime in the near to far future.

    ~Dyl

    Reply
  3. freikugel

    I can sort of agree with the notion of not wanting to choose answers that you normally wouldn’t: In games with multiple endings, I always make sure to do a “follow my heart” playthrough in which I answer how I would as me. It’s kinda like seeing how I’d end up if I were put in that situation!

    Afterwards I do try for the other endings too, but sometimes I don’t go that far. Like in Devil Survivor 1, some of the characters did not just appeal to me for me to reply in a manner that would lead to their endings.

    In these games though even in the choices I’ve made that I know were “wrong” I’ve this nagging feeling that I can fix it/do something in my next playthrough anyway.

    In real life it’s not quite the same. I consider future situations to be the replay value of life where hopefully you’d be a bit more levelled up. I think this kind of gaming is really getting to me though, every decision I make now I visualise as leading to different possibilities that I can’t save and reset for.

    It just makes me wonder how different how my “playthrough” would be if I did something slightly different. Given the option, the life I have now would be my follow my heart play through, and everything else would be a what if; saved in spare memory cards to see my other endings.

    Reply
    1. connorbros Post author

      Great thoughts! Thanks for commenting. The last line was impressively poetic. You could lose yourself in the possibilities of the roads not taken.

      I was mostly ended up trying one or two of the endings in devil survivor just because I really wanted to beat Lucifer and I was getting obliterated.

      I think Dust touched on the concepts of future situations/learning from your choices side of “replay” in his piece on FF13-2, and it also parallels in concept a little with the tactician’s mind I addressed in my article on the Expectation of Revival. I actually had a whole lot more in this piece but it was way too long and was losing focus a bit so I tried to gear it specifically to an extrapolation of time travel thoughts. But I think there is a lot more that can be said about replay value in life.

      ~Dyl

      Reply

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