Maybe one of the powerful things about this or any game–one of the measures of its power and that of the medium–is its ability to make you regret. Regret being, in general, something our culture teaches us to avoid, to the point where we are kitted out from an early age with an arsenal of platitudes designed to ward off regret, from the quaint “there’s no use crying over spilled milk” to the reliably tautological “what’s done is done.” Don’t look back, we tell ourselves, placing on a pedestal both the injunction and those who seem to manage to live by it.
But of course we look back. And unlike a book or a movie, where we are the passive, mournful observers, in the case of games we could have done something differently. When a character sees you step into the room and responds to your concern with a hiss of a sigh and the near-whisper, “I just keep thinking…what if I had done something different?” she isn’t the only one.
It forces you to ask: Why did I do what I did? If forces you to explain to others, who played the scene differently. “But I couldn’t stomach the…” “But they were the more dangerous ones so I took control…” “But I thought it would end better.”
Yes, well. It didn’t, did it?
A reason I won’t give is that “I thought it would be interesting to have my character do this.” No. Full investment or nothing. Make the calls on your own sense of decency–that is always my first playthrough. I’m not constructing a prop behind which I hide my own desires and intentions, I play it the way I think it should happen. The way that is as close to the idea of justice as you can get. The enjoyment I get from games isn’t adopting this false mantle of concerns and alternate sensibilities. It’s in trying to act rightly in a world that may allow more of that than the real one…or, frequently, less.
And in the case of the latter, it’s always there. Regret.