Every story comes with its own bargeful of “what if”s, whether they’re minor points of interest or catastrophic differences that could change the entire course and outcome of the plot. After all, string theory states that there’s an alternate universe out there where every outcome and variable is true (which means there’s a universe out there where string theory isn’t true even if it is, but that’s a headache for another day). These things are always fun for the creative-minded to play with in fandoms, but what’s interesting to me is works that actually ask and answer a lot of those “what if”s as part of their storytelling process.
Games and visual novels, obviously, are a perfect medium for this—they’re less concrete than movies or books, for example, whether their plot itself is linear or open world. Either way, generally with a lot of games half the point of interest is an interactive and fluid audience experience, where the audience is well, less of an audience, and more an active participant in the events. In open world games like Skyrim this can mean choosing your what political or rebellious factions you get involved with and thus swaying the outcome of the history of the land, or, it could just mean wandering the wilds of your own accord, deciding whether to be a good knight or a pickpocketing ass, or whether or not to fill your house with cabbages.
In more plot-based games like the Mass Effects (or interactive-movie-esque, decision-based ones like Beyond Two Souls), every decision fits together to be vital (at least a little) to the final result of the story of the trilogy, going so far as to have your choices from the first instalment affecting the gameplay in the third. This gives the player an epic sense of immersion in the story, and a feeling of responsibility for the fate of the universe, throwing them into a strong analysis of the morals of war that they as a person in the real world are directly involved in… or, you could just play around and focus on picking which crew member to romance. Which is another genre that this multiple-plot-string storytelling goes hand in hand with. Continue reading