As Andrew Ryan once said: "a man chooses; a slave obeys." Rapture's overlord had bigger fish to fry at the time, but he might have been alluding to the popular conviction that games that impose limits aren't really games at all, however elegantly they do it. Holders of this view seem terrified that games are on the brink of slipping back into the arms of non-interactive entertainment. Hence, constant agitation for "more freedom". Walls must be lowered, differentiating factors levelled, and any suggestion of guidance or direction stamped out.
I've spouted the idea at points in my career, and it's only just occurring to me how superficial it truly is. How do we benefit from polarising the medium in this way, and what do we lose, exactly, by giving ground? Why not build on the hinterland between games and older, linear media? Isn't there room for experiences like Asura's Wrath, unrelentingly rigid yet strangely entertaining?
And isn't meaningful choice more valuable than freedom for freedom's sake? Games are founded on restrictions, tasks with rules and obstacles. Where the rules are relaxed or the obstacles made negligible, the sense of fulfilment ebbs. Skyrim presents you with hundreds of possibilities from the get-go, yet marvellous as it feels to be master of your own destiny, the trade-off is that individual decisions matter less. Surplus breeds complacency. We appreciate the value of choice most when we're denied it.
The good Shepard
Mass Effect 3 is a game that, at a critical juncture, denies you choice. Or rather, it denies you the belief that previous choices matter. I won't spoil the finish (I've yet to experience it first-hand) but one of the arguments given by detractors is that it robs the decisions you've made in prior games of significance. Rather than rolling all your carefully weighed plot calls into the climax, BioWare simply cuts the threads. The complaint has picked up considerable momentum online: aggrieved fans have started Facebook and Twitter groups, forum petitions and charity campaigns calling for a revised ending, released as a free update. Others have sought solace in the idea that the "real" Mass Effect 3 ending was penned by Drew Karpyshyn before he departed to work on The Old Republic. Evidently, taking the reins out of player hands can be a stirring dramatic technique.
Albeit a technique that requires a certain skill. That legendary Andrew Ryan sequence, for instance - its weakness is that it removes control during the vital moment of realisation. Rather than arranging matters such that you actually enact its brilliant intertwining of spineless obedience and clunky corridor design, it obliges you to supervise the process from behind cutscene borders. You're no longer really "there" when the revelation, the "anagnorisis" of Aristotelian tragedy, occurs. And Mass Effect 3's ending? I'll have to get back to you, but I'm struck by what the series does and doesn't share with 2K's upcoming Spec Ops: The Line, which implements the hailed notion of "moral choice" with a savage, parodic contempt that, bizarrely, reinforces the idea's attraction.