Agency, a word that I can’t understand.

Agency referrers the ability of controlling the game, with the ability, game player is able to make choices and end up with a consequence that change the game world. But to me, Agency is a reaction that made by the combination of choices and changes, initiative and freedom, narrative and interaction. Agency is a feeling created by the right combination of those elements. The feeling of controlling and manipulating. With agency, players could have initiative action and have a satisfying consequence. A game with high agency have persuasive power that if something goes wrong in the game the player can blame nobody but the choice he himself had made. Agency provides the illusion of freedom but never associate with absolute in-game freedom, as the gamer always playing within the rule and the code. In other words, every ending, every consequence is plotted, it is only the number of options left open matters. If the options is much enough to make difference and at lease one consequence is satisfying to the players, the agency within the game is considered existed.

Despite the simpleness of the game, “One Chance” is all about choices that players could make, different choices immerse players with totally different ending. Saved his wife, kid, himself or dead. With many options available with difference consequences, I see the game as a high agency game, especially compare to the game “Pathos”, which left player no options but only interactively follow the instruction, like a movie. The only difference between Pathos and a very short movie is the interaction, which is let the player to click to continue to next move. I see Pathos as a no agency game.

But interestingly as the name suggests, the game “One Chance” only has one chance in the game, once you made your choice there is no coming back, without refresh and restart the game from the beginning(at lease my experience), player cannot experience an alternative consequence but accept a somehow unsatisfying result. If a player only plays One Chance once, there would be no difference between the game and Pathos, and if the player is a non gamer who doesn’t realize those different choices lead to different endings, this game would consider to be a no agency game too. Moreover, if all these choices made in One Chance were leading to the same ending, like Call of Duty, whether the game could still considered as a high agency game could be argued. Some may argue that games like Call of Duty, could have variety of ways of going through, for example in CoD player could play as a sniper or play rush, with different choice of weapon and different way of play, the gaming experience could be different, therefore agency exists within such choices. Whereas others may argue the game followed the script and leave the player no other choices, exits were blocked in a relatively opened map, very little agency were given. Same argument could goes on if One Chance provides different choices but all end up with same consequence.  Just like the game “Today I Die”

In the game “Today I Die“, the lack of instruction but let the player figure out what to do would give players a sense freedom, a feeling of high agency, whereas the ending are quite the same.  (Despite how many times I tried, I always end up with two, with or without the boy) Assuming the game has only these two endings, it is a relatively low agency game. However with the somehow weird beginning and heart warming ending, and the maze-like step by step discovering interface, the game provided much interacting game experience and could considered as a high agency game. The discovering element make all meaningless action meaningful because it helps going through the game. The experience would be totally different if instruction was provided. Murray define agency as “satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices.” So step by step figure out how the game works could be considered as satisfying power and meaningful action. In this case, trying hard to kill enemies in CoD would also considered as meaningful action. But only in CoD, we foreseen the result: the enemies were killed, despite how we play it. In “Today I died”, player hardly know what will happen.

After all, to me, agency is a word I am still confusing with, but I see it as a feeling, a feeling that creating curiosity to other possibility, and the ability to discover, to control it. Not necessarily end up with a satisfying consequence but at least the player has the power of making a satisfying consequence. Neither necessarily positive, for example if the Airport Massacre chapter in CoD were left an option of not killing those people and still alive, or has the opportunity to successfully stop the killing, some players may choose or at least try the Massacre regardless, therefore agency is not lost and those who chose to kill are still satisfying.


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