Player Agency and Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Posted: May 17, 2011 in Game Design
Tags: , , ,

I promise this post is about game design but first I’d like to talk about the story of Oedipus. In Greek mythology there was a story of a guy named Oedipus. His father Lauis heard a prophecy saying his son would kill him, so Lauis left Oedipus to die. Somebody finds him and raises him, without telling him he is adopted.

Eventually, when Oedipus is older, he hears a prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother. Wanting to avoid this fate, he leaves home. Eventually he meets his real father, gets into an argument with him, and kills him, without realizing that he is fulfilling the prophecy. He then marries the widow, who is his mother.

There are many examples of self fulfilling prophecies in literature. Basically a self fulfilling prophecy involves predicting something bad, and the actions a person takes to avoid it actually lead to it happening. I thought this might be a cool thing to put in a game. Start the game with a doom prophecy for the player, and have the player spend the whole game trying to avoid the fate, and end the game with the fate being fulfilled due to the players own choices.

This sounds pretty good to me, but actually designing it might be a bit of a problem. The game has to be fair. If it is rigged against the player, to fulfill the prophecy than we’ve taken away player agency, and they might as well no play the game at all. There has to be reasonable choices the player can make to avoid the fate. When the game is over we can show the player exactly what they did to deserve their fate.

The goal of the designer is to try to trick the player into doing things that will lead them to their fate. Ideally nobody would get through the game without meeting there fate, on the first try, but as I said earlier there must be some way to avoid the fate, or it will be impossible to place the blame on the player for their fate.

I was trying to think of a scenario for the game, and all I could think of is that there’s a prophecy of the player dieing by drowning, so they spend the entire game trying to avoid bodies of water, and a series of wacky events tries to force the player into the water. Well that’s all I could think of on short notice. I’m sure if you have a better idea you will leave a comment. Feel free to comment on anything at all in this post, or suggest other literary examples to inspire game design.

  1. maxff says:

    I doubt very much anyone would want to play a game like that.

  2. Fang says:

    So it would be kind of like a “CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BOOOOOOK” but all the pages/story arcs would lead to the one ending? Hmm.

    That would be tricky to do but awesome if you could pull it off.

    • maxff says:

      You might be worried about the seemingly insane comments I leave talking to myself. Its sort of an inside joke, that nobody leaves any comments so I talk to myself and I’m slowly going insane. It’s just a joke and nothing to worry about.

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