Gaming's most difficult decisions

Gamers want choices. It's all very well to throw us into the midst of a few dozen faceless representatives of Generic Evil, Inc and hand us a machine gun (in fact, that's pretty much the entire design brief of several classic games). But sometimes it's nice to feel that our decision-making faculties are being given a bit more of a workout than just being asked, “Wanna shoot that guy? He'll kill you otherwise.”

Above: You can leave out the complex moral dilemmas if your game looks like this 

So while history's toughest real-world calls are, in retrospect, ridiculously easy to make (SNES over Genesis, SF2 over Mortal Kombat, CD-ROM over Virtual Reality, Game and Watch over PSP Go), games have thrown us some pretty tricky curve-balls in their time. To this day, scholars are time-wastingly divided as to the best response to some of these questions - which is why it's time to put them to rest.


The choice: So this game Bioshock (for the three of you somehow unaware of it) has these minibosses called Big Daddies in it. Every time you kill one, its ward – a waxen-faced little gimp called a Little Sister – can be killed and harvested for her precious resources (which look sort of like a tapeworm). Alternately she can be shown mercy, prompting her to run away without leaving you a smidge. Or so it seems for about ten minutes.

The stakes: Kill the churl in an off-screen cutscene (because the great thing about tough choices is you never have to witness their outcomes) and get a magical, drug-filled tapeworm, or save several of the Christina Ricci-looking whelps and receive a care package that's almost as sweet as what you would've got from killing them. It's the choice between prolonged (virtuous) reward or instant (evil) gratification: like a videogame version of deciding between cooking yourself dinner or splashing out on a Double Down.

Your best bet: The choice you make when faced with a Little Sister in Bioshock can be determined by perusing your iTunes library. Are most of your five-star tunes the work of cheery pranksters like Primus, They Might be Giants and OC Remix? Then you're a Fun Geek, and will probably save the Sisters. If you mainly enjoy the work of Maynard James Keenan, Trent Reznor, and non-remixed OSTs by Jeremy Soule, enjoy that gruesomely harvested ADAM from deep within your sunless pit, you Serious Geek, you.

Fable 2

The choice: Having offered an endless array of little choices throughout the game – who to kiss, who to kill, who to swindle into a demeaning marriage with gifts of toy rings and bogus trinkets in exchange for the occasional useless reward – Fable 2's big choice comes when you complete the story mode. Will you resurrect your family, sudden victims of a callously-delivered offscreen death? Will you bring back the thousands of anonymous schmucks that died constructing the game's central hub of evil? Do you just want a bunch of cash? Or do you not really give a shit because you’re livid that the game just KILLED MY EFFING DOG OUT OF NOWHERE AND AUTOSAVED OVER IT BEFORE I COULD SELECT A DIFFERENT OPTION?

The stakes: Seeing as you didn't know your wife and child were dead until five minutes ago - when the game turned your world upside down via the imaginative gambit of having the villain deliver the line, “your wife and child are dead” - it's hard to be too cut up over the loss. This goes double if you happened to have a wife and sprogs in every single town, you dashing precursor to the Mormon faith, you. And it goes triple if you don’t hear the bit where the nice lady says “family” includes your dog, who was just killed in front of you. There's the choice between earning fat loot or having everyone in the kingdom instantly love you by bringing home their loved ones, but most of those people will marry you anyway, provided you can fart ten times without following through. Not exactly a tough crowd.

Above: Everything Good About Games Summed Up in a Single Image: Fable II Edition 

Your best bet: The choice you make at this point depends on whether you're planning on ever playing the game again. If you think you'll be coming back, then sod the cash: resurrect your family, which has the side benefit of bringing back your dog, with whose help you'll soon be rolling in the benjamins. If, however, this is it for you and Fable 2, then you owe it to the game to bring back the most endearing cast member in the entire game world: your dog. So actually it's no choice at all. Screw the world. Save the dog.

The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall

The choice: Characteristic of the Elder Scrolls games, Daggerfall's final act offers an array of possible outcomes depending on the player's choice, and an informed decision can only really be made by players with a PhD in Elder Scrolls Ephemera. But as such a degree is offered by almost no universities, suffice it to say that you've got the key to the game's huge walking ultimate weapon and have to choose whether to use it, hand it over to one of several rival bastards, or hang onto it and hope for the best.

The stakes: The game has six different outcomes, depending on what you choose to do and how effectively you manage to follow your decision through. Yet, when successive Elder Scrolls games were released, it somehow transpired that all of Daggerfall's endings had in fact taken place simultaneously, and carried through to the sequels. Players took it all in stride, while The Elder Scrolls' writers sent a formal letter of thanks to Star Trek for inventing the phrase “rift in the space-time continuum.” Solving over-complicated plotting issues since the mid-1960s!

Above: Like a delighted, green, hideously ugly baby 

Your best bet: Protip: choosing to keep all the power for yourself will set in motion an entirely unexpected process of poetic justice, leading to your character's annihilation at the hands of the very power they sought to control. So don't do that one. Hell, you know by now that your actions make no real difference; just give the thing to the orcs and be done with it. Then go read our Skyrim preview again.

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  • projecd843 - April 24, 2011 4:38 p.m.

    I remember when my dog on fable 2 died...I was kinda sad for a second but i tried not to be selfish and picked to save the people.. but i regretted it later. lol
  • buminyaface - April 23, 2011 11:32 a.m.

    the ending to singularity is quite the tough decision, although since im one of the 7 people to play that game, im not surprised it isnt on the list
  • elchamber - April 23, 2011 9:43 a.m.

    Fallout 3 had some, but I know that there was one that, no matter what I choose to do, it sucked. It was at Tenpenny's place. Help the zomb... ghouls(smart) get into Tenpenny's Suites. Eventually, the ghouls eradicated everyone, the good and bad. If I decided to let them in though the backdoor, the human people would be attacked with no mercy, but I got a ghoul mask. The third option was to just take out the Ghouls. I get money and, at least, another place to kick-back and sell for more stuff.
  • ViolentLee - April 22, 2011 7:36 p.m.

    Trish was an annoying bitch. My wife agrees. I didn't want to save her, but ended up "choosing" her by accident because the game gives no indication which building houses which group to save. I quickly reloaded and let the bitch die.
  • therawski - April 22, 2011 6:19 p.m.

    In FF VI you gotta wait for Shadow!
  • punkmetalmage - April 22, 2011 4:48 p.m.

    @mrm1138: I stopped reading the article after he said that if you listen to Maynard you will most likely kill the little sisters which is UTTER BULLSHIT! Anyone with half a brain cell can hear the great compassion Maynard has on the world around him. Clearly you do not listen to music (I'm not insinuating that if you don't listen to Tool or APC you don't listen to music but that if you don't take the time to understand the music you're listening to what does that say about you?). Next time you're going to talk about something that's out of your element (Donnie), maybe research it first. I'll probably just skimp through this article now.
  • JayBeat - April 22, 2011 9:51 a.m.

    very well written article, with interesting links (the trolley problem!). For me, when i read the headline the choice in mass effect 1 of saving the rachni race on noveria instantly came to mind, its a doozy.
  • CitizenWolfie - April 22, 2011 8:45 a.m.

    I'm sure you guys only think of these articles to talk about Bioshock some more. Nice to see FarCry 2 get a mention, I was among the few who enjoyed it I think. I went for the explosives in the end as it seemed the right thing to do. As for inFamous (and why so harsh?), I was playing through the "evil" route so I went to save Trish. Only problem was I hadn't been paying much attention at the time and climbed the wrong building. Autosave and bang - one "good" trophy to all the other "evil" ones. D'oh!
  • Siion - April 22, 2011 3:14 a.m.

    Good article, thanks.
  • TriforcePlayer - April 22, 2011 12:45 a.m.

    I find your lack of Fallout 3 disturbing
  • Sleuth - April 22, 2011 12:42 a.m.

    Without choices from the Mass Effect series and Kotor series, this list is critically incomplete.
  • mrm1138 - April 22, 2011 12:10 a.m.

    Hmph. I don't have any They Might Be Giants or Primus on my iPod, but I do have Tool, A Perfect Circle and Nine Inch Nails. Despite this, I saved all the Little Sisters in both BioShock games. Your reasoning is flawed.
  • Skykid - April 21, 2011 8:46 p.m.

    About my previous post: Both of those guys screwed with your life big time, it was all down to who did a better job f*cking it up.
  • DizzyDial - April 21, 2011 8:43 p.m.

    FVDub - 17 hours 32 minutes ago Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. Hardest decision of my life in grade school. This.
  • Skykid - April 21, 2011 8:34 p.m.

    @bigwill1221 Heavy Rain is a whole GAME that is based off your decisions. Ohhh, I remember Force Unleashed 2's decision: Let Vader live or get stabbed in the back by your evil twin. Not really ethical in the decision. Force Unleashed: Kill Vader or Kill Palps? either way, Starkiller got f*cked up, living or dead.
  • kyle94 - April 21, 2011 7:40 p.m.

    Did no one play Alpha Protocol? Or was it just me who thought those were some of the better decisions in games? Yea, the game wasn't that good gameplay-wise, but those were the toughest decisions I had. Actually, I think the reason why I liked those choices is because *spoiler* in most cases, no matter what you chose, the bad guys win. All you can do is decide what might be the lesser of two evils. Do you let the president of Taiwan die, destabilizing the entire region, or do you let the Chinese be blamed for starting a pro-Chinese riot that kills several people and also destabilizes the region. That's why I liked that game. Most games let you gain power at the expense of others or be kind and give up that power, or choices like that. In Alpha Protocol, no matter what you did or what you chose, the bad guys get their way. Even if you ruined their original plan, the consequences still increase their power. In fact, Alpha Protocol was one of the few games that had me say "I wanted a longer story and game!" after I beat it.
  • FauxFurry - April 21, 2011 5:46 p.m.

    It seems as if a lot of people missed the point that the choices presented here either lacked any real weight, palpable sense of benefit or consequences or were harder for the writers to make than for the player. Not to be left out, I shall make a complaint,too. Why is there no mention made of choice of gender or race in the games where it has no bearing whatsoever on the story?! Those choices are even more frivolous than any of these at their worst!
  • FOZ - April 21, 2011 5:25 p.m.

    The Pitt decision was ridiculous. But I don't see why the baby would die, if the kid dies they're just as screwed as ever. There's no reason for them to kill the baby.
  • Evernight57 - April 21, 2011 4:42 p.m.

    I felt The Pitt DLC for Fallout 3 had one of the best decisions in gaming: Kidnap infant who will be more than likely killed to (potentially) save a bunch of slaves (led by a jackass) or spare the infant but screw the slaves in two ways (by crushing the rebellion AND letting them die of disease) and also keep the dictator in power. Its obviously more complicated than that, but I suggest playing it out to get the whole story
  • MancisFrorkYorgan - April 21, 2011 4:38 p.m.

    I had absolutely no problem with killing the Little Sisters in BioShock. Does that say something about me?