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.
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 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!
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.