Player Agency, Decision-Making, and Morality in Cinematic Choice-Based Adventure Games
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Cinematic choice-based adventure games (CCAGs) offer examples of complex decision-making and player agency through plot construction and player choices. These games are a perfect example and opportunity to explore players’ decision-making processes that impact the game narrative. These story-driven games normally focus on advancing the narrative, allowing players to experience the story from different contexts based on their decisions. There has been an increase in the popularity of these games and more complex mechanics are implemented, allowing the player to partake in the decision-making process of the narrative. Research in the human-computer interaction and games user research fields has indicated that player agency represents a core concept that affects how players experience a game. However, there is a lack of empirical research investigating the implementation of agency, decision-making, choice, and morality in CCAGs. This gap provides an opportunity to first understand diverse conceptualizations and theoretical analysis on these core concepts. As a result of this gap, my thesis presents a theoretical analysis and empirical research on player agency, decision-making, choice, and morality in games. In my thesis, I address the main research question: (1) What can be learned from previous theoretical and empirical work on CCAGs to identify research gaps that can help understand how elements such as player agency, decision-making, and morality are being implemented in these games, and how these elements affect player experience? To further clarify these main research question, my thesis is divided in three main chapters where I address the following research questions: Chapter 3 RQ1. How are the key factors of CCAGs (agency, decision-making, choice, meaningfulness) conceptualized across disciplines? RQ2. How might we apply these cross-disciplinary perspectives to study player experience in CCAGs? Chapter 4 RQ3. How does the decision-making process in CCAGs affect agency and experience? RQ4. How does player agency and sense of control over the decisions influence the motivation for players to make a decision within a CCAG? RQ5. How is agency perceived based on different conditions, such as playing the game (i.e., exerting agency) vs. watching gameplay (i.e., agency exerted by another person)? Chapter 5 RQ6. How do players’ real-life morality translate to in-game decisions, specifically in CCAGs? RQ7. Are moral decisions influenced by players’ connection with game characters? RQ8. How does Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) explain players’ morality based on the relevance of specific moral foundations? To address these research questions, I conducted a scoping review investigating key factors in interactive narrative games (chapter 3), a hybrid thematic analysis on player agency and decision-making analyzing a commercial game (chapter 4), and finally a reflexive thematic analysis on morality and moral foundations analyzing a commercial game as well (chapter 5). The user studies presented in this research were conducted in a pre-pandemic environment (chapter 4) and pandemic environment (chapter 5). The first user study was conducted in a laboratory setting while the latter was conducted remotely. A remote study presented challenges when conducting semi-structured interviews with the participants. These challenges and limitations are discussed in chapter 5. Although challenges were present, both studies provided the opportunity to contribute insights on player agency and morality in CCAGs. At the same time, opportunities for future work and to further expand the investigation into player agency, decision-making, choice, and morality in story-driven games were identified. Chapter 3 evidenced the lack of empirical research on player agency and new opportunities to expand this knowledge. Overall, my thesis focuses on understanding concepts found in games, specifically in CCAGs. I present an analysis of player agency, decision-making, choice, meaningfulness, and morality in games. In the first part of this dissertation, I present a theoretical understanding of these key concepts. The second part of this thesis presents empirical research on these concepts and the investigation of morality in games. This thesis can be of great benefit to game developers and designers because it provides an in-depth investigation that can help improve CCAGs while increasing player experience. Chapter 3 provides preliminary guidelines to expand on empirical research on key concepts such as agency and decision-making. Subsequent findings in chapter 4 and chapter 5 provide an understanding into perceived agency and moral dilemmas in games, which can help optimize mechanics behind player choices.
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Maria Karina Arrambide Figueroa (2022). Player Agency, Decision-Making, and Morality in Cinematic Choice-Based Adventure Games. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/18204