Dyscourse: The Paths You Forge Are Your Own

Recently, a growing trend of including interactivity and player agency in video games has been seen. Companies such as Bioware and Telltale are well-known for having game series based heavily on player choice and interaction, and many have discussed the games’ intimate connection with the player. Still, though, there are players that argue these games merely contain the “illusion of choice”; the choices the player makes simply funnel them into a select few endings. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can leave some players–or potential players, who need only watch a couple Let’s Plays to know all the outcomes–wondering whether or not they should even play the game.

Perhaps this is the reason Owlchemy Labs began working on their stylized choose-your-own-adventure game, Dyscourse. Released on March 25th, 2015, Dyscourse is described as a “journey through a stylized world of choice and consequence”. But the level of choice in this game is what makes it the most interesting. 

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In Dyscourse, the player controls a girl named Rita, a barista with a flair for latte art, who crash lands on a deserted island. After a few moments, Rita stumbles upon a couple of survivors, who take her to their camp and unofficially make her the leader. The plot of the game is fairly simple: you have to survive on the island and/or get off it somehow. In total, one playthrough of the game takes only about an hour; however, with a multitude of different choices and endings, the replay value is surprisingly high.

The makers of Dyscourse specifically designed the game to have multiple endings and branching plot lines. On the Dyscourse site, the creators explain “We’ve designed Dyscourse so that players will end up with vastly different stories forged from their choices – everyone’s playthrough will have a unique story to tell”. They accomplish this by making every choice important, and every choice has a unique consequence.

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So what does this mean for interactivity in the video game industry? Is it possible that the amount of choice and consequence within Dyscourse could spread to other such games? While such an idea may be far-fetched, due to the fast-paced and ever-changing nature of the video game world, this game at least shows the capability of giving the player more agency. With Dyscourse, the “illusion of choice” argument is less prevalent. Just playing through the the game twice can lead to vastly different results. Unlike Telltale games, no deaths are “pre-scripted” and required for the story to go the way the writer wants it to.

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In Dyscourse, the player not only takes on the role of leader, but the role of writer. You affect how the story progresses, changes, and ends. This game is one of the more perfect examples of interactive fiction I’ve seen in video games, and it is certainly allowed to lay claim to the “choose-your-own-adventure” title. Player agency is the most important factor in this game, so choose wisely.

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