The Freedom Fallacy: Understanding "Player Autonomy" in Game Design

In this 2017 GDC session, Immersyve’s Scott Rigby reviews pitfalls and designing for player autonomy and outlines an accurate blueprint of what autonomy truly means, gives examples of how leading contemporary designs optimize for autonomy, and discusses best practices and issues for the future.

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  • Pretty much every game mentioned here neglected making actual gameplay for the sake of boring narratives (I am yet to experience a game that's actually worth it for the story).

    NoneNullAnd0 June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • Procedurally generated narrative with meaningful impact on the game world? Why yes, Dwarf Fortress is built entirely on that idea.

    next_ghost June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • 39:35 someone clearly hasn't played minecraft

    Dazzling Action June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • Linear gaming is dead? Just try: A Plague Tale Innocence, and you will understand that it's just not true.

    Jeroen Koffeman June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • I'm too old school for openworld games. I just want to go from A to B and pass through the linear narrative excactly as it was intented by the makers. When I get too much volition, the game get's too immersive for a simple entertainment product. I don't want to get consumed by a completely volitional world, I just want to play a videogame that renders me a carefully designed beautiful experience, instead of an endless "second life" experience where all my choices have an impact.

    Jeroen Koffeman June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • A teleshop salesman posing as a scientist. Trying to prove a theory by looking for evidence that supports it and building straw-mans out of points that are against it.
    He is talking about engagement over time in a roundabout way by explaining a forced model. His theory failed from the base assumption by thinking all players have the same goal when playing the same game.
    His model also only considers as relevant the ingame mechanics without even understanding their reason or function. It completely ignores other factors like controls, UI, community influence, payment methods, after release services.
    By his proposed standards Minecraft is a failure.

    Perfectly Timed System Error June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • Alright… so I'm like 5:30 in and already, while I agree with the basic concept of your model, you're missing some really, absolutely huge chunks when it comes to games here, and you haven't even touched on the central thesis yet. In particular, your ARC really, honestly, should be PARC, with the P being for Progression, as it takes precedence above all others and we already know that in game design. It's why so many games now have RPG elements, in particular those of gaining levels or stat increases.

    Seriously, it should be at the very start above all others because without it you DIE. I'm not even exaggerating. You can be perfectly healthy, well-fed, well-loved, everything's going great in life, but… if you have no progression, if you see no capacity for your life, your personal capabilities or whatever to improve over time, you will simply shut down and stop working. It's the core fundamental aspect central to humans being where we are today, and to hope. Without the hope of somehow in the future things will be better than they are now, if not for yourself, then for your children, you will not carry on. If you had your spouse of 50+ years die, then you probably can't even imagine what it'd be like for things to get better again, and that directly leads to the widow/er dying shortly after for often no real apparent reason.

    We know full well that, psychologically, the human mind zeros out whatever it sees on a regular basis as a new baseline level of normal. No matter how bad you have it, you'll grow used to it and it won't be a huge problem anymore, but this also means no matter how good you have it, you'll also grow used to it and you'll gradually grow dissatisfied because your baseline level of normal is always "not quite good enough" so you absolutely need progression, for things to become better than they currently are whatever they happen to currently be.

    This doesn't mean it has to be physical in nature. It's not necessarily a bigger car, more money, nor nicer stuff. It can be more family who loves you, or greater spiritual enlightenment, among other things. The buddhist monk is as much striving for more as anyone else, though they've corrupted the idea by thinking they're searching for less, but they're really looking to improve that spiritual enlightenment and they can't escape the human need for progression.

    As you've completely missed this in your fundamental setup, despite that it's by far more important than autonomy, relatedness and competency, and affects all of those things in a greater degree than they themselves do, it kinda means I'm already a bit iffy on the rest of this. I get the feeling I'm going to be picking apart the rest of this over the next hour, but yeah, this was too massive of an oversight to ignore given how drastically it has altered the way video games are developed and was completely left out of your basic model that you're basing the rest of this lecture upon.

    EDIT: About 23:35 in, the connection between "growth" and "competency" is finally listed, except that's really not where growth should be. Progression is seriously its own separate thing and isn't always tied to competency. You can totally add progression to a game without tying it to competency in any way at all, such as even just being given in-game currencies to purchase more skins or a bigger house with. This really should be its own, separate category.

    Catreece MacLeod June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • Games like Mass Effect 1 have less freedom but more volition than more open games like Skyrim. Take the character creator for example. In Mass Effect, your choices about which class to choose feel far more important than choosing where to put your points in Skyrim. Furthermore, in Mass Effect, you actually get to choose things like your character's backstory in ways which will have a bit of an effect on the game. Finally, even the purely cosmetic choices about how your character will look feel more important because in Mass Effect, you actually see your character talking so your decisions about how they look actually matter much more since you are actually casting a movie rather than choosing a face to put on a menu screen.

    Andrew Camden June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • Using "volition" as a synonym for "needs satisfaction"? Have children, your volition goes up? Your satisfaction goes up. but does your autonomy go up from having 4 kids?

    TomiTapio June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply

    Magnum CHAU June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • if you are relevant why would you read polygon?
    "i've gotten death threats" no one cares. also welcome to being an entertainer or public figure.

    "we can look at current games" with the exception of witcher, those aren't good games. it isn't that witcher is good, but i haven't played it and have no opinion about it.

    "shadow of mordor …" was rated the worst game of the year.

    "i'm not a designer or an engineer" are you an accountant?

    morthim June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • CRPG in general, and Divinity: Original Sin 2 in particular, do improve volition through adding more player's verbs. System-driven games like Deus Ex and old Thief games do this as well.

    Timm Bruce June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • 52.00 isnt that Voice of Will Wright… LOL

    Andraž Gruden June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • The issue with increasing volition is that by definition your increasing power creep, look at long running action stories, DBZ and Naruto gets silly fast.

    A procedurally generated volition system would have to constantly be reducing the players power to build it up again.

    I can imagine your ship/armor being the thing that grows and then parts of it are destroyed, the issue it changes the psychological profile as noting won is kept for long.

    Clowning🤡🌏Around June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • I love how all the games pointed out were ubisoft..

    Joshua June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • What does he mean with at 5:50 when he says "It's not a 50 cent word?" Does he mean that it is not black-people speak?

    CASIO F-91W June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • This is it, what every game designer, or at least this game designer, has been dancing around for years. I'm so happy. What's his book called again? When I say this I mean myself.

    Manly O'ger June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • 1:01:30 Personally, I played Guild Wars for a long time and would act differently based partly on the character type I was playing as. Some of that was also skill and weapon setup, but my skill and weapon setup (and name choice and look) were direct results of my interpretation of the creature I had chosen…. so to me, some of my in game behavior (social towards other players – as well as pursuits and in game achievements) WAS a direct result of the character customization opportunity….

    THAT is a study I'd like to hear about.

    Matthew Harris-Levesque June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • 56:26 GOOD job dealing with the moron who didn't understand your lecture at all, and still came up (with volition) to ask a question. I doubt he even realized his ignorance you were so good at deflecting.

    Matthew Harris-Levesque June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply
  • Procedural Volition System – Generates MEANINGFUL Expectations for the player based on player actions to fulfill a players need satisfaction. You could consider the Batman Arkham Trilogy (and I guess Origins) doing some of this when you are taking out enemies in stealth mode. Same with the Mr. Freeze boss in Arkham City…. your actions had an impact on the game, you were given feedback on your actions and the game responded to it in turn.

    However most of this stuff he mentioned is just wishful thinking, think back to when he mentioned only a few companies on this Earth could pull it off on such a large scale.

    Even with a fully capable AI, what would a player want the game to do?

    LATEXXJUGGERNUT June 28, 2020 8:39 pm Reply

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