Small Plotting Trick for Choice-of Work

Choice of Games pieces also very often involve multiple romantic or career options; and in my WIP, I found that there was kind of a risk of making all the romances be variants of “…and then you ride into the sunset with person X.” From a storytelling point of view, though, I don’t find that very satisfying, because it makes those characters interchangeable and makes it harder for them to have distinctive arcs in the body of the text.

Recently I tried an exercise that helped with this. It is really pretty trivial but I shared it with a few people who found it useful, so now I will share it more widely. The exercise:

List all the major characters, which probably means those for whom you’re tracking relationship state.

For each character, write down the outcome they most want. Start a restaurant? Retire in luxury? Win the Olympics? Find love? Sometimes this goal can require them to make personal changes to be successful. This doesn’t have to be the protagonist’s goal, or related to it, at all — it’s what this character wants.

Also write down what their worst outcome would be, given the bounds of this story universe. Is this character committed to earning her father’s respect, and would be devastated if he cut off contact with her? Afraid of losing the business she worked hard to build? Facing the destruction of a beloved country?

Then brainstorm about what the player character might do that would cause these outcomes. Could you coach this character? Help them network with an important individual? Turn them in for something they did wrong?

Now you’ve got clearer stakes for your interactions with these characters, and the basis for more individualized or complex happy and sad endings. What if the player character gets what they want, but their beloved doesn’t? What if the beloved’s goals are incompatible with ours, or incompatible in some circumstances?


Also recommended: Adam Strong-Morse has written about the arm-and-fingers structure used successfully in several Choice of Games pieces, where the game branches strongly in the last chapter or two.

6 thoughts on “Small Plotting Trick for Choice-of Work”

  1. I never really thought about the worst possible outcomes for major NPCs whenever I played works by Choice of Games… Does designing an IF-Work with this question lead to a game that grants the player a power-fantasy of commiting their playthrough to the goal of achieving this worst case for a major non-playable character? If that is the case, do you accept this playstyle as a part of the player’s agency? Now I am really feel like playing some Choice of Game Works with this mindset!

    1. “Does designing an IF-Work with this question lead to a game that grants the player a power-fantasy of commiting their playthrough to the goal of achieving this worst case for a major non-playable character? If that is the case, do you accept this playstyle as a part of the player’s agency?”

      There are already CoG works where the player can choose to be (sort of) evil; I think this would mainly add some specificity to what that looks like, if you really want to play as a kind of wrecker character and maximize the destruction for everyone you know. (I don’t know of any CoG games that are explicitly set up to let you ruin everyone’s life, though.)

      What I was going for here myself was more about tradeoffs than about letting the player really ruin everything, though. From a plotting point of view, I like to be able to use those outcomes to establish stakes. There are a lot of dating-sim style games (including some CoG works) where you get a choice kind of like this:

      — do something nice for Mark (+mark_relationship)
      — do something nice for Alec (+alec_relationship)

      or possibly this:

      — favor Mark over Alec (+mark_relationship, -alec_relationship)
      — favor Alec over Mark (+alec_relationship, -mark_relationship)

      …but the outcomes wind up being largely symmetrical from a narrative point of view (Alec or Mark is more or less willing to date the protagonist) and lead to similar endgame outcomes (you settle down in your fabulous estate with your husband ${mark_or_alec}).

      Having more individualized stakes gives these choices more juice, in my opinion. Say instead we have:

      — Alec is pursuing his professional development, and he’s been putting in a lot of class time to get certified in some engineering skills that would let him take his career to the next level. He’s really invested in this, and it would be a big boost to his confidence as well as his income if he made it. He’s terrified that he’ll wash out of the program and be stuck in a dead-end job… and that kind of failure would affect his self-image afterward, too.

      — Mark has just been re-united with his younger sister, who has been through some traumatic experiences. He’s set aside his own goals to spend time with her and help her heal. Mark’s worst nightmare is that his sister might relapse into the kind of not-quite-homeless transient life where he found her.

      Now your choice about where to allocate your resources becomes more fraught, because there are stakes to your decision that go beyond “which interchangeable dude to I have lunch with.”

  2. Very interesting stuff. Thank you Rudolf for planting evil ideas in my head (yes I’m developing an idea for a ChoiceScript game at the moment).

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