The Illusion of Choice in Until Dawn

until dawn

People don’t know what they want; Howard Moskowitz proved this when he introduced the then unknown, but highly popular, extra chunky tomato sauce to the market in the 1980s. Because each person might have a slightly different idea of what is good, we need direction. Direction narrows down our choices, making decision-making significantly less overwhelming. On the flip side, what these narrowed choices also do is take away the power that we thought we had. In the 2015 video game Until Dawn, we see this illusion of choice most prominently.

Until Dawn falls under an interactive style of gaming that brings us back to the days of Choose-You-Own-Adventure books: If you’d like to turn back and go for help, turn to page 63; if you’d like to investigate further, turn to page 12. Similarly, Until Dawn offers players two, sometimes three, different choices to make in certain instances. Like most video games, the player is allowed to walk around and explore their area, but ultimately, they have to continue on the right path to progress the plot. But unlike most video games, the choices that the player makes changes the game through the butterfly effect (the theory that a small, seemingly insignificant action can have consequences in a greater instance down the road). An example of the butterfly effect in the game is so separate it’s hard to believe that one affects the other. In the beginning of the game, you have the choice as the character Chris to shoot a squirrel while doing target practice. If you choose not to, then nature remains in balance. If you choose to shoot it, then the person you are with, Sam, is attacked by a frightened crow and gets a long scratch on her face. Later, when Sam is being chased by the villain in the game, this small, disconnected event determines whether she is caught: If she is unscathed, then she is able to successfully hide; if she was attacked, however, her scar reopens and drips as she runs, providing a trail leading right to her. In the words of Chris, “Boom. Butterfly effect.”

Games like this like to make us think we have a real say in what happens next, but really, we can only pick what the game developers want us to pick. We don’t have the option to put a Band-Aid on Sam’s scar. This is because people need direction. If we could do whatever we wanted, the plot might never move forward, because while the game developers would have wanted us to leave it be, a player like me might have looked around for something to cover it up with. Another example is the kidnapping of a girl named Jess earlier in the game. She is taken because she was standing too close to a window and her attacker was able to break the glass and grab her. Another character then has to chase after her, but do you think we were given the choice to simply walk away from the window? No. Because the “choices” we so deliberately make in Until Dawn have already been decided for us. We have some say over which characters survive the villain based on our choices, but those decisions have already been considered and given consequences in advance. There are too many ways that every single player of games like Until Dawn could choose to play, and because of this we need direction in advance. We need those two or three choices to know what to do, and no matter which we pick, the game picks what happens next.

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