Preprint Article Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Choice Poetics by Example

Version 1 : Received: 30 June 2018 / Approved: 3 July 2018 / Online: 3 July 2018 (10:41:24 CEST)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Mawhorter, P.; Zegura, C.; Gray, A.; Jhala, A.; Mateas, M.; Wardrip-Fruin, N. Choice Poetics by Example. Arts 2018, 7, 47. Mawhorter, P.; Zegura, C.; Gray, A.; Jhala, A.; Mateas, M.; Wardrip-Fruin, N. Choice Poetics by Example. Arts 2018, 7, 47.


Choice poetics is a formalist framework that seeks to capture the impacts choices have on player experiences within narrative games. Developed in part to support algorithmic generation of narrative choices, the theory includes a detailed analytical framework for understanding the impressions choice structures make by analyzing the relationships between options, outcomes, and player goals. The theory also emphasizes the need to account for players’ various modes of engagement, which vary both during play and between players. In this work, we illustrate the non-computational application of choice poetics to the analysis of three different choices, in order to further develop the theory and make it more accessible to others. We focus first on analyzing so-called false choices in the game “Mass Effect”, and show how they actually provide meaningfully different outcomes for players who are utilizing certain modes of engagement. Second, we use choice poetics to examine the central repeated choice in “Undertale”, and show how it can be used to contrast two different player types that will approach a choice differently. Finally, we give an example of fine-grained analysis using a choice from the game “Papers Please”, which breaks down options and their outcomes to illustrate how the choice pushes players towards complicity via the introduction of uncertainty. Through all of these examples, we hope to show the usefulness of choice poetics as a framework for understanding narrative choices, and to demonstrate concretely how one could productively apply it to choices ‘in the wild’.


choice poetics; poetics; narrative games; choices; player goals; roleplay; complicity


Arts and Humanities, Literature and Literary Theory

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