LISA: How an Indie Game Improved My Decision Making

To this day, whenever I play video games it’s a toss between two genres at all times: easy to jump in chaos causing games or, fast paced puzzle and story driven games.

When I was younger I’d play Halo: CE for a little while and then lose myself in Prince of Persia, Grand Theft Auto or Ratchet and Clank. Right now I play a bit of Counter-Strike when I have the time and then a bit of Undertale and FarCry. I’ve even started playing through the Half Life series again. I never thought those types of games would ever help me with decision making though.

Lately, I’ve found myself in a world of indie games and it’s oddly given me the best times in video games since I got my first system. The kind of puzzle-based games with artistic story-telling I’m playing right now have taught me lessons, taken me through intense situations no other game has featured and introduced me to dozens of interesting characters with depth.

One game along the way, which I covered briefly in an analysis of empathy in games, stood out the most with its dark comedic approach to wrestling with the consequences of your choices. It’s called LISA, and you play as a man named Brad.

Everything you do in this game makes you feel cheated. No kidding. The opening the scene starts with your friends, and subsequently you, getting beat up for stealing some other kid’s ball at the playground – the opening scene is a flashback to you as a kid. You take the fall and step in to protect your friends but, instead of convincing the bully to back off, you share in the punishment. An abrupt introduction to what the game says about your intentions and the action you take to represent them.

Fast forward to the main timeline of the game and you’re in a world where women no longer exist and happen to find the last female baby on earth… in the dirt. You raise her, father her – hide her from the depraved wasteland inhabitants who either want to use her to repopulate earth and repair society or use that as an excuse to do something more short term and, well, depraved. She gets kidnapped and the game follows you trying to save her.

It’s a choice based game and like most choice based games you get to decide on a “good” choice, a “bad” choice, or something in between the two. Now, the notion of good and bad is really up to the moral character of whoever’s playing but, as you move through the game you find that moral character doesn’t matter. Like I said: everything you do in this game makes you feel cheated.

That’s not a bad thing though. This game teaches you how to be emotionally intelligent with the decisions you make in life. Whether you make the choice you think is “good” or not, the aftermath is always going to have a pro and a con – which is all up to you.

LISA-decisions-indie

The first choice the game throws your way is whether you want to give some ambushers your only ally or give away all of your inventory to save him. If you save him you will find out later in the game that he does no damage, his only skills are minor buffs, and you probably won’t even use him in battles once you get the next two teammates on the road. But if you leave him with the ambushers you end up running into him later in the game where he and his kidnappers are now more powerful than ever and hungry for revenge.

LISA does a great job at teaching you that you have control over your choices as well as control over how you perceive the result of those choices. This is a key frame of mind to have in real life as well.

Life is cause and effect. And part of life is controlling the cause and grappling with effects that precede it. You can predict and assume all you want but the truth is you will never know what the consequences or rewards will be after you make a decision in life. The one thing you can control is how you react and how you deal with whatever consequence or reward comes afterward.

Spoilers ahead

You finally find the girl you’ve been trying to save, being mortally wounded in the process, but it turns out she didn’t want to be saved anyway because she decides it’s her duty to grow up, repopulate the earth and bring society back to order. And you ask her in your last breath “did I make the right choice?” and the game ends.

The thing about that question is, it’s a stupid one. The girl isn’t going to make that distinction for you – only you can. In the same way LISA always makes you feel cheated, you can feel that way in real life too. That last breath question drives home the point that it’s all about perception.

So next time you find yourself thinking you made the wrong choice, maybe you’re just looking at it wrong.