A video game trope where decisions the player makes can change the course of the game. Being kind to someone early in the game might result in them helping you later on, while if you ignored them, you might need to find a solution without them. Killing a character might end up with a loved one swearing revenge, when he might have become your ally otherwise. These decisions and their consequences can range from world-changing to insignificant.
There are three requirements to be this trope:
- As the name implies, there have to be multiple possible outcomes the player can choose from.
- It must have a lasting effect on the narrative. If all it does is change the next line of dialogue, it's not this trope. If what you say gets brought up later on, it does. Stat increases or other changes limited to non-narrative game mechanics don't count, either.
- The consequences must be a logical result (by whatever passes for "logic" in the game) of your decision.
Choices and consequences are most common in Visual Novels, with The Portopia Serial Murder Case (1983) being the Ur-Example. It also became very common in other video game genres by the early 2010s, especially in Adventure Games as well as Role Playing Games. The basic purpose of a C&C system is to validate the player's narrative decisions by showing characters in the game world reacting to it, similarly to how a Game Master would role-play NPCs in response to player actions in a Tabletop RPG. Of course, no virtual system currently offers the nearly limitless narrative possibility space a good GM provides, so the devs instead try to think of and to account for as many interesting narratively meaningful decisions as they can fit into a C&C system.
This can overlap with Story Branching, but in many cases, the core story doesn't change. Even though the plot may branch out briefly, key events will happen more or less the same, regardless of what you do, somewhat like The Stations of the Canon. How characters respond to you, and what tools you have to help with the situation will change, of course, and any game that deals heavily with this trope will likely have Multiple Endings.
A Sub-Trope to Event Flag. Contrast Karma Meter, where consequences are based off your general behavior, rather than specific decisions, and Morton's Fork, where your decision doesn't actually have an impact. See also For Want of a Nail. Often combined with an Old Save Bonus.
- Telltale Games was the master of this trope, starting with The Walking Dead, where the player's choices affect other characters' behavior towards the player character, and even who lives and dies.
- Life Is Strange is built around this. Decisions you make can range from saving someone's life to overwatering your plant. In particular, small acts of kindness can win over characters initially hostile to Max, although this often takes multiple chapters before you see results. Protecting Alyssa from minor harms will quickly get her to christen you her guardian angel.
- The 2015 King's Quest introduces this as well. At the end of the episode, a screen shows you the decisions you've made. These decisions have a notable effect in how Gwendolyn (who is listening to Graham tell the story) behaves in her own segments.
- Dreamfall Chapters has a choice-and-consequence system, which the Word of God admits to have been inspired by Telltale Games' approach. Some choices are pretty meaningless (e.g. regardless what you do with the dying prisoner in Friar's Keep, his wife will hate Kian for it), while others have massive consequences (Zoe's last off-handed remark before leaving Storytime basically defines her future career in Europolis).
- Blackout have a somewhat subtle version. Firstly, the game offers the player relatively few straight-up either-or choices, and the consequences of them aren't immediately obvious. Secondly, the game is more about tracking how the player interacts with the world (i.e. how often does the player buy drinks at the bars, have sex with (or just talk to) the prostitutes at the local brothel, have sessions with their therapist, or pay visits to the library, to mention a few), and mainly uses these parameters to determine which of the game's four personality types (styled after the Four-Element Ensemble) the Player Character fits into, and alter bits of the story according, and eventually determines the ending base on this.
- Chrono Trigger:
- During the fair there are numerous, seemingly meaningless actions you can take, such as stealing a man's lunch or returning a little girl's cat to her. When Crono is put on trial, your behavior at the fair is all taken into account. Played With, as the trial is rigged, though you receive some items for having a strong testimony.
- Giving jerky to a family in the past turns their present-day descendant from a rich jackass who gives you 10 gil if you cluck like a chicken into a man who's generous to a fault, giving you a family heirloom that's been in his family's care for centuries.
- In Golden Sun, leaving any Djinn unfound leaves you unable to get into the Bonus Dungeon of the second game, Golden Sun: The Lost Age.
- If you don't get the Force Gem before entering Mogall Forest, the gameplay differs slightly (with the Force Gem, you can tell which is the right way to go), and a later cutscene plays out much differently (causing a boulder to crash down and open a new path, without Force your teammate kicks the boulder). Not getting it by the time the game ends also prevents you from getting in the Bonus Dungeon as well.
- In The Lost Age, answering "no" to every question your character is asked for the first third of the entire game triggers an extra cutscene.
- Xenoblade Chronicles has this in play for its sidequests. Several feature choices which will affect which future quest chains are available, and will alter the relationships between NPCs (which can be tracked on an in-game chart). For example, one quest has you encourage an NPC to become either an artist or a soldier, another has you deciding which side of a Love Triangle to favour, and a third has you either encouraging a soldier to fight a duel fairly or find them a poisoned blade to help them cheat. And all these are just from the first town. Shulk's ability to see the future gives you a brief preview of the consequences of each branch, but it's never perfect.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic is a minor case. Occasionally choices you make early in the game, such as whether the Jedi Knight arrests, executes, or releases a fallen Jedi, will come up later on, although with limited impact on the story as a whole.
- The original Mass Effect trilogy employs the Old Save Bonus to carry over player decisions and accomplishments from installment to installment. For instance, consistently treating a dirt-digging reporter with patience in the first two games wins her over as a valuable ally in part three, while failing to prevent the deaths of the quarian or the geth squadmate in Mass Effect 2 bars you from facilitating peace between their species in Mass Effect 3.
- The Dragon Age series' choice-and-consequence map is so convoluted (with the biggest Continuity Snarl surrounding the first game's companion Alistair), that its Old Save Bonus subsystem actually started breaking down and forced the devs to develop a new system, "Dragon Age Keep", that preserves each player's personal canon online and automatically patches any plot inconsistencies that might occur.
- In The Witcher games, Geralt often has to make decisions whose consequences don't become apparent until much later. For example, in the first game, if he saves soothsayer Abigail's life in Act I, she will appear again in Act IV as a village healer and help him out during a sidequest to put a vengeful ghost to rest.
- This culminates in how The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt ends. If you weren't supportive enough of Ciri, she dies when facing the White Frost alone, causing Geralt to become a Death Seeker out of guilt/grief. The other two endings hinge on whether you took Ciri back to see her father and whether or not the North was unified under Radovid or Dijkstra. And, of course, the rest of the game is littered with smaller choice/consequence events.
- Knights of the Old Republic isn't as involved as later BioWare games, but some decisions have lasting consequences. Killing Juhaninote means she doesn't join your crew and her friend Belaya leaves the Jedi Order, joins the Sith on Korriban, and tries to kill you when you come to infiltrate the Sith academy. Depending how you handle the giant firaxa at the Hrakert Rift and explain your actions to the Selkath leaders, you can be permanently barred from Manaan.
- In Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, how you deal with the game's various factions determines which ones you can choose to throw in with at endgame. Also, if you keep Heather around too long, she'll eventually be kidnapped and murdered by the Sabbat.
- In Resident Evil 4, Leon meets a dog with a bear-trap stuck on its paw. If you free it, it will help you to defeat the game's first El Gigante by distracting him. Instead, if you literally Kick the Dog, you'll have to kill the Giant Mook on your own.
- As you progress through the ruins in Peret em Heru: For the Prisoners, your companions may be whittled down by Death Traps and harsh judgments. Alertness and quick thinking can help you avert Dwindling Party; the survivors naturally have different dialog depending upon how things unfold.
- This is a major feature of Until Dawn: not only do the player's decisions have immediate consequences on whether the characters are saved or pulled into greater danger or even killed, but decisions about how the characters interrelate affects their relationships, causing scenes to play out differently (though the main storyline always plays out the same way). The clearest and most dramatic example occurs when the player has a choice between having Chris shoot Ashley or himself (or neither) - if they choose the former, later in the game she will refuse to open the door for him at a critical time, and he will die.
- Alpha Protocol thrives on this, as your decisions impact who your allies are, how well-guarded areas are, and even minor lines of dialogue, which Caustic Critic Yahtzee praised for doing.
- The Getaway: Black Monday has a system that kicks in when players play Eddie O' Connor's arc and it depends if the players helps Jackie Philips/Sam Thompson. This also influences whether Ben Mitchell is an ally or an enemy.
- Many Visual Novels have choices-and-consequences. The earliest was The Portopia Serial Murder Case (1983), the Ur-Example of this trope.
- The main Hayarigami trilogy (Hayarigami, Hayarigami 2 and Hayarigami 3) does this when Assistant Inspector Junya Kazami enters a Self-Question phase of a case. He is given options to determine if the evidence collected leads to a case being caused by the supernatural or by a criminal/criminals using the supernatural to hide their deeds, which will lead to a supernatural or non-supernatural conclusion of the said case. There are certain parts of a case where you need to decide a choice, sometimes being used with a Courage Point. If you waste them, then the choice with the CP cannot be used, forcing you to use another choice. Sometimes, the choice with the CP may not necessarily be the best answer.
- For Shin Hayarigami, Saki Hojo's choices made with CPs and from Liar's Art do determine the direction of how a case will proceed. Not only does it determine how Saki looks at the case from a supernatural or logical explanation, but aspects of the case, such as the suspects and witnesses involved, can change over time. Making a choice will also sometimes get a certain character killed, which may hinder your progress in solving a case.
- The Letter jumps between eight different characters who are being stalked by a Vengeful Ghost, and your decisions will determine whether some, none or all of them will suffer a brutal, gory death. Decisions can also determine the relationships between characters and the ending you get. Like so many other games of its ilk, the game has a butterfly motif, representing the Butterfly of Doom.
- In Your Turn to Die, majority rules, and certain choices can lead to different survivors making it past those points. In Chapter 2, players have a choice between Alice or Reko and Kanna or Sou. No third options; one of them will die, and it will be your fault. The latter choice also leads to a drastic shift in the story's tone and could potentially render the former choice moot. Chapter 3 introduces dolls whose lives are tied to minigames; failing these games may make subsequent minigames and discussions harder.
- Long Live the Queen has several variables that affect the path of the story. In addition to choices, skill checks and Elodie's mood will affect her actions and the success of those actions. Events will change depending on these aforementioned factors, even if they are scripted to always happen (like the parade, ball, and invasion). In the end, it affects foreign relations, the public opinion on Elodie, who lives and dies, and who Elodie marries, among other things.