Being Pro-Active

This came up recently in conversation with a friend but how many games actually allow you to be Pro-Active rather than just Reactive?

Games that immediately spring to mind are the Social Simulations (Sims, SimCity, RollerCoaster Tycoon, Monopoly Tycoon etc) and also a few of the more free-form strategy games (Civilization, the Total War games).

For a moment here though we want to ignore the multiplayer games as by their very nature these require you to take a pro-active role in events (unless you are a camping bast).

So my question is: What Single Player games actually allow and in fact encourage you to take a pro-active approach rather than just reacting to whatever stimuli the designers created? All examples of this are welcomed from the micro-scale encounters like combat to macro scale strategies that arch over everything you do.

Also if there are very few games that allow this why is that? Would making a game in this mould be easier or harder than a purely reactive game and for that matter do we as players actually want that kind of responsibility?

Deus Ex. In fact, you have to be proactive. The game dumps you at the start of a mission and then says “Go”. Maybe gives you a couple objectives, but ultimately how you do them is entirely up to you and your approach to the game and the level.

Also, yes, it’s because making games like this is harder. Not necessarily on the content and production side, but more on the design side. It’s far easy for developer to say “FPS in hallways!” than to think how the game would work if the player wasn’t stuck in a tunnel.

I just remembered one myself which is a perfect example: Boiling Point. At no point do you even really get given objectives. Sure people tell you to do things but you are free to just take that infomation and use it for your own purposes. I once took a bus driving mission so I could steal a bus and infiltrate a military base to steal weapons. That is definitely being Pro-active.

Deus Ex for me (not quite as much the first one but definitely the second one) felt like it was a tiny sprinkling of choice in a world that was essentially scripted to the balls (and it was if you’ve ever done any Deus Ex modding you’ll note exactly how rigid it actually is). But for example I only went to Paris because that was where I had to go next according to the story not because I chose to go to Paris, same for Vandenburg, area-51 and pretty much any point in the game that caused a change of scenary.

Although I will aggree that WITHIN those areas you were pretty much left to your own devices albeit with some fairly hefty hints left lying around about how best to proceed.

It’s what I’d consider micro-level choice in an ultimately scripted environment.

I disagree with Deus Ex, and every other FPS. You’re reacting to the situation they place you in. Maybe you react differently, but it’s not like you can just hang out at the beginning of a linear level and sit there.

To me, being in a pro-active role means you can choose the time, place, and method of the conflict. I’d say games that are pro-active are:

Oblivion, Morrowind, etc.
The GTA games
Most RTS games that have skirmish modes
The Total War games, and other games like that

The first three X-COMs (though it’s a bit reactive, but you can choose to ignore UFOs and Alerts, so I think it qualifies). X-COM three is very reactive though, because you can “investigate” buildings for potential activity (if you saw a beam down, for instance).

I think pro-active games are fairly new. Not all of them are, but as a general trend the “sandbox” games are all more or less pro-active.

If you were playing a game with linear levels, said game was not Deus Ex.

I don’t know of any game where that is always true. Unless a game is completely passive (i.e. it never does anything but react to you), you’ll never get to set all the terms of the conflict. And even if the game just reacts to you, the game still sets the stage and defines what is and isn’t possible. It’s not like I could go join a pirate crew and spend my virtual life at sea in Oblivion if I wanted to, because that’s not part of the game.

I think the defining factor is that some games never let you set the terms of the conflict–all you do is react. The “proactive” games are the ones that give you some leeway–sometimes you can set the terms and force the game to react to you, and sometimes you have to react to the game. There’s always going to be that mix, though, and I’d definitely put Deus Ex in this category.

I’d put Thief here, too. In Thief, the game really just sets the stage in each level, and then lets you approach the mission however you choose. Some strategies are naturally easier than others, but it still lets you push the game into adapting to your style of play.

I personally consider myself as “being pro-active” if I am controlling the when/where/how of something or if I am predicting a change in the environment that I can use or prevent to my advantage before it occurs.

Such as Zoning more low-density residential suburbs just before a huge influx of people into my city, or attacking an enemy town in order to secure a strategic location or resource I will need later in the game to be able to defeat my larger neighbour.


I’d say Fallout. Go get a waterchip - and then you were set loose to go anywhere.

Apologies, maybe I’m misremembering Deus Ex. My memory goes like this:

Statue of Liberty . . . linear level
Hell’s Kitchen . . . linear level
Hong Kong . . . fairly open, had to do something with the Chinese Mafia . . . this was fair pro-active
Back at the Base . . . walk around, but can’t really decide what to do besides walk around and choose “next mission”
Underground facilities . . . linear level
Gas Station ambush . . . linear level
Paris . . . a bit open, but fairly linear level

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Deus Ex. One of my favorite FPS games. It was certainly less linear than say, Medal of Honor. But while you were in Paris, or Hong Kong, could you decide you didn’t want to commit to this action and fly back to the states, or decide you needed to think things out a bit or needed more experience before you tackled the objective? I’d argue not.

Maybe my definition of “pro-active” is too narrow.

I think as a general rule strategy games and sims are what you’d call “pro-active.” FPS’s and RPG’s are not (Oblivion and its ilk notwithstanding).

Really? Can’t you run around and do whatever you want, and choose when to do missions? You control what is happening. Yes, you can’t change say, the structure of the city, or the course of the story, or the conflict itself, like in a strategy game. But to me, you had to be pro-active about taking the missions on, getting cars, getting money to buy weapons, etc. In the later games you had to be active about buying businesses and houses, attacking and defending gang territory, etc.

Sims with dynamic campaigns, I offer Tornado and Silent Hunter III for consideration.

Tornado style Flight sims with Dynamic campaigns. The “war” starts, you’ve got your squadron of Tornados and a big map outlining where the AA, Radar, POL, bridges, airfields and ground forces etc and what and when you hit stuff has some bearing on the overall campaign if not your immediate survivability. Take out the airfield? That fuel dump? or clusterbomb the crap out of those tanks sat in front of your ground forces?

Silent Hunter III. Ok so you can never “Win” other than make it through the war alive, but the mission system does little other than tell you to patrol a sector for 24 hours, during which you might never see another ship. If you want the big rewards to get the upgrades to better, more likely to survive subs/crew, you need to preferably sink a lot of merchants. Where and how you sink them is up to you.

Nah. Advancement through those games is actually entirely linear. Sure, you can just run people over for a while if you want, but it doesn’t actually do anything as far as progressing through the game goes. When you want to do that, you just head over to the convenient mission marker, watch a cutscene, and do the mission exactly the way the game tells you to. Then you go to the next one and do the same thing.

Would Syndicate count? Darklands? Too old, I know…

Falcon 4 Allied Force
Operation Flashpoint in some ways.

Wasn’t syndicate still largely linear. Win the map and move to the next one, lose it and play it again? Still one of my favourite games though.

Lego. But the old Lego, where you just got a box full of bricks and were set loose. Not the new Lego, the models of motorbikes and star destroyers, that come with pre-moulded pieces and instructions.

Your imagination is the most powerul game engine. Fail at Lego and you fail at life :p

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

It is linear in the sense that it has a start and end to every scenario, yes. The only games that aren’t linear in that sense are pure sandboxes. You do not require a pure sandbox to be pro-active, or for a game to not require the player to be reactive.

No - you can be proactive - by taking out the enemies before the scripted AI reacts to your existence ;)

Too bad the game was so bug-ridden and horribly performing, because it was a fun and free experience. To me, proactive in that game was a matter of seeing things that might be useful, taking them and leaving them someplace you could access them later.


Hmmm. Perhaps there is a difference between linear, passive, and pro-active.

Deus Ex is certainly one of the most open FPS shooters (not counting Oblivion . . . I keed, I keed).

Also, there is a difference between a game that is static and one where the world changes based on your actions (Falcon 4).

What are games that change the MOST based on your actual decisions and actions? And I don’t mean “You saved the world or destroyed it in the storyline”. I mean two different people could be talking about a game and say “In my game, the forces of darkness have nearly won. The land is dark, trees are rotten and twisted. We lost Metro City, it’s a wasteland now.”, while the other could say “Yeah, Metro City is bright and shiny in my game. However, we lost Spire-town, so production of sniper rifles is limited”. To me, that’s dynamic.

The big city of X-COM: Apocalypse was pretty dynamic. The most dynamic game world I can think of, actually.