Is different flavour text enough to make a choice 'matter'?

Yes they matter…helps make it my story and not just a story im reading about somebody else.

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If you think about it, at the end of the day, all choices just change the text. It’s just a matter of how much text they change. Choices with far-reaching consequences are good, but so are choices that just give you a little extra text in the moment. Indeed, I’d say it makes sense to have far more choices which are pure flavour text (or just slightly alter stats) than choices which have far-reaching consequences, not just because it’s easier to code, but also because it helps personalise each and every playthrough. You can’t write a new story for every single choice, but by adding a little alteration for many different choices, you can have billions of stories, even if your main story is completely on-rails (note: probably don’t have your main story be completely on rails).

I’d even say that completely blank choices can be fine in moderation, since the choice text itself is still text. Even if the outcome is identical, the act of choosing itself still makes a difference. But definitely don’t overuse this; if possible at least have a little flavour text.

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It could also still set a variable, but I guess then it’s not a choice this topic is about.

I have ambivalent feelings about this – on one hand, it’s nice to be able to pick the reaction. But on the other hand, if there’s zero impact of your reactions on the other characters and the world at large (beyond maybe difference in immediate response, that ultimately does nothing to the relationship with other characters) then it can lead to a feeling the player’s character is basically ignored or not taken seriously by others. And that can be frustrating in the long run.

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I would say yes. I have always had more fun with IF’s that allow me to express who my MC is rather then just what they’ve done in the context of the overarching narrative. Of course there should be choices that actually ‘matter’ but not every choice has to be such. Ideally for me as a reader, an IF would have a lot of these ‘meaningless’/flavor choices in between the handful of choices that actually have consequences for the narrative.

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As someone who hates rails and being “told a story” rather than feeling like I have agency in it and feeling like I’m being given fake choices to pat my head so the author can get back to their story…

Yes! These can still be great, not every choice needs to matter in the sense of mechanics being invoked, variables changing, stats going up and down, or stories branching. Sometimes, just giving the reader a chance to put their mark on the story and/or reflect their character back at them is very, very effective in feeling like the story cares about you and your input.

Something as simple as what my character chooses to eat when the group sits down to talk at lunch is an opportunity to check in with the player and let them decide who the character is in some small way. Will it ever matter that my character preferred a vegan salad over a cheeseburger? No, not at all (probably), but it matters to me, in that moment, and being given that choice is meaningful in and of itself, even if there’s no switch flipped somewhere that will be pulled later. Though if at a later meal, someone did call back to that choice and say “Sorry, we don’t have a vegan option…” or “You’ll love the cheeseburgers here!” before presenting similar choices, that’s a great callback that, again, doesn’t “matter”, but makes me feel seen in the story.

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Exactly, the idea that everything counts for the text and decisions, other people react differently to the MC depending on the stats, and what happened earlier (ie. characters “remember” how you treated them and treat you accordingly when you meet them later.) It makes the other characters more realistic.

Like later on you’re having dinner with some people and someone makes a reference to it, it makes things that much more immerisive.

Ideally you’d probably want some thing like this :

(1) Flavor text that changes depending on the choices you made earlier

(2) Game branches that are opened or closed depending on the choices you made earlier

And bonus :

The choices that you make affect the choices that the other characters make, which results in a slightly (or markedly) different outcome, in a “butterfly effect” kind of way.