Cutscenes in Video games (Embracing Player Agency)

Hey guys, today I am going to be discussing cutscenes. I’m going to be talking about how we use them, briefly why and my thoughts on how I think we can improve on them by embracing player agency and using other methods.  


This is a topic which is constantly being discussed. I just thought I would voice my opinions. At the end there will be links to articles and videos which I enjoyed, as well as got me thinking on the subject. 

I find as an industry we are using other mediums techniques to tell our stories. Such as a monologue of text to develop a character or these 10 minute cutscenes telling us how the world has change. When we should be embracing and searching for what our own medium can do. The interactivity is what makes us as an amazing industry. 

Two games that I have been playing recently are BatMan Arkham Knight and Metal Gear Solid 5. 

These games both have powerful openings. They instantly set the tone for the game, and each showing the danger and brutality of the world. 

While I do believe they both are great openings for games. It is very clear in my opinion that Batman does it better. I’m a huge MGS fan as well. 

The reason being is the interactivity of it. Batman embraces the player agency. The player sets the joker on fire. It was only a touch of a button yet it made it feel much more personal. Players felt like they had put him to rest. There is no way he is coming back as the player not only saw him set on fire but we’re the ones to do it. 


This could of been a cutscene but it being interactive helped build a connection between the player and the events. 

MGSV does have a strong opening and some real tense moments however the fact control is taken away from players every few minutes breaks it. 

(Spoiler) An example of ruining the tension is where the player is rescued by Abraham as he pulls you into a room. It resumes the cutscene as players see enemies walking into a room. This would be a great time for it to switch back to gameplay but no. The camera does 180 spin and then gives control back to the player. It doesn’t give control on the tension bite. 

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Was it really necessary? Did we really need a cutscene to show guards entering a room? MGS could of shown the guards entertaining the room while still leaving the control in the players hands. I found that the whole prologue was like this. 

We as designers need to think, what does this do for the game? Can it be told through gameplay?

I’m not against the traditional use of cutscenes. When I was younger cutscenes were one of the main motivators for me to progress in the game. 

A great example of traditional cutscenes used to their heights ability is in the Last of Us. 

Last of Us has some powerful moments, from (Spoliers) Ellie being captured by the canibals to when multiple of companions chose to take their own lives. 

However it isn’t just the cutscenes that make these work it’s how the gameplay after which compliments the cutscenes. 

One example of this is after you have made your way through a small street which is an enemy stronghold you reach a house where a sniper has been hold up. Cutscene kicks in and one of your friends has been shot in the arm in which he tells the player how they are surrounded and need to hold the house. 

Control is given back to the player as he is now in a sniper position and must defend the house from on coming enemies. 

An even better example of this is all cutscenes of Ellie been captured by the canibals and has to fight the leader. All the way through the cutscenes she looks weak and powerless. 

Then when players take control of Ellie in the boss battle you can’t constantly shoot him or pull of a crazy finisher. Players must sneak around the boss until he has his back is exposed and then run away to do it again. 

When the game play and cutscene compliment one another it works like a treat. 

Can we not create that whole experience in game play though? Why can’t we just make Ellie feel weak through intractable events. 


We traditionally use cutscenes to progress the story or for character progression, even sometimes as a motivator for players to get further in the game. 

Yet I believe we are coming to the stage where we can show the progression through the world and game play. In Batman Arkham Asylum the environment would change to match the them of the boss who players were facing at that stage. We can use this to show how the world is changing how player’s progression is impacting the world. Instead of a 5 minuet cutting scene of the characters talking about it. 

I have a few suggestions on what we should try and embrace. These are not to say that these are the correct ways. These are just my thoughts. 

One of the best elements of story telling that games posses over any medium is microstories. We can create a small scene which may have some claw marks or bullet holes. Without showing the players how they got there. Each player has their own interpretation of how this event unfolded. This is amazing and we should embrace it more. 

Changes to the world. As I mentioned earlier with Batman Arkham Asylum we should have a visual impact on the world. Not only will players think that they are making an impact but they can also see it. 

Designers have and are trying different things. Some which work really well and others which still need be worked on. 

Quick time events have been placed into cutscenes to add some form of players agency. Sometimes these can work really well other times it can lead to player frustration as they were unaware of what was going to happen. I personally think these can work well and they have some areas to expand upon. This will be interesting to see where QTEs go. 

Bastion has a brilliant and fun way of telling it’s story with a narrator. Films and TV has used narrators before, yet not many games do this. I personally think it’s a great idea and works amazingly. Players can still progress while being told what is happening. 


These are my thoughts and I just really wanted to get people thinking about how we can try different ways of telling stories. Why copy Hollywood when we have the greatest opportunity to create our own unique ways of telling them. 

We shouldn’t fear player agency, and I know 8/10 times the player does something you weren’t expecting, but I think we should learn to embrace this and create environments which tells the story to the player no matter what they do. 

My last thing before I leave you all is a quote. Sadly can’t remember who said it but, “In this time of twitchers and sharing capabilities of the PS4 sharing, no one is going to share the cutscenes. Players want to share their own unique experiences in game”. 

Thanks and let’s continue.

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