Thunder Bird Strike and Player Choice

Elizabeth LaPensée, professor and game designer, created the game known as Thunderbird Strike. In an interview with author Jacob Dubé she explains what her game is about. She says that as “a big greenish-blue thunderbird a player can use its thunder to destroy vehicles and construction sites…or they can use the [thunder] to restore the local wolf, caribou, and buffalo populations. Since it’s impossible to lose in the game—only garner higher and higher scores— LaPensée said players can experience the game however they want. The game doesn’t judge you, she said” (Destroy Oil Pipelines as a Thunderbird in this New Video Game). After playing the game and thinking about her purpose I questioned what she meant by “the game doesn’t judge you.” In my opinion, the game does not judge the player because the player decides what they think is the best choice for environmental justice. Although the game does not judge the player’s choice it does cause the player to think carefully about their choices.

Thunder bird image.jpg

The first time I played the game I did not save any animals. I decided that I wanted to save the environment by destroying vehicles. I thought if there were no vehicles and construction sites there would be less harm done to the environment. Some may call this a practical approach, but the consequence is that the animals die along with my rampage. For example, while I am destroying the vehicles I lose so much lightning that I do not have enough to save animals. Thus, they continued to be deceased underground. The second time I played the game I decided to save the animals. This approach was also practical. However, this approach was problematic because the vehicles and construction sites were the cause of the problem. Even if I saved all the animals it does nothing for the environmental damage humans do as a society.  In both instances, I was struggling with what I believed to be the “right” choice. In addition, even when I did try to destroy vehicles and save animals I didn’t have enough lightning for both. Thus, I was practically forced to choose destroying, saving, a little bit of both or to do nothing.

As LaPensée points out, the game does not judge the player. However, what her game does is put the player in charge of their choices. When the player manages their own choices, they witness the consequences of that choice. For me, I struggled with the idea that I could not save all the animals or destroy all the vehicles and sites. I had to prioritize what I thought was most important. When this kind of thinking occurs in a game it really makes one think more about their choices. In other games the choices are judged so game developers practically make the choices for you.



2 thoughts on “Thunder Bird Strike and Player Choice

  1. I like what you say about the consequences of the nonjudgmental nature of the game! This is something I also experienced when I played the game. All I wanted was for it to be possible to save all the animals and destroy all the vehicles and sites. But, yes, the difficulty of making the choice forces you to think about why you can’t do both completely, and what the wiser choice is… And I agree with you that in games where the choices might already be made for you, you aren’t necessarily made to think so hard about them. I wonder, though, which is more productive. The approach of Thunderbird Strike might be good for making someone think, but it might not be as driving forward action.


  2. I’m so used to games that do judge you that playing Thunderbird Strike was a difficult adjustment for me to make. The direction given by the developers in more restricted games, which you mention in the last sentence, is comforting to me and makes picking up a new game much more straightforwards. I agree with where Lumi is taking this idea, because the freedom to choose did captivate my focus, but the higher degree of player independence (and lack of winning/losing component) quickly made me feel as if there was no external pressure pushing me onwards, and made it easier for me to walk away from the game.


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