The Illusion of Choice in Markiplier's Adventures
Author, Sophia Ceravalo
In Space With Markiplier, the latest in YouTuber Markiplier’s series of interactive stories just released its second part at the beginning of May, and wow, this series has really stuck with me. I’ve been a fan of Mark’s for years now, and I still vividly remember watching the first of the series he did– A Date With Markiplier– at school when it originally released. I’ve been keeping up with his other projects in this series (the Markiplier cinematic universe, if you will) since then, but it’s only recently that I’ve started. As a warning, this will include spoilers for the entire series. We’re focusing here on A Date With Markiplier, Who Killed Markiplier?, A Heist With Markiplier, and both parts of In Space With Markiplier, so if you haven’t seen those and care about spoilers, it’s best to turn back now.
So, let’s get into the meat of things.
“Life is ours to choose, as I always say.” A trademark of most of the longer form parts of these series is that the viewer is the protagonist. You’re the one going on a date with Markiplier, you’re the one partnered with him for the heist, you’re the captain of the Invincible II. You’re not just an observer, you’re an active participant in this story. That means that, along with the camera providing your point of view, you generally get to be the one who dictates where the story goes. Do you pay for dinner when Mark can’t find his wallet? Do you escape in a jeep or in a helicopter? Do you send a distress signal or pop ‘er in reverse? The choice is yours– and there are splitting paths based on what you decide to do. A Date With Markiplier has a total of 10 endings, and A Heist With Markiplier goes even further beyond with a total of 31 different endings.
Our partner in crime, Mark, in A Heist With Markiplier. I’ve gone through every path of each story released so far– partially because I want to see how much effort Mark and all the rest of the crew put into these adventures and partially to hunt for Easter eggs and lore. The first time I’ve played each of them, though, I always made the choices that I thought I would if I were in those situations. I paid for dinner when Mark couldn’t, I took the jeep, I sent out a distress signal. That doesn’t mean I always made the right choices. You can make mistakes throughout the series, leading to you or others getting hurt. As early as in A Date With Markiplier, you can accidentally kill Mark instead of Dark. Your choices in In Space With Markiplier in particular can have a ripple effect, leading to the crew members that intrusted you with their lives suffering. Rather than going to fix oxygen, you can make the choice to put out a fire, focusing on the small scale when there are bigger problems to worry about. Throughout In Space, in fact, you’ll die at least once no matter what, and you’re likely to make at least a couple of choices that lead to your death beyond that.
Oops. Like the enigmatic Dorene says in In Space, though, “If the universe were made up of only right and wrong choices, then there’s not really a choice at all”. So maybe the choices that lead you down a path where you die aren’t the wrong ones, but just another choice. A negative result from a choice doesn’t mean that it’s a bad one. There are always consequences for your choices, though. While I didn’t have a chance to watch Markiplier’s ten year anniversary stream where he talked about In Space, my friend did, and one point that stuck with me from what she told me. According to Mark, each person who watched In Space has their own Captain, each one making their own choices. But that also means we aren’t the only ones making choices. In Space’s use of the multiverse is a brilliant way of exploring how our choices can affect others, as well as how we can be affected by other people’s choices. We are not alone in this, or any, universe, and there will always be consequences to our decisions, whether we’re the ones who have to deal with them or not.
But, still, as I think about Markiplier’s adventures, I have to wonder– is there really a choice in things?
“But why do we need to choose in life?” Sure, as the protagonist, we get to make some choices, but they’re all predetermined ones. We get to choose between two options in most cases, but they’re ones presented to us by the creators. If the options are to go either left or right, those are the only directions you can pick from. You can choose your own adventure, but only from the options you’re given.
The an early instance of the blatant illusion of choice in the series comes from Darkiplier’s first appearance in A Date With Markiplier. He says that he’s giving the viewer one last choice, even bragging about how he’s giving us more choices than Mark would ever give us since he gives us four options to choose from. But there’s not actually a choice there.
Three of the four paths presented by Dark are to other, disconnected videos featuring him from before A Date With Markiplier. If you want to move on with the story, there’s only one choice that you can make. “I’m tired of giving people a choice.” And Dark isn’t the only person who can take away our ability to choose. The same can be said of Wilford, with him outright telling us that we’re not going to have to make any choices when we meet him during his appearance in In Space part 2. In a series that so heavily features choice, with A Heist With Markiplier in particular having so many different potential endings based on the decisions to make, there’s something important going on with these direct instances of our ability to choose being taken away. We’re being made to consider our own lack of choice in things.
“No choice at all, really. Haven’t you had enough of those?” Dark and Wilford are both powerful and important characters to the overarching lore of the series, and I think that the two of them calling attention to our lack of choice is significant. No matter what we think, we are not the ones in control– at least not completely. We have a say in things, but only to the extent that those with the most power in the story say so. And who in these stories is more powerful than Markiplier himself, with him being the one who cooks up all these stories?
It all comes back to what I said before about how we get to make choices, but they’re predetermined ones. Our actual power over the story isn’t much more than an illusion. There are paths set beforehand, and the choices we can make are only from the options that are presented to us. We as the viewer don’t have nearly as much choice in matters as we might think we do. But, in the end, does it matter that our choices are illusory? In my opinion, not really.
“And it’s true, not all choices matter.” Most other stories are ones where we have no choice, nor do we have any illusions of having a say in things. Does that detract from our experience of them? The ability to make choices is a novel one, especially in a live action series, but it’s ultimately not what matters here. What matters most is the experience of it all.
Personally, my favorites of our adventures with Markiplier so far have probably been Who Killed Markiplier? and In Space. Both of these series are the ones that told the most cohesive stories, but they’re also the ones where our choices are limited the most. In Who Killed Markiplier?, while we are the point of view character, there are no choices at all. In Space has choices, but no matter what you choose, you always will come to one of two endings in part 2.
The final choice of In Space with Markiplier: let go of Mark or hold on to him. Do you let go, or do you hold on? Letting go will start the loop over again, bringing you back to the beginning of the first part. Holding on, though, will bring you to the story’s true conclusion. I know that some others might consider the let go path as being an ending, but I personally see it more as a choice to start the cycle again. You’ll make choices again and again, until you eventually end up in the same place, making this same decision again. The only true way to end it is to hold on.
This leads to the story of In Space feeling a lot deeper than those in past adventures with Markiplier. The same can be said for Who Killed Markiplier?. Each of these series have a complex story, with so many tiny little connections and bits of continuity scattered throughout.
Selecting your path in A Heist With Markiplier. A Heist With Markiplier might provide you with a ton of different endings, as well as countless different experiences, but the stories you get are brief due to how disconnected they are from each other. You have the same starting point no matter what, but you can end up in completely different places. The first choice you make in A Heist With Markiplier sets you on a completely different path, and while that allows for plenty of opportunities to launch into new endings, the story can’t be much more than surface level due to how variable everything has to be. In Space, though, felt like a culmination of everything that Mark has been building for the past five years with these adventures. It was heartfelt and funny, and there are so many tiny details connecting it to other pieces of lore from throughout his other projects. What it lacked in different endings, it more than made up for in terms of story. In the end, I think what matters most is the journey of it all, not our final destination. Not all of our choices matter. Still, it was fun to explore the endless possibilities that arise from our different decisions, to seek out Easter eggs across all the branching paths. And, as for me, I can’t wait to see where our next adventure with Markiplier takes us.