There’s a song that goes “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.” For the sake of being on topic, let’s say a videogame character is the modern-day Shakespeare behind those
lyrics. As a videogame character, he can do quite a lot. Grapple up mountains, drive cars off said mountains, steal planes and then leap out of them to steal better planes, etc. “Anything,” one might say. However, he still won’t – or really, can’t – do “that.” What is “that,” you ask?
Well, anything that actually matters, to be honest.
Sure, when playing games like Grand Theft Auto, Just Cause 2, or Red Faction: Guerrilla, I can mow down crowds of people like they’re an unruly, weed-ridden lawn, but – like actual plants and
actual people – they grow back. And if I die, I grow back too. I can cause traffic pile-ups so large they’d fill three nights-worth of evening news programs or send entire buildings crashing to the ground, but when I turn around, everyone’s come back to life and moved on with said lives.
The only time I can ever do anything that “matters” is during scripted, generally linear missions.
But those run so contrary to the message of “freedom” open-world games proudly trumpet that they may as well be from separate games entirely.
The end result?
The game world feels false
– less like an actual living, breathing place and more like a theme park where half the rides are out of order. It’s not convincing and – in some cases where story and non-story gameplay clash, ala Grand Theft Auto IV – serves to yank the player right out of the experience.
That’s not, however, to say that the idea of some wanton, consequence-free havoc doesn’t put a wry grin on my face. Rather, I’m just wondering when the definition of “sandbox gaming” became so constricted.
Why not allow players to affect – or, if they so choose, wreak havoc on – a game’s story in the same way they can currently, well, blow sh** up?
Why not allow them to experiment with characters and scenarios the way they can currently experiment with tank jousting contests?
Better still, the framework’s already in place for a hypothetical something-other-than-explosions-centric sandbox game. Two games in particular, I think, pave the way for a truly interactive style of open-world game, and both of them preach a message that might leave the choir scratching its collective noggin – at least, at first. That message? Constrict. Downsize. Make the world smaller.
In other words, do away with a few unnecessary variables for the sake of feasibility.