Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Chance to Play

Games have goals.  Save that princess, kill ten rats, level up, defeat evil.  We all know and accept that these goals are set for us by the game developers. We take it for granted that the goals will be presented to us and we will try our best to accomplish them.

But trust me, there is another way.

Look at the success of Minecraft: a game with no goals.  We're given a tool set and told to have fun.  It's like being given a stuffed giraffe as a kid.  We can make up epic adventures for the giraffe to go on.  He can explore his environment and interact with other toys.  He can befriend a tiny tiny elephant or become bitter rivals with a cake.  Or maybe you'll just choose to chew on his head (like my daughter).  It's all up to us and our imagination.  We are given a toy and what we do with it is up to us.

 Delicious choice.

How many games like that are out there?  Not many at all.  Minecraft is the only one that readily springs to mind.  But why can't more games have player created goals?  Why haven't we moved closer to a virtual world?

Well, as a developer it must be terrifying to not give the player a goal.  To simply say, "This is my world, have fun in it."  In this age of highly scripted experiences it takes a special kind of developer to do that.

But oh, the adventures we can have.

A virtual world is what we all dream of.  I remember thinking about it all the time as a kid.  I couldn't wait to put on a future technical contraption and actually feel like I was in another world.  But a huge part of having a virtual world is not having explicit goals.  That's the way we function in the real world, we have to make our own goals.  As soon as we're given a goal by an outside force it changes the entire texture of the experience.

Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since I was born and I've played games of every make and model.  But rarely, so rarely, have I felt a sense of wonder.  Maybe that's something I need.  Something that lay dormant for years but has finally resurfaced.  Maybe, sometimes, I need the chance to just play.


  1. Aren't a lot of open world games like this? I've heard people talk about games like Farcry 2, EVE Online, Red Faction: Guerrilla in terms not unlike what you're using to describe Minecraft.

    Personally I have no time/desire to play sandbox games.... they bore the snot out of me. I prefer a more guided experience, where I'm told a story (be it Mario's epic quest to rescue the princess yet again, or Shephard's fight against overwhelming odds).

  2. I love a good guided experience, but I've felt a ton of boredom lately because so many games feel formulaic. Predictable storytelling and rehashes of the same concept through sequels have disappointed me lately. There are many exceptions but I wanted to look at a different way of creating a game.

    To answer your question about sandbox games, they aren't all created equal. Most have a "main" story and slowly unlock content as you progress through it. Minecraft literally just says go, with no hand-holding or semblance of story. It's much more like adult legos than it is like a traditional video game, but I like it a lot.