Breathe deep. Smell that? Itís the smell of an open world.
That moment, sans a literal smell, is what I feel like when I am finally let free in an open world game. My first such experience that blew me away was escaping the dungeon in Oblivion
. I started the game in prison for a crime either so heinous it canít be mentioned or so petty itís not worth remembering. Then I met the king (Picard!) and got yelled at by some guards, which hurt me deep down inside, where I am soft, like a kitten.
After going through the tutorial in some underground passages, I witnessed murder most foul. Then, I was charged with a quest. And then??
Well, more sewers, but then, freedom!
Really, itís a clichť. Open world games do this all the time. Okay, the ones Iíve played do this. In Grand Theft Auto 4
, I was driven home by my drunken cousin, slept, and then, boom, New YoróI mean Liberty City. In Fallout, I was in a vaultóa vault! What could be more suffocating than being in a lock box run by fascist?
But itís a clichť I love. Every time, I look up and around in awe as if Iíve just stepped out in a beautiful summer dayówith giant, radioactive ants. I donít think of myself as someone who prioritizes graphics in this generation of gaming, but thereís something about looking at a horizon and knowing, ďHey, I could walk over there and see whatís there. Or I could steal this horse, lasso some guy, and bring him with me. We could go pick some cactus flowers. And if heís still alive, I could shoot him with my gun.Ē
Of course, thatís always the question: What are you going to do? Sure, thereís the option of ďgo to map marker X and begin to fulfill pre-prescribed errands to begin your epic journey.Ē But, come on!! Who does that? I played Oblivion for several nights before I ever reached Friar Donít-Steal-My-Desk-Garlic-For-Your-Vampire-Cure outside of Chorrol. I talked to people, killed some others. I defended myself against beasts (and ate their meat), and probably completed a mission despite my best efforts to avoid any structure before I ever worried about the kingís heir, Kvatch, or dragon fires.
Donít get me wrong. Thereís a completion-ist inside of me. I have to visit all locales, complete all quests, and so forth. But that comes later.
So why is this so amazing for me?
Well, recently, Iíve run into an academic answer. Apparently, as a gamer I enjoy testing out behaviors and roles for myself that I wouldnít otherwise dare to exercise in real life. For example, killing, stealing, tea-bagging, killing, horse thievery, vampirism, murder, assassinating, jumping off cliffs/buildings, stealing cars/horses, dealing drugs, bedecking horses in ridiculous and useless armor, lassoing, hunting (too much blood in real life), slaving, blowing peopleís head off/up/away, pick pocketing, and the ever-so classic, being a woman. Mind you, Iíve got nothing against women, but I have an aversion to the surgery required to trying out womanhood in real life.
All of that, sure, I would never really do. And yes, I must be a sick puppy. But I am comfortable with my sickness and truly happy with my cure.
But really, I think open world games amaze me more because of a childhood expectation that stems from Adventure
and the Atari 2600. That was one of the first games I ever played. And while I ate it up, I still looked at the box art with some yearning. After all, the dragon on the cover didnít look like legless, floating duck. The sword wasnít an arrow and the adventurer was more than a mere square.
Some might argue, ďBut what about your own imagination?Ē Sure, I hear you (and am slightly annoyed by you). See, I still use my imagination (or perversion if you like) to guide what I do in the game. I still decide to just go left and see where it takes me.
Itís just that today, the combination of great graphics, seemingly endless depth, average storytelling, and passable control configurations (Grand Theft Auto
, I am looking at you) has finally combined to make Adventure
into, well, an actual adventure.