Failing the GTA Sandbox

I resist­ed GTAIV. It sat on its shelf for a long time. A cou­ple days ago, I dis­cov­ered that sev­er­al of my friends had sim­i­lar (lack of) expe­ri­ences, and no one had fin­ished the game. So, off the shelf. A few days lat­er, I have an idea now about why the game and I failed each oth­er on our first meet­ing a year ago. It’s an open world prob­lem.

In the open world game, the play­er is the game direc­tor. Once cousin Roman dropped Niko off, I had every bit of free­dom that I could ask for. I could jack a car, shoot up pedes­tri­ans, flee the cops, shop in a store, or indulge in any of a half-dozen side quests or mini-games. And that’s just scratch­ing the sur­face, that’s just what the game expos­es in the first few hours. Lib­er­ty City lived up to its name.

Para­dox­i­cal­ly, the abil­i­ty to do any­thing led me to do noth­ing. I felt a paral­y­sis of inde­ci­sion. What should I be doing? What were the con­se­quences? Every NPC tugged at me for atten­tion. The map blinked its choic­es at me, wait­ing. The sta­tis­tics screen hung over my head like an oppres­sive judge, list­ing the hun­dred things I had yet to accom­plish.

Even­tu­al­ly, I pushed myself though it. Got in the first car I could steal. Stopped at the clos­est mis­sion and ran with it. As the game intend­ed, I stopped car­ing about the ques­tion of what to do next. I rode the game’s pri­ma­ry sto­ry until the some­thing inter­est­ing caught my eye. Hours passed by quick­ly. By then, the game had me. I was enthralled with the world, even more than the game­play, and that was enough.

What this has revealed to me is that I pre­fer the more direct­ed game expe­ri­ence. That’s an irony, con­sid­er­ing my affec­tion for and his­to­ry with the MMO genre. What can I take away? The next open world I get involved with, mul­ti­play­er or oth­er­wise, I’ll take more care to stage in play­er free­dom, let him or her get used to a non-infi­nite deci­sion matrix. Encour­age the play­er to branch out in stages. If pos­si­ble, make my world a lit­tle more wel­com­ing, a lit­tle more direct­ed, at least for a while.

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