Open world or sandbox gaming is much-beloved gaming category that spans multiple genres. Defined by having a huge world that the player can roam relatively freely and by giving the player a lot of freedom in terms of completing in-game objectives, open world games have become increasingly popular as technological advances have allowed for increasingly large and detailed worlds. Likely because of the difficulty and expense of developing open world games, only two major companies specialize in creating them: Rockstar and Bethesda. That said, other games such as the Saint's Row series, Minecraft, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and even occasional MMOs (Ultima Online, A Tale in the Desert, Second Life) have shaped open-world gaming and expanded our understanding of what these games can look like.
Not all gamers appreciate open world gaming. Some find it boring and tedious, while others would like a more structured gaming experience with clear and immediate objectives. Because the scope and complexity of open world games make them more prone to bugs and glitches than most other genres, people who aren't fans of open world games often get upset when an open world game garners extremely high review scores or a great deal of coverage by gaming sites. What's so special about these games, anyway? Let's take a look at the reasons why fans and critics seem so enamored of them.
One of the largest draws of open world gaming is the thrill of exploration and survival. Open world game fans love to scour the world for beautiful vistas, unusual or hidden events, or simply for the opportunity to see what's around the corner. Strike out into Fallout 3's wasteland, and you never know if you'll encounter a hostile bandit camp, a city full of bizarre characters, or a vault full of Gary clones. Strike out into Minecraft's wilderness and you don't know if you'll find valuable resources or an angry monster. Explore an open world MMO and discover the beautiful or bizarre creations of other players. Open world games are one of the best kinds of game for exploration-loving players to experience.
Open world games give players a kind of moral flexibility and freedom beyond that found even in BioWare-style role-playing games. Many of these games give players the complete freedom to save the innocent or slaughter entire villages, loot bad guys or rob the local mayor blind. Though there are often in-game consequences for committing crimes, the fact that they're a viable way to play sets open world games apart. The GTA and Saint's Row series go as far as casting the player as the antihero, immersing the player in the lives of violent gang members and other parts of the criminal underworld. While this aspect of open world games has made them controversial, many gamers enjoy that these games allow them to do things they'd never consider doing in real life.
Experimental players have an answer to critics who decry the bugs often found in open world games: The bugs are exactly the point! Many open world fans love to experiment with the game's A.I., physics system, bugs and glitches, etc. From searching for flying cougars in Red Dead Redemption to putting pots on the heads of Skyrim's NPCs in order to steal things from under their noses, these players delight in the things that happen in freeform game worlds. Experimenters have done amazing things with these worlds, such as building giant domino sculptures with Oblivion books or creating a 3D printer in Minecraft. Many of the greatest gaming videos on YouTube are based on the many things that experimental players have done in these games, showing that there's plenty of enjoyment to be had with this kind of experimentation.
Many open world games allow players to create new content and share it with others. From modding Elder Scrolls games to building massive sculptures in A Tale in the Desert, creative players love the opportunities that open world games provide. Ambitious mod teams have used open world toolsets to create entirely new worlds, but smaller projects such as new buildings or player companions are also very popular. Creative gamers love the fact that many developers are happy to give them control over a game's assets or environment, allowing for the adult equivalent of playing with LEGO sets.
Put all these things together, and it's easy to see why we need open world games. They promote the purest form of play, that feeling of being a little kid who is playing pretend and can be or do anything he or she desires. We adults benefit from that kind of play as well, as it's a wonderful way to relieve stress and spark creativity. From exploration and freeform moral role-play to experimentation and creation, open world games promote a special kind of entertainment that provides benefits to many different kinds of gamers. They're an important part of the gaming landscape, and while perhaps we game critics should be a bit harsher on their bad points, open world games deserve the attention they receive.
Date: April 3, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*