📰 Roam Free: A History of Open-World Gaming
Full Title: Roam Free: A History of Open-World Gaming
Open World video games bear the impossible promise—offering compelling, enjoyable open-endedness and Freedom within the constraints of what is, by necessity of the medium, an extremely limited set of possible actions. These games provide a list of (predominantly violent) verbs that's minuscule in comparison to the options you would face in identical real-life situations. Yet, we can't get enough of them.
But to really classify a game as open world, it's got to be about freedom. There should be a sense that, within the rules of the game world, you can do anything at any time while freely moving about the space. It's essential for true open-world games to offer the freedom to decide when to do things, which by extension means a freedom to do things other than moving on to the next main story beat.
The growing seriousness of the Rockstar model of open worlds presented an opportunity to capture a new niche, a kind of play for play's sake, a city- or state-scale sandbox filled with toys—not verisimilitude or attempted emotional storytelling—and a flimsy excuse to cause chaos.
As this busy, mission and event-dense style of open world grows more dominant as a design modality, it'll be increasingly important for games like Crackdown, Elite Dangerous, and the Just Cause series to remind us of the true promise of the Open World: that we could be free, to do whatever we want, at any time, in any way, and to play with our virtual worlds in the same imaginative, limitless way a child plays with the real one.