This large world, please let me get lost in it. Open world environments in video games are becoming a must for any successful Role Playing Game [RPG]. Open worlds provide us gamers with explore-how-you-want and go-where-you-want video game settings (also the same marketing slogans used on open world RPG box art). They are far beyond the constraining atmospheres presented in early side scrollers like Super Mario Brothers and Contra and even the more recent first person shooter [FPS] with invisible constraining walls. Open worlds enable us to tap into one of our species biggest desires, “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”.
Fett (my Fallout: New Vegas character) is my virtual version of Magellan and Shepard (of Mass Effect fame) is our gaming pixel equivalent of Buzz Aldrin. Virtual exploration is the poor mans version of globe trotting. It allows us gamers to feel the freedom and excitement of exploration without the deep hit to our pocket books or deep cuts to our fleshy bodies. Open worlds give us a sandbox to play in (another phrase used to describe open worlds = sandbox) and lets us explore, kill and/or save lives within it.
Within the wood panels containing the sand of our video game virtual worlds are narrative influences (quests) that the gamer can either decide to interact with or not – so the freedoms in an open world do not just reside in choices of exploration. These narrative influences, rather they be a Dragon (as will be the focus of upcoming open world game The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim) or a lost traveler looking for assistance or partnership, can help shape the sandbox or can be ignored so the gamer may shape it on his own. This freedom to choose is at the core of our desire to explore and exploration – freedom in choosing ones own path. It is these facets of open worlds that make getting lost and having a game that is built large enough to get lost in, exciting to us gamers.
Freedom of choice in exploration, interaction with in-game groups or individuals and the awareness of the unknown make open world gaming as attractive as the New World was to Columbus. For RPGs, open worlds are a key component to being able to actually role play your avatar as demanded by your human desires. Open worlds provide marketing ability and legitimacy amongst the RPG gaming faithful. It keeps the gamer guessing, exploring and wondering, what is over the next hill or toxic dump site.