There’s a fine line between freedom and fun. Games should allow you to experience a certain level of freedom but enough constraint to offer a challenge to overcome. It’s often the case that non-linearity leads to non-urgency, if a game gives you too much freedom the natural reaction without the constraint of consequence is to abuse that freedom.
A story should sweep you along but often I find myself just wasting time because I’ve been given the option to. In a lot of open world games the emphasis is taken off the story content and focused more on the freedom and the mini games so it becomes less like a sandbox and more like a toy-box. Rather than driven by a plot towards the inevitable goal you’re given the option to essentially go around in circles fulfilling minor goals for meager rewards. It’s like filler for a game it adds to the overall goal of completing the games plot but doesn’t add to said plot, it’s just padding.
Anomie; is a principle theorized by French sociologist Emile Durkheim and put plainly it is a state where norms (expectations on behaviours) are confused, unclear or not present. In your everyday cross section of modern life even the most asocial of people can share a common goal with a passer-by even if it’s just the basic goal of survival. We understand that every man woman and child wants to live and we are aware as a social norm that human life has value and that taking it is expressly forbidden. On the other hand in the world of games they make their own norms. So one day you can be a cop and another you can be a criminal with two opposed set of norms.
For instance if you play a crime a game and you’re given an entire city to explore why wouldn’t you commit criminal acts? The perfect example of this idea of ‘normlessness’
is Postal 2
; The game is the ultimate example of too much freedom causing deviance. The game is even named after this idea of ‘going postal’ referring to spree killing carried out by postal workers in America.
Postal 2 has a vague structure of missions that are intended to be everyday like ‘buy milk’ and then the rest is up to you. So there are outlines of missions to carry out but you’re given so much freedom and weapons of course I found myself spending most of my time going on killing sprees with virtual people running and screaming as I doused them in petrol.
It’s only natural, that given an open world without consequence and without norms and tongue firmly in cheek that you create chaos because you don’t care about what happens, you can create chaos because it doesn’t matter. There is a big ‘but’ here; this type of game-play has no longevity, I found myself getting very bored very quickly. It had no meaning, no purpose, no driving force, no overarching goal, it was justinstant gratification. Freedom is what attracts us to games but structure is what
For our actions in a game to have meaning we have to have norms and structure to base them on. So killing sprees are fun in Postal 2 (or any other game for that matter) because they have no consequence but get boring for the same reason
. To feel a part of a game we have to feel like our actions have some sort of consequence, so that we’re drawn into that world and we care about the characters.
This idea of pleasure without consequence is fun but it’s a hollow feeling that has no lasting sense of satisfaction. Nothing is gained or learned, it’s like chewing gum as opposed to eating a meal. We need structure in games because it distracts us from the fact we’re playing a game. We need that realistic framework to make our ridiculousness in the game seem more consequential, rules and norms are important in games so that we can have a blast breaking them.