Thoughts on Freedom in Video Games


I’ve talked about freedom in video games quite often on this blog, quite often as a matter of fact.  Heck, almost every other word in our discussion on sandbox games was “freedom”.  The reason for that, as I’ve also said before, is that second only to “fun”, the most important aspect of a game is the freedom involved.

There are many ways to give a player freedom, whether in open-ended sandbox games or more straightforward point-A-to-point-B linear games.  Giving the player a wide variety of attacks, say, that are more or less equally viable against enemies lets the player play linear games in whatever way suits them the most.  Giving the player a large, diverse city and letting them run around however they want also lets them play in whatever way suits them the most.

Giving the player true freedom makes a game much more enjoyable.  Let me give two admittedly rather recent examples.

For a more linear game that offers some freedom, take Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.  It really doesn’t get much more linear than this.  Strict A-to-B progression with next to no lateral movement allowed—yet the number of combos one can pull out is surprisingly large and variable, and they’re mostly usable on any enemy.  Some are more effective than others, of course, but there aren’t many non-boss enemies who totally shrug off attacks.  That lets the player fight through each level more fluidly, more suited to his or her own tastes and abilities.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Prototype, which hands you New York City and lets you do, almost literally, whatever you want.  You have different ways to run, you can hijack a few types of vehicles, and so on.  You hand the game to three different gamers and tell them to start at the same point and get at the same point at the other end, they’ll come up with five different ways to get there.

That level of freedom, again whether in a linear or open-ended game, is important.  It lets the player tailor his or her experience to their personal preferences, and it means they’ll have more reason to not only come back and replay the game, but they’ll be more inclined toward future releases in the game series, or at least future titles by the same developer.

This is true for nearly any gamer, I find.  However you like your video games, if you have one developed by Super Awesome and Fantastic Developing Company Inc. Ltd. that absolutely bowls you over and makes you want to craft love-sonnets to anyone even remotely related to the game’s creation, you’ll be more apt to at least check out a title of a different “focus” when you see it’s put out by S.A.A.F.D.C.I.L.

Giving the player the ability to tailor their game play “experience” however they like helps keeps the game “fresh”.  If you keep everything strictly controlled, it becomes more of a passive experience.  In that case, if we’re really not going to be able to have much real control, we may as well watch a movie.  It’d be cheaper, too.

In the end, freedom not only helps bring a game to a wider audience, but giving the player more freedom means the game will likely sell more copies, which will make the publisher more apt to have the developer work on another title.  It’s really a check in the win column for everyone.

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