Yesterday I landed on an article at Polygon, What Zelda: Breath of the Wild gets so right, explained in 20 minutes. It was basically promoting a video on why Zelda: Breath of the Wild is “The Best Game Ever” (though apparently that’s the name of a series of videos so it isn’t meant literally). Ben Kuchera, who wrote the post, said:
The game gets a lot of mileage out of having its own map be an item thatís part of the world itself. This helps Breath of the Wild neatly avoid that open-world trope of maps that are filled with noisy icons, which make the game feel more like a homework assignment than something people play for fun.
I’ll embed the video below but it boils down to the assertion that BotW is a better game than all other open world games because there aren’t as many icons on the map. Further the creator of the video (who admits to not having played BotW all that much) illustrates his point by comparing an early-game version of the map with late game maps from Horizon Zero Dawn and Far Cry 4, which seems pretty shady to me. I mean the longer you play the more things you uncover, right? He also says mini-maps are bad (but BotW has one) and waypoints that show up in the gameworld are bad too.
Anyway, the whole video comes across to me as someone who first came up with a topic (“Why BotW is better than other open world games.”) and then carefully cherry-picked data points to support it. For example he never mentions the huge amount of time you spend screwing with your inventory in BotW.
But this post isn’t really about the video, it’s about Kuchera’s homework assignment comment. I’ve been hearing that a lot from gaming journalists and “influencers.” That the open world systems that they used to love are now the devil because there is too much to do.
Think about that. These people are complaining that the developers are giving you too many choices of how to have fun in their games. It’s a ridiculous argument.
I have a counter-hypothesis. Kids who grew up on video games forget that they have free will. My first ‘gamer’ years were spent with paper and cardboard. If I didn’t like a rule, I changed it. If part of a game wasn’t fun, I eliminated it. If I thought something was missing, I added it. If you were raised on video games you never got the chance to change the rules. You just did what the game told you to do. It may never have dawned on you that you have free will and can do whatever the heck you want!
In other words when I’m playing an open world game that has 10 different kinds of side-quests or collectibles and I find that some of them aren’t fun for me, I simply don’t do them. It’s a crazy idea, right? YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO ALL THE THINGS! You are in control of your video game experience! I firmly believe that the developers never expect every player to do every activity, but I also imagine they realize what is fun for player A is a drag for player B, and vice versa. So they offer a selection of things to do and let the player choose. PLAYER CHOICE IS A GOOD THING.
I’ve been playing and finishing a lot of open world games recently and never have I been prevented from getting to the end credits because I opted out of a side-quest or side-activity that I didn’t enjoy. If you go back far enough there may be games that behave differently but all the relatively modern open world games I’ve played don’t force you to do everything. You may have to do something to earn cash or level up or something, but they give you a menu of options and you can pick the one(s) you enjoy.
Anyway I think we can test my hypothesis because there are still plenty of gamers who play board games and do pen & paper RPGing. So I’m asking them, do you feel compelled to do every side-task in an open world game just because there’s an icon on the map for it?
Complaining about open world games having too many activities is like saying you don’t want to go to a bookstore because you don’t have time to read every book in it, or not going to a restaurant because the menu has too many choices. Exercise your free will. Play games to have fun, not to remove icons on a map.
Anyway, here’s this dude’s video. I find it all pretty sketchy and biased. For example he says in BotW there is no urgency to get to the end, you can do whatever you want. But literally one of the first things you learn is that Zelda has been fighting Ganon alone for 100 years and needs your help. If that doesn’t instill a sense of urgency, what will? I mean no open world game I’ve played has a literal timer ticking down. You can take your time in all of them, the only urgency comes from the narrative and BotW is no better or worse than any other open world game in those terms. But once again, the dude couldn’t let unbiased facts get in the way of his point.