The importance of freedom in video games – Reader’s Feature
A reader explains why he finds looking for secrets and purposefully trying to break games much more fun than linear adventures.
1 the power or right to act, speak, or think freely. >the state of having free will.
2 the state of being free. >unrestricted use of something.
3 (freedom from) the state of not being subject to or affected by (something undesirable).
You’re probably sat reading this wondering why I’m starting my Reader’s Feature with this definition of a simple word. My answer is how important this one word is to me when it comes to gaming. It is of utmost importance to me in video games and always has been from a very young age, when I look back upon my gaming years.
It’s the ability to do quests in non-linear order or to choose which skills you’d like to upgrade to significantly impact the gameplay. The freedom to make an in-game experience personal to me, and unlike any other player’s, has always been a thing I have really enjoyed about being a gamer.
Since as long as I can remember I’ve always had this ‘break the mould’ style of gameplay. That’s how I choose to play. It’s now ingrained in me. I ask myself what do the designers want me to do in this section of the game? Can I go about things in a different way? Think outside the box is what I’m thinking to myself as I play. Try and do things that were not intended. I think players like me purposely try to break games as part of the fun of playing them.
Some people do this so they can speed run them by finding unintended glitches and gain records in online communities or simply to cheat online and gain an advantage. This definitely isn’t me. I’m not sure why I do it. Maybe it’s to pick faults in the game design, to see how lazy the designers have been with the in-game camera or even how lazy the playtesters have been testing the final build of the game that’s already had their seal of quality approval. I just like seeing what I can and can’t do in a game. I’ve bought it and I’ll play it my way.
I loved breaking the in-game camera on the N64 era games. I’d force myself against walls and manoeuvre and try and cause the in-game camera problems so it didn’t know where it was supposed to be. The iffy collision detection allowed me to half put my gun through walls on first person shooter games sometimes and then I could see behind the perimeters of where we were supposed to tread. I was seeing things doing this that were not supposed to be seen by players.
The N64’s low polygon count probably helped me with this. I got some kind of buzz from it and by doing this I could tell that some doors on the levels were just artwork and some were the ones that led to secret areas. Now the artwork and textures and the technology of the modern era games has greatly increased the difficulty of doing this kind of thing.
One game in particular is probably the reason why I’m like this now, when it comes to my style of gameplay and my obsession for attempting things in games that I shouldn’t be doing. The game? How To Be A complete Bastard on the Amstrad CPC 464. A game that after a little bit of research was based on a 1986 book by Ade Edmondson of Bottom fame. A game that wanted you to do the things that you really shouldn’t be doing but did have a strict solution to complete. At the time it felt like total freedom in gaming. The first time I ever felt like that playing a video game.
I remember my brother borrowing this game from his friend. It came free on an Amstrad gaming magazine at the time and because it was something I hadn’t played and it was new, and probably because it had words in the name that my mum didn’t want me to hear, I was desperate to play it.
The aim of the game was to gate crash a party and make all the guests leave the party. You could explore the premises and do things like finding clingfilm and then covering the toilet seat upstairs with it so that when a guest used it they would leave because of someone else’s obscene behaviour. I adored exploring and trying to work out what I could and could not do. Albeit I wasn’t very successful at the game as I had no experience when I was seven or eight years old of how to wreck a house party.
The game just seemed clever to me and was letting my preadolescent self be naughty without my mum giving me a grilling for anything. The designers had put in an intentional hard reset of the game by finding a computer keyboard upstairs and agreeing to press the reset button on it. I was upset when I did it the first time as my whole game had disappeared and I was looking at the Amstrad CPC home menu with a tape cassette rewind and load up needed to start the game again. This game was offering up freedom to me and I loved it at the time and I’ve never looked back since.
Of course, I’ve played many games, many very good games, that don’t allow such freedom and are purposefully linear in design. I’ve enjoyed many of these, on-the-rails shooting games such as Operation Wolf and House Of The Dead. Action games, platform games. But what really makes my brain tick though is when I play something that lets me loose, purposely to do as I want or even to do things that the designers didn’t intend me to do in their games. On some games that just isn’t possible.
Games that are restrictive in their freedom make me feel like I should be using my time to watch a movie instead. Games are made to be interactive and give you the scope to make your own choices. Usually when I see an arrow telling me which way to go I’ll go the opposite away on purpose. If I find a quest in a game and see where it is on the map I’ll head in the other direction. If someone tells me don’t steal the horse from the stables I’ll try everything in my power to steal it; even if it’s impossible I’ll still have some fun trying it.
Open world sandbox games seem to be the epitome of freedom now in gaming. Free-roaming unstructured gameplay allowing the player to do as they please, usually at their own leisure. The player given a world to explore as they so wish. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is the cream of the crop now in this genre. It’s the benchmark for open world sandbox games. It raised the bar so high. It offers up freedom in abundance.
The online community on Zelda have been taking the bookshelf from Hyrule Castle and carrying it to the top of a Sheikah Tower just because they can. It’s gaming freedom at its finest, doing seemingly pointless activities that offer up a challenge that the designers never intended but was made possible by the imaginations of us, the gamers.
By reader Nick The Greek
The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.
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