There’s a common theme emerging in many of the discussions here surrounding the kinds of experiences we seek when we play games. It’s had me considering not just the types of games I gravitate towards, but the way in which I play them. While gameplay is important, and a good story can hook me, I’ve forever been drawn to games that create beautiful, massive worlds, and simply allow me to explore.
The first time I played World of Warcraft, my first-ever MMO, I was blown away by the scale of the world. The more I traversed its vast and diverse landscapes, the less interested I became in collecting boar skins and running instances, and the more I simply wanted to venture out into the wilderness, uncovering all the wonderful secrets that lay off the beaten path. Hardly past level 10, I was determined to set out on foot from Ironforge and journey to the far-off Night Elf capital of Darnassus. In my mind, I wasn’t the hero who would singlehandedly save Azeroth from the threat of Onyxia and the Burning Legion. I was merely a traveller making his way in the world, meeting people from other cultures and encountering exotic new lands. The journey was perilous and not without injury, but after braving the boggy Wetlands and the celestial creatures of Aubderdine, arriving in the foreign capital was an awe-inspiring experience. From there, I only pushed further, navigating rocky ridges and plunging into the ocean deep just to see how far out from shore I could swim.
I’ve spent countless hours leaping between rooftops and navigating primitive sewers in the great cities of the Assassin’s Creed games. I’ll crawl through every air duct and investigate every abandoned home in the Deus Ex franchise. No peak remained unclimbed, no ruin left untouched in Horizon Zero Dawn. In a sense, I do this because it appeals to my inner completionist, wanting to experience everything a game has to offer, especially when creators have put so much effort into making a living, breathing world of beauty (or decay). But more so, it appeals to my desire to truly become a part of the worlds of these games through my characters. It’s such an enriching experience to feel as though your character really occupies their environment and has a real stake in its continued existence. And it’s all the more rewarding to uncover something truly surprising or beautiful hidden away in a game world’s far reaches when you’ve developed a sense of investment in it.
What appeals to you about the art of exploration in video games? In what games have you chosen to put the plot on pause to delve deep into their wider worlds? What have you found — and how did it make you feel?