The Value of Being Lost

Having a game level or room with an unclear conclusion is annoying to say the least. there is little worse then needing to resort to a game walkthrough/FAQ after spending a frustrating amount of time failing to progress because a door was poorly placed or an interactive object wasn’t presented as being clearly interactive. But on a few occasions I’ve found myself lost in a game and not because a linear series of corridors where poorly designed but because the world is so grand and has so many open directions that your forced to wander without knowing that your going in the right direction or even if you will remember how to find you way back. On those occasions I’ve found that I really like being lost.

Its an experience that you don’t usually get from games. For starters most games tend to be hyper linear in terms of where you can go and regardless of whether it seems like your moving it the correct direction to reach your supposed goal as long as your moving forward in a game you will always arrive at your destination. Also in most of the games that are more open ended about the layout of the world and how you can traverse it they have a tenancy to be very clear about where you are and where everything else is. In Grand Theft Auto for example not only do you have a mini map that shows everything in a near range giving you a good idea of your surroundings it also has a kind of compass that will always point you in the right direction for your singular goals and if that’s not enough then just hitting the start button will bring up a complete map of the game world showing the location of every single building and anything you would ever want to go to along with your own exact location. It simplifies and streamlines game play and has understandably been mimicked by other more open world type games regardless of whether there trying to directly clone GTA. But the downside is that there is no mystery or doubt to anything. No matter how large the world is or how new you are to it you will still know where exactly everything is and you will never be lost.

I tried playing Anarchy Online (thanks to its free to play program) a while ago. In it you can get maps of areas but you don’t necessarily always have a map for everywhere you are and its not always completely clear how different areas connect to one another. Anyways after grinding and leveling up a few times on noob island and learning the basics of the game I headed out into the real game world (or whatever you want to call it). It was a city and had a few buildings and things you could enter and I had a map of the place. I killed some time by killing some more things and meeting some people and learning what thing where and where they where so I could lessen my dependence on that map and navigate the world more naturally. But then what happened is what I think was really amazing. I left that city and began wandering farther and starting just passing through random doors and teleporters and things because I felt like exploring and along the way I was continually amazed by things and people (I’m seriously clueless about some of the things I witnessed. For example after wandering out a few miles into an open field two large groups of people quickly ran/drove/flew up to a nearby metal square and proceeded with what I can only assume was some kind of drug deal that quickly went bad.) I passed and how vast and varied the game world was and I eventually became lost in it. I don’t mean I just didn’t immediately recognize my surroundings and had to check something once to know what direction to head in. I mean I was really really lost and couldn’t find my way back to the first city I had arrived at after leaving noob island. I just couldn’t.

I at one point spent maybe 10-30 minutes which in video game terms is ages just walking through a forest doing nothing but walking because I had found myself at a small town with nobody in it (there was one person there at one point but they quickly flew away on what appeared to be a hover board of some kind before I could speak to them) and couldn’t find my way back (and continued to re spawn in the same small town every time I died) and had decided to head in the direction of some form of tower which I could see in the distance and had assumed was part of a larger more metropolitan area. After walking that vast distance I found a small clearing near the base of the tower with a small group of crude huts occupied by what appeared to be cave men which I initially believed to be the harmless “come talk to me” kind of NPCs though by the time I had arrived and was in the center of the small grouping I quickly realized that some bad shit was about to go down and made an attempt to evade them and run. I spent ages walking with the blind hope that I would arrive somewhere that I wasn’t even sure was a good place to arrive at only to be swiftly killed with one club to the head and as absurd as it sounds it was one of those kinds of amazing video game experiences that I will always remember and cherish.

I can see even in my case it could despite my praise still be interpreted as bad game design for a player to be capable of becoming lost. I don’t play Anarchy Online anymore and even when I did go back to playing it for a brief time I decided to abandon that account and start a new one because of how hopelessly lost I was in it (even outside of the game I couldn’t find any useful information about where I was or where anything else was in relation to it). But even if its in the long term potentially negative and encourages abandonment it is at the least at the initial moment thrilling and in the future memorable.

The power went out for a little bit at my house a few days ago so i was killing time playing on my GP2X (Open Source / Open hardware FTW) and got into playing the first Dragon Warrior (that’s Dragon Quest for japanophiles and historical revisionists) and maybe this is only for the GameBoy Color version but it doesn’t have a map either and the game world is fairly open. Its not on the same level as Anarchy Online (its probably closer the original Zelda this aspect) and I never got long term lost like I did in Anarchy Online but I will admit to getting temporarily messed up about my current location in relation to the initial town/castle. I can totally understand how some older gamers talk about having drawn maps of games onto real world paper (I’m not THAT young I did grow up on Sege Genesis but I never wrote down anything on paper other then stuff like passwords). It just really reminded me of how great it can be to simply be dropped into a world with little directional guidance and left to wander blindly and become lost.

Anyways that’s my long winded way of saying that I’m going to be making a traditional RPG and it wont have a map nor will it ever have a map.

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