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The illusion of freedom

A simple fact is that every game has a scope; some things are within the games premise and many other things are not. One cannot (and should not want to) put everything in one game. When you put more content in a game, you need more polish and balancing for it to work properly. Even if you choose to create a massive world filled with diverse content, you will have to draw a line somewhere. Bumping into that line can be a game breaker for players. Especially the immersion in game worlds simulating lifelike environments, can suffer badly if awkward limitations are encountered. But how can such a confrontation be avoided?

As many games have relatively lifelike setting, it is not surprising to see that many different boundaries have been employed:

-The player character does not want to go beyond a certain area because he has something important to do in the current environment.

-The world is wrapped, which means that leaving one edge of the playing field will have you enter on the other side.

-Leaving the defined game area will deplete your health until you eventually die.

-The game has clear boundaries that are visible in the game world. (poison gas, impassable water, mountains, debris, closed doors, force fields, etc )

-Outside the designated gaming area players can keep moving but there is nothing of interest there (an endless ocean all around the playing field for example)

-The player is warned and killed when staying outside of the playing area for a certain time.


To avoid a confrontation between the player and the boundaries of the game, one has to convey a clear motivation why the player should not be heading for the boundaries and opposed to that a good reason to go somewhere else.

When a player is stimulated to explore every corner of an open world game and runs into an invisible wall at the edges of it, the player was motivated to get there. Without a clear reason why he should not be heading there, the player will feel his freedom awkwardly limited in a seemingly open world. In contrast; when a player tries to walk through a poison gas cloud while his party members ask for his support behind him, the player has no real reason to keep going forward and a good reason to turn back to the game-world.

Finding the right boundaries for the game premise can be a big challenge. A game with a relatively small scope but expertly placed boundaries, can feel larger in scope then a huge game with boundaries in the wrong place. Moments of freedom in a game are only interesting if the limitations and rules that guide them are good.

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