Several years ago, in the early part of the decade now known as the 90’s, I got one of my first actual jobs: working in the hands-on sciency part of the local museum. In the very first hour of the very first day on the job, my boss at the time came to me and handed me a checklist of things I was to do that day and most days. He said to me something along the lines of, “I get the impression that you’re the kind of person that would benefit from having some structure.” Consequently, I spent the remainder of the summer doing the things on that list, day in and day out, as well as any other jobs that came up (we set up a couple of 486‘s to play Tetris over a serial link. It was totally rad). It was a great job for a middle-schooler, and one that I am glad to have had.
Fast forward to about 2010 and someone forwards me a link to a thing called ‘Minecraft‘. It’s a beta, but it’s totally a blast. People are having lots of fun with it, and Ican’tReallyExplainItYouHaveToPlayThisNOW. So, I checked it out, and I farted around with it for a while, but got really bored really quickly. There was a huge expanse of stuff there, stuff that I could take, I guess? I could take the stuff and either craft it into other stuff or maybe try to build things with it? When night time comes around there are things that try to kill me and/or destroy the things I made, but they kind of come out of nowhere. The interfaces for gathering and crafting are kind of a mess, and there aren’t really any directions or anything… and I’m dead. Well, that sure was an experience.
Then I kind of forgot about for a while. Until the game’s popularity absolutely exploded. I had to ask myself if this was the same game I played a few years ago, with the aimless gameplay, the chunky LEGO-ish sandbox that only has the barest of gameplay elements to it. And it was. Millions upon millions of people were buying this thing, but I gather that they’re not really buying it for its… erm… sparse gameplay. They’re buying it to use it as a construction kit to build stuff. And that’s great for them, and great for Minecraft. But I find that kind of thing incredibly boring. Not because I lack an imagination or anything, but when I play a video game, I like to do the best that I can, within the prescribed rules. I like to have a goal to achieve. Something to work toward. Handing me something like Minecraft where there’s no real goal (yes, I’m aware of the ‘Adventure Update’), but just ‘explore’ or ‘make your own fun’, then, well, you lose me. Not because I’m incapable of doing those things, but they’re not the kinds of things that I want out of a video game. I want my games to be structured activities. I want challenges to conquer, puzzles to solve, that kind of thing.
“But,” I hear you say, “you could just play around in sandbox mode and build stuff. You can give yourself infinite resources and build whatever you want, kind of like a big LEGO kit”. And, yes, I could do that, but I barely have the kind of time I want to dedicate to video games as it is. I can’t in good conscience dedicate the hundreds of hours that would be necessary to build anything more complicated than a one room hovel without neglecting absolutely everything else in my life that’s not work or sleep, and I’m not quite ready to do that yet. Plus, I’m kind of a lousy artist (even though I did play Mario Paint so much that I wore out the left mouse button and wore a smooth spot on my SNES Mouse Pad). But the main thing is that spending dozens or even hundreds of hours making a thing just gets to be too much like work, and I don’t usually want to feel like I’m working when I’m doing something to have fun. *Note, I said that I don’t want to feel like I’m doing work, I’ll still do things that look like work in my free time.
So, games like Minecraft, Terraria, and Proteus, giving me a box of tools and telling me to go do something, anything that I want to with it, just doesn’t do anything for me. I play a video game because I like playing video games. If I want to make a video game, well, I’ll just go do that instead.