Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Sandbox Project - Internal Borders

Inspired by Darcy Osheim's thesis that examines World of Warcraft from a pedagogical perspective, I'm launching a little experiment in paragraph-level writing that explores the intersection of pedagogy and sandbox style gaming, focusing mainly on console games like GTA, Red Dead Redemption, and LA Noire. Aside from common interest, my project and Darcy's thesis are unrelated. These 'graphs are written without an outline. Their connections may be tenuous or superfluous. I may never finish. 

The sandbox is almost never fully open. Freedom to roam requires the player to solve puzzles, climb levels, or complete quests. The initial travel space, a comparatively peaceful shire filled with gentle tutorials and easy adventures, begins to stifle the player who peers beyond the horizon. Out there are grizzly bears that'll tear you clean off your horse; there are color-drenched streets and animated neon signs; there are places where you can procure exotic weapons, new outfits, and uber-fast vehicles that make driving a crazy blur. For online players, these restricted districts also contain the promise of recognition and public achievement ("Haven't made it to Tall Trees, huh? Yeah, it's pretty awesome."). Moments like these and I'm channeling Liz Lemon: "I want to go to there."

The borders between you and that rarified domain may look natural: bridges washed out by hurricane or hills just too rocky to climb. But sometimes the game imposes its restrictions more forcefully -- like when you're swimming across a narrow river to GTA's Las Venturas. This place has got casinos and huge flyable planes at the airport. Best of all, it's threaded with freeways, and you like to drive fast. You have no stars to designate your outlaw status. No one knows you're sneaking past the dividing line. Just a few more steps strokes and… four stars. You tried to cross the border before earning your way in, and now every cop in the city swears a death wish against you. The streets are choked with SWAT teams; the skies are buzzing with attack helicopters; bullets are slicing you to hamburger and -- holy hell -- is that a tank?

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