Much has been made in the past few years (especially since the emergence and dominence of WoW) about the difference between a Rollercoaster game (the EQ Model) and a Sandbox game (the UO Model). I certainly do not want to start that debate again, but I would like to discuss an issue that I feel is underpinning this debate: Interactivity.
I feel the real thrust fo the people who support the sandbox is a drive for interactivity. Now understand, I don't mean community here, or interactivity with their fellow players, I mean with the world that has been created for them to inhabit.
i.e. When I went outside of Mos Eisley in SWG, it might look totally different than it had two weeks earlier. Buildings, Harvesters, NPCs, etc all might have changed because of what the players have done. Compare to when I walk into any given part of the Barrens, it will be exactly the same as it always has been (barring a patch or someone in the middle of training the area).
As I said, I do not want to discuss which of these is superior, only that I feel people prefer the first situation because of the increased interactivity with the world.
In our real lives (or RL for you crazy kids), some part of a great many peoples motivation is to have a lating impat on the world. We work, write, research, create and share iwth others in the hopes our efforts and labors will bring about some lasting change to the world. Whether we are working to cure cancer or just trying to teach our children to read and write.
So it would make sense that our digital selves also have a deep seeded desire to have some lasting impact on the world. But this need is often unsatisfied even at the most basic level.
The title refers to the fact that in many games (be they sandbox or rollercoaster) I might be capable of amazing feats; shooting fire from my eyeballs, summoning demons, flying, crushing hordes of foes with one swing of my oversized axe, whatever. However, when I walk into a city and look at a napkin or candlestick sitting on a table, I can't move it. For all my power to shake the earth and send villains fleeing in terror, a simple table place-setting defeats me.
Now currently, this sort of thing most likely happens because of simple technological restrictions. The server and our connections to them can not process the hundreds of thousands of interactable objects that would be required to truly move things or have the most basic of innocuous effects on the world around me. Everyone would simply lag out and the game would resemble something along the lines of a slide show being run on a 286. To show just how serious this is, let me give an example. In the early days of SWG they were starting to get large amounts of server wide lag. They couldn't figure out what was doing it, but they suspected that as the players populated the world with more and more items (houses, harvesters, etc) the servers were lagging. They ran a server wide test and found the problem was not with the players specifically, it was with melons. Yes, fruit was their bane. You see each character, upon creation, received three melons in his or her backpack. Food was not required, so most people did nothing with these melons and just let them sit in their back-pack since space was also abundant. It turns out, there was so many thousands of melons it was dragging down the servers (among other items).
However, the technological limitation argument is moot. Eventually, 5 years, 10 years, whatever, we will conquer that barrier. Our bandwidth will be large enough, our computers fast enough, our servers robust enough, to be able to handle the load.
What happens when people have the ability not only to summon comets from the heavens to crush their foes, to cause the air around their enemies to freeze as ice and lock them in place, to summon the raw elemental fury of nature, but also to pick up a chair in an inn and carry it with them?
In the real world, we don't go around randomly moving things for many reasons. It's rude (and we are socially conditioned not to touch others things), there's not much reason to greif in RL and most importantly, chairs are heavy and awkward. Why in the world would I carry a chair around?
In a digital world however, where there is no "weight" restriction (and to implement a system like that has just as many problems, loot, multiple outfits, weapons, all things we have become accustomed to) what is to stop people from simply rearranging the world at their whim?
Can the world, whichever digital world it is that achieves this feat, survive if we have the level of interactivity we seem to want, to crave?
I am not ending this article with an answer, just he question, as I feel this is a major issue developers and gamers will be grappling with in the coming years and growth of this genre.
Until next time, may you not be weighed down by three melons.