Monday, January 13, 2014

Wonders Worth Exploring For

I love exploring in sandboxes.  But what does that mean?  What do I-- and you hope to find?  I suppose the largest parts of it for me is finding the edges.  In this sense, exploring is less about geography and more about understanding how things work.  How big is the world?  What happens when I reach the edge?  If there is a snowy region will I suffer from the cold?  Can I swim?

With the last few questions I realize I am mostly thinking about video game sandboxes.  Because of the limitations of technology they are never really able to model reality, you have to figure out what this particular sandbox decided to try and model.  Can I jump this little fence?  Can I break this door?  But an RPG sandbox is presumably free of the technological limitations that cause this.  Anything in our imaginations is possible.  If I want to break the door, or jump the fence I say it and it happens.

Ironically, the freedom of the imagination means we are still uncertain of the world because the RPG sandbox is not required to model the world.  Water might burn in this world and all doors made of lead, or dragon scales.  Which is fine, because it means there is still the pleasure of figuring the world out.  But it does leave us back at the beginning with our first question unanswered.  What do we hope to find?

I suppose something that does reveal a bit about how the world works would be one answer.  So, if planar travel exists finding a portal and how to use it would fit the bill of understanding the edges of the world.  Or, a shrine that allows time travel.  Or just examples of what geography is possible- burning seas and crystal forests on one end, and just confirmation that, yes, deserts do exist, on the other.

Because there is a type of pleasure in genre expectations being fulfilled too.  So in a world that we get to explore, we will probably want to encounter terrain types that we are familiar with from real stories of exploration: deserts, tall mountains, undersea ruins.

But I think there is more to my desire to explore than that.  I think there is a part of me that hopes to be surprised and awed.

One of the difficulties of the RPG sandbox is that although anything is possible, the majority of it will be limited by what we can describe using language.  And so the things that might have awed actual explorers like the Grand Canyon or the giant Sequoias, Angel Falls or the Pyramids, are going to be far less impressive when just described.  Heck, even standing right beside a giant Sequoia it's hard to perceive its size.

So, I think there are limits to our ability to create awe or wonder through description, at least if we limit ourselves to using sensory details.  The imagined wonder might need to be more conceptual.

So not the tallest waterfall, but one that flows backwards, not the biggest tree, but one that grows in a single day.  Maybe.

I've been gathering some ideas.  I'll share them soon.

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