Instead of being put up here, Kotaku AU has kindly accepted it for their site.
Bethesda’s Fallout 3 is one of those monumental titles that happened to be released during my WoW days, meaning I only even registered its existence about two years ago. I tried it out back then, and only just made it to Megaton before abandoning it. Two years and a very cheap Bethesda Steam bundle later I tried it out again. This time I made it as far as Galaxy News Radio in two or three play sessions. Now I struggle to come up with a single aspect of Fallout 3 that I actually like.
This article is the result of a nagging concern regarding one aspect of the game that I floated on Facebook as an invitation to discuss. What I wrote was: “Putting this out there that I think my ‘immersion’ and/or level of empathy with my character is higher in a third-person game than a first person game because I can recognise the motion of the body when I can see it than when I appear to be a floating camera-without-body skimming smoothly over the surface of the gameworld. This is opposite to the common wisdom that gets peddled in game theory.” After the discussion, I have a better understanding of my own position, and of the ‘common wisdom’ that some of my friends also supported.
I have to admit, I am not much of an indie gamer. I spend most of my time with the big-budget mainstream titles in my research. There is a reason for that, but it isn't the point of this article. What is important is that Minecraft managed to get my attention, partially due to its intensely addictive fun, and to the buzz its created within the gaming/blogging community. I'd like to address the game and its context a little here.
Firstly, why is this thing so fun that around 500,000 people have parted with their 10€ to play an alpha release that would have been known as a demo five or ten years ago? The reasons aren't that hard to grasp, and have been documented in a few places already. There is the intense feeling of agency: the player is able to affect this world in deep, meaningful ways relative to the complexity of the world itself. This world doesn't have a narrative or social structure, it only has a physical presence. So, the physical interactions the player can have with every block of space, whether filled with material or not, is akin to being a small God in a simple universe. Every square block is offering its existence to the player to be tampered with, shaped and molded into something greater, offering no resistance and bending to the will of the creator.
This is a powerful feeling, and demonstrates the rule of agency quite nicely. Many AAA games are far richer in content, but that content is out of the player's reach. Whether it is the physical landscape or architecture, whether a vehicle, a door, or an NPC, these rich pieces of the gameworld are impervious to interaction. The player can't do anything to them. These parts of the gameworld simply do not care about the player. Every part of the Minecraft world does care.