The Eternal Debate

Yes, themepark vs. sandbox (credit to Syncaine for directing me to the topic resurgence). To be fair though, this is a slightly different twist on the topic. While you might be expecting a conversation on the benefits of the different systems, or the superiority of one over the other from the perspective of this particular person’s opinion, what you get instead is a topic on verbage. Sid 6.7 (Virtuosity props), seems to be wondering more about the reasoning behind the application of these terms and how they correspond to the reality of MMOs in today’s gaming world. The crux of his premise as I see it, is that he doesn’t see a clear delineation of where the two terms fall and should be applied.

My take on this particular incarnation of the topic is this: complex systems can never accurately be distilled into a singular word. If you ever watched the show “West Wing“, you might recall an episode where C.J. Cregg was talking with a republican economist (Albie Duncan) played by Hal Holbrook before some debates to do spin for them. They say the following:

That’s it. It’s that simple.

No, it’s not simple, it’s incredibly complicated.


McGarry’s boy’s over there coming up with greeting cards.


He’s sitting with me, trying to boil down foreign policy into a ten-word statement.

No, no, he’s the ten-word. And believe me he hates it.

I’ve been at the State Department for 30 years and there’s no right answer for these
questions and diplomacy needs all the words it can get its hands on. Plus, he’s from

Now, by no means am I comparing the complexity of foreign relations and governing of a nation with all its various complications and problems to that of game design, but the idea of concept distillation applies. In this scene, the two characters are talking about the necessity of creating a simple, 1o-word statement that explains the breadth and scope of just such a system. What the old, crotchety man is saying to her, is that it’s not possible. In no way can we ever reduce them to sound-bites and flash cards.

In the same way, “Sandbox” and “Themepark” are just words to express common ideals as they apply to gaming. Games have variable amounts of freedom and directed gameplay. Some games have prescribed goals and only one practical route to achieve them, other games have no defined goal, and a vast array of possible paths to pick whichever one is chosen, and then we have the whole spectrum in between there. To say that these are poor choices of words to apply to games, is a bit of an inaccuracy as I see it. What really should be said, is that using any singular term to try to quantitatively define a game is a poor choice.


About Shadow
Making serious business out of internet spaceships.

One Response to The Eternal Debate

  1. sid67 says:

    Oversimplifying MMOs
    –Sid67 (Serial Ganker)

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