What drives us to establish personal goals in gaming? When you’re dropped into a game with little to no direction, what keeps you motivated? How do games get away with providing little to no direction, while other games just become frustrating? Recently I’ve started playing the game “No Man’s Sky,” and I’ve been thinking about this question and others. Upon loading No Man’s Sky, the player just appears on a random planet next to a crashed starship… there’s no loading screens, no tutorials, no intro cinematic. You turn the game on and you’re suddenly marooned on a planet. What comes next is the player attempting to discover the game around them and learn how to live in this new universe. This setting is certainly not new to gaming, there have been many other games in the past that start the player off with little to no direction… and part of the fun has been discovering the world around them. Yet No Man’s Sky is different on some levels, it’s challenging in ways that feel unlike other games of similar genres. What is it about other games that makes it easier to accept and learn more about the world around them? How do we establish personal goals, outside the game objectives, and why? I’ll be exploring this and more in today’s post about player goals in gaming.
vary drastically by the style of the game or the player themselves. I touched upon this idea once before in a post titled “Gamifying your Play Experience,” where I explore the idea of establishing your own constraints in gaming. Yet today I want to dive deeper into games that make establishing personal goals a much larger piece of the narrative. Games that encourage the player to find their own path within the game world and how they are or are not effective at doing so.
for more. This game encourages exploration and evolution of your character, even if you’re resistant to it. In my time playing the game, I was always trying to find a “safe place” for my character. I would inevitably create a type of shelter, quickly establish crops for myself, and try to make a home. Yet resources in the surrounding areas always run dry, and with the passing of time and climate change… something would always go wrong and force me to uproot. With the procedurally generated worlds, inherent mystery to the game, and the “next time will be different” feeling you get after every time you die, makes Don’t Starve a really enticing game to play… and keep playing.
Minecraft is building and creating. There’s a quality about Minecraft that instills players with a sense of productivity. Players can easily sink countless hours into mining for resources or building a new home, and leave the game feeling like they’ve had a “productive work day.” Minecraft’s sandbox styled environment facilitates the player’s creativity and through this it’s natural for players to develop their own personal goals. Anything from building a new home to a crazy large Cathedral, Minecraft’s freedom of creation is the driving factor for player established goals.
When starting my playthrough of No Man’s Sky, I found myself really interested in being a simple miner. I spent quite a bit of time on the first planet, a bit confused as to what I was “supposed” to be doing. In the first moments of the game, I felt like it was throwing a lot of different mechanics at me. I had to quickly learn what minerals I should be collecting in order to keep my suits life support systems online and fend off extreme temperatures. I eventually was able to repair my crashed starship and jump into orbit. I will say that No Man’s Sky does a really good job at having these “special” moments in the game. It really feels impactful to take off into the stars, or land on a foreign planet, even with the procedurally generated nature of the whole thing. Jumping ahead I found myself quickly obsessed with inventory space, if you’ve been following No Man’s Sky you’ll know this is a common problem. I found myself soon mining rare minerals and trying to gain enough currency to buy a new starship at one of the orbiting space stations. I eventually had enough currency and was able to buy my first ship, and I couldn’t have been more excited. At first my feelings were like… YES! Look at all this inventory space, imagine how much more I’ll be able to hold on my journey. Up until this point I had not engaged into ship to ship combat, and I didn’t even know about the concept of pirates in the game.Yet I began to wonder… with all of this extra inventory space, I could really boost my ship with combat upgrades. This was definitely a turning point for me within my No Man’s Sky play experience. My beautiful “mining freighter” soon became something quite different.
proceed to target the cargo containers of civilian vessels like before, only this time I realized that as long as I didn’t destroy the first “reinforcement” ship, others wouldn’t be called in. Upon destroying a cargo container you are granted a substantial amount of Iron, which if you’re quick about, you can use to refill your shields. With my upgraded shields, this lone starship would never pose a real threat… just as long as I keep my inventory in line. So I would then slowly take out a container, keep a bit of iron for my shields, and then sort the valuables. If they sell high in this system I keep, if they sell low I throw away. When my inventory is full, I kill the lone star ship and jump away. On a good run of this, I would easily earn 1 million credits of in game currency… which could take quite a bit more time to mine.
I found it interesting just how quickly I went from peaceful space faring miner, to ruthless pirate. This got me curious to hear more about how other people were playing. I started talking to some of my friends to learn more about how they were playing the game. The first person I talked to explained to me how invested they were in fully exploring a solar system, and was really interested in learning more about the species and languages in the game. There are three main sentient species, and within No Man’s Sky you can find artifacts and ruins that will grant you words in each species’ language. This way when you communicate with them next, you may understand more of what they are saying or looking for. I have another friend who spends as much time as he can on a single planet. He thoroughly explores the flora and fauna of a world, and not in a “gotta collect them all” type mindset… in a genuine sense of discovery and exploration. “It is something that I can invest my time in, relax, go to a planet and sort of explore. If it's an interesting planet, really delve in and scan all the creatures, look for cool or beautiful landscapes, and be rewarded for all of that with more language and understanding, and resources.” (He’s taken some great shots of the game and would recommend you check out his tumblr here )
huge aspect to the play experience… sounds a bit familiar right? This app was released in 2014 and while I haven’t played it, this video provides insight into the play experience.
Something that we all have in common, even with the people who do enjoy playing, is that we’re all hesitant to recommend it to others. Which I found pretty curious, considering that we were enjoying the game and yet we can recognize that there’s a certain barrier to entry with No Man’s Sky that isn’t so apparent in other games. At it’s core, No Man’s Sky has many similarities with other survival games and while we develop personal goals in all of these… No Man’s Sky can feel purely self driven at times. There are vague threads to a story or objective within No Man’s Sky, yet players can be left feeling unsure of what to do or what they “should” be doing. No Man’s Sky doesn’t satisfy the same productivity “itch” that Minecraft seems to. While there’s a bit of it, without an actual sandbox environment, there’s no real room for creative goal setting for the player. Minecraft can get away with having zero story, because it can make up for it with pure player creativity. While Don’t Starve is relatively vague, the title alone gives the player a goal.Within Don’t Starve’s crafting mechanic players can see most, if not all, crafting possibilities within the first moments of gameplay. This creates a sense of yearning for something that isn’t immediately attainable, and therefore player goals from the onset. Out There seems to excel more in the same genre due to it’s pacing and sharing the same feeling of “next time will be different” that Don’t Starve is also able to produce. Honestly if No Man’s Sky was a bit more difficult, that could be more alluring. If there was permanent death and a sense of starting over upon each iteration, it could be potentially more exciting for it’s users. Instead players can be left feeling lost or alone with their character… aimless in a galaxy full of worlds.
Through this sort of review, I can infer the following.. I believe it’s more fun to establish your own goals, when you understand the game goals and can play with them, or go outside of them on your own. There’s a real sense of fulfillment when you feel as though you’re “gaming the system,” and working on the fringes of the game’s overarching goals. Yet when the game is purely based off of your own goals, and without the appropriate depth to make it creatively driven, players can be left feeling aimless. Players need structures/game goals to fall back onto within the play experience. In those moments where the players become lost within their own goals, they should be able to fall more easily into what the game is expecting of them. Without that security net, it can become aimless and frustrating. While I continue to enjoy my experiences with No Man’s Sky, I can identify with the game’s faults and understand how it’s not meeting the needs of many players. For this reason, it’s still hard for me to recommend this game to others… you really have to be willing to jump into the void with this one.
Hope you enjoyed this post! I know it was a bit lengthy, for that I apologize! It’s also been a while since I put up a post but I’m hoping to get more back into the swing of things now that the summer months are nearly over. That being said I can forecast that my next blog post will definitely entail something related to the “Mr. Robot” app, which I HIGHLY encourage you all the play. Until then, thanks for reading!
I make games, I play games... and sometimes I have some thoughts about that.