Killing (without) Simulacra

Posted on 26/05/2010


Six years ago, Hideo Kojima made Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, a game that split from the established Metal Gear Solid formula in a lot of ways. One of the more radical overhauls of the gameplay, was the omission of one of the predecessor’s most iconic in game tools and icons, the “soliton radar”, a mini-map variant in the corner of the screen, displaying an abstract map of the player’s surroundings, enemies and their current line of sight.

The previous two installments were very hard to play without this tool, and personally, I caught my self many times actually playing the game only looking at the radar screen, not paying too much attention to what was going on the “real” world.

The Soliton Radar of Metal Gear Solid 1&2

Snake Eater did away with the radar, exchanging it for a new set of much less reliable tools, a directional microphone and a very glitchy movement meter. This lead to a whole new experience, the game world suddenly became a lot more important, the player now had to pay attention to what was actually going on, instead of staring at the corner of the screen for most of the game, the actual game world passing by without much of a notice. The game benefited a LOT from omission of this mini map game within the game.

Years later, the minimap has become a staple in open world games. Grand Theft Auto wouldn’t be complete without it. Yet, even in these games that don’t display rather vital information with this tool, it distracts a whole lot from the game world, the player’s view often times locked on the map more than on the street in front of him, hell bent on not missing the right turn.

GTA III's minimap visible in the lower left corner.

Maybe I’m mostly alone with this problem, but I tend to rather despise games that rely heavily on minimaps as tools of direction the player. A compass, okay. A map ready at the touch of a button, granted. A minimap constantly displaying my exact surroundings, always telling me EXACTLY what to do and where to go… This particular tool ends up the only thing I see of the game way too often.

As Baudrillard would put it, in this case the simulation of the world has become the world itself, I don’t play the game, I play the minimap.

Rockstar’s recent openworld Western Extravaganza “Red Dead Redemption” obviously also features a minimap, much in the same vein as GTA, even with automatically calculated, optimized routes for the player to travel, all drawn instantly across the Western Wilderness. Grand Theft Horse comes with a navi.

But not for me. I’ve had it with the minimap. I’m opting out. Luckily, Read Dead Redemption’s options menu offers the possibility of switching the minimap off.

And that is exactly what I’m doing now. Limiting myself to occasionally glancing at the ingame map in the map menu, while otherwise referring to the map printed on good ol’ paper coming with the game.

Since the game world is riddled with visual (and sometimes even aural) cues as to where the player’s located at any given time, this shouldn’t be too much of a bother.
And please, don’t misunderstand my intentions. I do NOT do this because of some false sense of realism. I do not want to make a statement like “there were no navis in 1911!” while at the same time having a blast with the game’s bullet time feature.

I’m doing this solely because omitting the minimap and relying on the visual cues and landmarks the game delivers in order to get a better gaming experience. To get more out of the game.

Taking a hint from Ben Abraham feature series on Far Cry 2 permadeath playthrough, I will update the blog regularly with my experiences stemming from this… “experiment”.

Posted in: gaming, Videogames