Play the Game not the Map

Maps are powerful tools. And we all know what comes with great power...

Maps are powerful tools. And we all know what comes with great power…

I LOVE cartography. The idea that a large and detailed location can be summed up in one aerial image, appeals to both my sense of adventure and my appreciation of intricate artworks.
I have developed a tendency to collect maps, especially fictional ones, imagined from the ground up. As the slightly weird child I was, I would draw maps for fun. Create a world, fill it with locations, characters, a few loose narratives and then forget about it to go play in the mud or something.
A map creates an understanding of scale and a visible setting for an event. They are one of the best companions that can come with any book, film or game. There’s a reason so many people want a copy of the Marauder’s Map; it’s easier to imagine Hogwarts if you know the layout.
Yet, for games, there are occasions where maps can detract from the experience.

A map creates an understanding of scale and a visible setting for an event. They are one of the best companions that can come with any book, film or game

Already knowing where locations and landmarks are going to be, before you actually see them, takes away from the excitement of exploring. Having a map also puts focus on the marked points, as you try to get from A to B as quickly as possible you find yourself forgetting to take in the intricate details of some lovely worlds.
Most games realise this, so initially provide a limited map. Skyrim only shows major cities, Zelda: Phantom Hourglass cut the map into incomplete quarters and GTA V only shows where you’ve been.
This allows the player to appreciate the design of the world itself, not just the map representing it. Developers put considerable thought into how landscapes are shaped, so that the player is drawn to the interesting bits; like the thoughtfully placed bell towers and bases in Farcry 4. The first tower you see is framed at the end of a valley, drawing the eye, and the bases are all marked by smoke trails. The map isn’t entirely necessary, it just eases accessibility.

Developers put considerable thought into how landscapes are shaped

For practicality’s sake, a mini-map on the HUD has become a staple component. Giving a quick and accessible way to figure out where you are and where you’re going. Tactically, the HUD map can change the game completely, in Call of Duty there are a slew of killstreaks/attachments that specifically affect yours and your opponents’ mini-maps. Recognising and altering the map’s affect on gameplay.
In a killing spree, you can find yourself looking almost exclusively at the mini-map, not the actual game. It becomes a crutch, resulting in us relying on an abstract rendition of what is already observable.

The worst offender of this is the ever-popular, cheat map.

I have used cheat maps before, I admit to it. Finding all those hidden packages in Vice City was damn near impossible without one. But they should be approached with moderation, to avoid breaking the experience designed by the developer.What sparked me to write this piece was a map for Batman: Arkham Knight that appeared on my Twitter feed.
The map had everything marked, from murder victims to the watchtowers. It had broken down a complex and enjoyable game into a to-do list.

I have a 100% game file, ready for new game+ and I can’t see why anyone would want or need to use a cheat map of Gotham. Rocksteady smartly incorporated mechanics to help find collectables; bombs flash and beep noisily, hostage situations are reported over the police radio and watchtowers have giant red flood lights on them for crying out loud. The only truly difficult items to collect are Riddler trophies, and these can be located by interrogating goons. See, Rocksteady, went to the effort of giving every collectible item in the game a mechanic that helps find it. This means you can locate everything in an organic manner.
A cheat map, bypasses all of this and gives people the opportunity to finish a stellar game as quickly as possible so that they can trade it in at their local game retailer. For trophy/achievement hunters, this is probably the most appealing approach.
Though, doesn’t this miss the point?
Taking steps to avoid aspects of gameplay to get to the final credits scene faster; it’s the equivalent of fast forwarding a movie. Yes you reach the end faster, but I personally don’t priorities reading the slowly scrolling names of Spielberg’s colleagues over the main feature.

Take a moment, exit the map screen and remember that you’re PLAYING a game.

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