You see, it's well known that the Devil is also a trickster. His temptations come with a price. While players are busy trying to rebel against the authoritarian overtones of overly linear titles or making merry in Deus Ex-style worlds, many designers are all too aware that this is what people desire from a game. As such, the situation can be reversed, with the developer offering players exactly the type of experience they know is craved. As players, we are then cast in the role of Christ being tempted by the Devil in the New Testament: "[T]he devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 'All this I will give you,' he said, 'if you will bow down and worship me.'"


Doesn't this sound awfully familiar? Most of us have, at some point, fallen afoul of marketing hype for an upcoming MMO or open-world title that appears to offer greater player agency than ever before. Pre-order now they purr, beckoning seductively, you'll be able to roam anywhere and do anything. Once ensnared by these glamorous promises, it becomes inevitable that players will be disappointed to some degree by the final release. Many are the concepts that litter Peter Molyneux's avenue of broken dreams.

Hell Is Other Videogames

The Devil is in all of us. In our desires, and in our actions. But that player agency has influence, meaning Satanic manifestation can reach ever further. It can stretch beyond the Milton-esque need to escape constrictions of design and infect our very actions, infusing them with a dark, amoral hue. Developers who make a deal with the Dark Lord and harness the power of player agency, offering just enough of their game to Lucifer to keep players who demand freedom of action satisfied, will often be rewarded with critical acclaim.

Yet the temptation is to make another, more deceptive deal. To offer the Earth when there are no plans to deliver it. This may taint the game's reputation, forever damning it, or it may provide a traditional morality sting to the tale: the delivery of a sub-par game in which players must embrace the darkness to break out of the design bonds. Thus, the cycle is perpetuated, forever dooming players to a path along which they seek ever more impossible open-world games, falling for the sweet words of marketers again and again.

The Devil can offer us the world and encourage us to achieve great (and terrible) things in games, but he also represents an overextended reach. This vanity and deception of scale can lead only to disappointment. So embrace his principles of agency, but devote yourself fully to him at your peril.

Just remember, there's no escaping his clutches.

Peter Parrish has been excommunicated.

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