The Point of Sandbox Games

What’s the point of sandbox games? It’s a question that I get asked a lot, by gamers and non-gamers alike. For some reason it’s hard for people to grasp the idea of a game with no points or purpose, no winners or losers. The question these people are really asking is: Why would you waste your time with a game like that?

This question was hard for me to answer for a long time. After describing what Minecraft is to people they always ask, but what’s the point. And I would always say, the point is whatever you want it to be. You can build, or explore, or mine, or play online, or fight creatures, or just goof around. And still it doesn’t make sense to them.

So now I have an answer. The reason I play sandbox games is because I’m creating goals for myself to accomplish. Because it’s rewarding and I have fun doing it. It’s hard for people who’ve only played straight forward games to understand this answer.  But they do the same things themselves. For instance, in Call of Duty there are pre-made goals that players are expected to accomplish. Leveling up, unlocking new weapons and features, and finally prestiging are all goals that are set up by the developer.

There’s a sense of accomplishment as you rise through the online ranks. You might even set goals in real time in terms of the in game goals. Like, I want to be level 20 by the end of the weekend. And when you make the in-game goals more specific for yourself, they feel more rewarding. Then players go so far as to make goals that don’t give them any in-game reward. People who worry about their K/D ratio or their win to loss ratio are creating goals solely for their own benefit.

And then we return to a sandbox game like Minecraft, or SimCity. The reason Minecraft is fun is because I’m creating these similar goals, but there is no starting or ending point. I don’t need to kill time camping for my K/D or power leveling.  I want to build a tower so I work hard, mine the minerals necessary, craft my tools, and build her up. The sense of accomplishment and the sense of purpose is completely self-driven. My end product isn’t a cool score, but it is a cool tower that I’m proud in myself for making.

There will always be gamers who don’t understand the point of sandbox games. But these are gamers that will never branch away from linear games. If you understand the concept of a sandbox game, you know why it’s fun for people then you’re already more creative and advanced than half of your gaming piers. You’re bettering yourself as a video game player and getting that sense of accomplishment we all play video games for. And that’s the point of sandbox games.