Ignorance really is bliss: Video games are better when they tell us less

ignorance is bliss why video games are better when they tell us less zelda breath of the wild featured
Communication is one of the biggest challenges of video game design. How much information do players need before they go where you want them to go? Looking back, the games we think of as “retro” were often vague in telegraphing what players should do. In the modern era, the pendulum has swung the other way, and now many developers seem to err on the side of caution, guiding players through even large, open-ended experiences.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. While it is important to make sure gamers can find out what to do and where to go at any given moment, those mechanics increasingly come at the expense of discovery, diluting some of the greatest joys to be found in exploring virtual worlds.

Fortunately, in the last few months, we’ve seen a wave of games experimenting with ways to look past the clutter of in-game UI, using everything from photo-modes to minimalist maps, to put their games worlds’ in the spotlight.

Less really can be more

If you sift through the mountains of critical praise for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you’ll find a common thread among its reviews; the game lets the player discover the mysteries of its world themselves. With on-screen indicators and player information displayed in muted colors, the gameplay experience is very much grounded in the world around you.

the legend of zelda breath wild hands on gameplay 0009

When combined with its expansive, distraction-free map, and a lack of concrete information about the setting, you’re left to discover Hyrule’s mysteries for yourself. Not sure what to do? Pick a landmark in the distance, and go there. You’re sure to find something interesting and worth your time, even if it isn’t exactly what you planned to be doing and chances are you’ll have quite the adventure along the way.

Resident Evil 7 takes a similarly minimalist approach, though in this case the lack of information is used to frighten, rather than inspire. Exploring the Baker household is left up to the players themselves and when it comes to the game’s many boss enemies, you don’t see a single health bar or location indicator. Would it be more scary if they had a slowly diminishing red bar above their head? It seems hard to imagine.

The old adage that “the journey is more important than the destination” is as true in gaming as it is in the real world. Pushing players to make their own way, without giving them tools that explain exactly where to go and how to get there, makes room for organic, emergent gameplay moments. These moments; The feeling of satisfaction when you point to a mountain in Breath of the Wild, then find and climb it; That adrenaline-fueled dash to safety in the Baker house; these are the kinds of experiences that so many players look for from video games, but so few games actually provide: The experience of escaping to somewhere new.

Say Cheese

Even when the HUD isn’t as stripped-back as it could be, a number of games are now letting us experience them as if that were the case. Photo modes, ostensibly there to let us snap the coolest moments in our games, often allow for a more natural window into the game worlds they’re designed to capture.

It may be that giving players the choice offers the best of both worlds

Final Fantasy XV‘s take on it was unique, letting players and an NPC character take pictures of some of the most exciting moments of the game. When you look back at those moments through these images, they come free of UI elements like HP and damage numbers.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End does much the same, letting players capture some beautiful shots of its picturesque locales. It even inspired a real-world photo community forming around taking cool photos in the game, and contests to see who could snap the best moment from the story.

Photo features allow players who like to see damage numbers and minimap icons have the snapshot memories of their time with the game, without all the extraneous details. They can revel in the sheer joy of the game’s mechanics and still look at the gorgeous world.

Giving players the choice

Lots of games, including Uncharted 4 and Final Fantasy XV, let you experiment with removing parts of the HUD for a more UI-free experience. Some of these options are simple and purely technical: The Division lets you turn off the radar, and Horizon: Zero Dawn gives you the ability to deactivate a number of HUD options.

Uncharted 4

Some games have used the feature to introduce practical, gameplay elements: Square Enix’ Nier: Automata allows players to remove many of its individual HUD elements in exchange for skill points. The game uses a system for choosing skills and passive bonuses called “system chips.” HUD elements, including your minimap, quest list, experience, and other seemingly critical indicators.

While many of these more “realistic” modes do present new challenges, many of them seem to be aesthetically focused. For some of us, it’s easier to lose yourself in a less cluttered game. The fights feel more real. The danger is more present and unpredictable.

While games like Breath of the Wild, built from the ground up to be deliberately vague and unclear, are a great example of restricted communication, giving players the choice may offer the best of both worlds. Letting players choose whether to take a helping hand, rather than having it forced upon them might appeal to the largest audience, which caters to more immersive gamers and those with less time on their hands. When in doubt, it’s always better to give gamers a choice.


Activision not doing itself any favors with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 loot boxes

New loot boxes added to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 have caused a somewhat uneven playing field for those who choose to spend extra money. Certain limited-time items can now only be found in loot boxes.

One game console is better than the rest, and we're not afraid to say it

We've seen a relatively large influx of new consoles in the last year, including the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One X, so we've updated our recommendations for the best dedicated game hardware.

This list of PlayStation 4 exclusives puts its competitors to shame

The PlayStation 4's game library and incredible selection of exclusive games could make anyone with an Xbox One or Nintendo Switch think twice. Here's our list of the latest and greatest PS4 exclusives.

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.

Get the full PS4 Pro experience. Here's every game you can play in 4K HDR

The PlayStation 4 Pro can play any PS4 game, but a select number of titles have been optimized to take advantage of the platform. Here's a list of every new and upcoming game that will benefit from the PS4 Pro.

Logitech’s G MX518 gaming mouse pairs classic looks with all-new tech

Logitech is relaunching one of its most popular classic gaming mice, the MX518. Now called the G MX518, it sports upgraded internals that give it a 16,000 DPI optical sensor and new and improved memory.

Apex Legends adds its first new gun, the Havoc energy rifle

Respawn added the first piece of new content to Apex Legends, the Havoc energy rifle. It's available now for PS4, Xbox One, and PC players. The fully automatic rifle can be modded to shoot single-shot energy beams.

Everything we know about Devil May Cry 5, including characters and combat

Devil May Cry 5 is just around the corner, and is the first game in the original series since Devil May Cry 4 in 2008. Here is everything we know about the game, including its playable characters.

Samsung Galaxy S10 optimizations make it great for Fortnite

Samsung's new line of Galaxy S10 devices have been optimized for gaming. All three offer improved support for the Unity engine and the S10 Plus also offers vapor chamber cooling, similar to the Xbox One X.

Having problems with your Xbox One console? We have the solutions

The Xbox One has evolved over the years, but so have its problems. Thankfully, we have solutions for some of the console's most enduring problems, whether you're experiencing issues with connectivity or your discs.

Did Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown fall victim to the Madden Curse?

Join us as we take a tour through the long-running history of the Madden Curse -- and Tom Brady's recent accolades. We all know John Madden is a longtime NFL talent, but is he also an agent of dark forces?

These are the coolest games you can play on your Google Chrome browser right now

Not only is Google Chrome a fantastic web browser, it's also a versatile gaming platform that you can access from just about anywhere. Here are a few of our favorite titles for the platform.

Need help getting the Sleeper Simulant in Destiny 2? We’ve got you covered

The Sleeper Simulant is one of the coolest new Exotic weapons you can unlock in the Warmind expansion of Destiny 2, but it's an involved process that will take awhile. Here's everything you need to know.

Want to trick out your PlayStation 4? These themes will get you started

Personalize your gaming experience with some of our favorite themes for the PlayStation 4, including free, paid, static, and dynamic options. Fan-favorite third-party and exclusive games are also included.