Open-world video games bear the impossible promise—offering compelling, enjoyable open-endedness and freedom within the constraints of what is, by necessity of the medium, an extremely limited set of possible actions.

These games provide a list of (predominantly violent) verbs that’s minuscule in comparison to the options you would face in identical real-life situations. Yet, we can’t get enough of them.
In spite of their many obvious failings or limitations, we’ve been losing ourselves within open worlds for some 30-odd years.

Today, nearly every big release is set in an open world. We delight in their unspoken possibility and shrug at their quirks.
Those quirks, by the way, are not merely a consequence of current technology.

The oddities of modern open-world games have origins in the games that came before. We’re not talking about just the earlier Grand Theft Autos—even the first GTA built on the foundations set by more than a decade of prior open-world games.
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