All these recent posts about sandbox play around the rpg blogging community got me thinking. The posts about sandbox gaming are pretty much all positive. My first reaction is the same - I've read and played enough indie/story games that I get (and like) what they're about, but I've really been grooving on the old school lately. It's not just about nostalgia; it's also about the raw fun that these games facilitate. Pat's been talking about running a sandbox game for a while, and I'm definitely down. I have this image of a larger than life paladin burned into the back of my brain, and I want to play him dammit! But there must be some issues with this style of play too, right?
The main issue that I worry about is that such a game won't keep my attention for too long. My chronic gaming ADD aside, sandbox play tends towards the modular - visit the wizards tower here, clear the caves of chaos there. Level up. Like Pat said, sandbox play thrives on taking one's time in long journeys across a land. In practice, this means random encounters and a slew of events unconnected to a larger arc or to the characters. Instead of enjoying wandering around the sandbox, I worry about getting mired in portions of it.
I never played Grand Theft Auto before GTA IV. I expected the best when I shelled out 60 big ones for it. But despite its popularity, I really don't like it. The car chases are fun and the city's big as hell, but I just get bored trying to explore every nook and cranny of the city. There's just so much to do that doesn't matter. I'm impressed by the scope of the world, but once my awe fades, boredom kicks in.
So, I love the idea of sandbox games, and I don't know what the ultimate solution is. But it has something to do with the GM managing to highlight plot and character and those themes that connect game sessions while still managing to bring out the glory of the scope and detail of the world. Sounds like, well, just good gaming to me.