How Crafting in Games Is Deceiving Players
For decades, the vast majority of games have focused on destruction, whether you're popping heads in a first-person-shooter, obliterating an enemy base in an RTS, or tearing down today's Dark Lord in the latest fantasy RPG. Then along came Minecraft and introduced an entire generation to the idea of virtual construction, and suddenly almost every game has to cram crafting into its systems somewhere.
Ostensibly, this is a wonderful thing. Much as I enjoy gaming's penchant for guns and explosions, I've done a lot of virtual killing, and having a mainstream industry that also encourages creating thing in games is an alternative I'd welcome with open arms. Unfortunately, there are two problems with this notion of the positivity of gaming crafting.
1) Most games with crafting in them are still primarily about killing things.
2) The crafting in these games absolutely sucks, to the point where it's debatable that it could be considered crafting at all.
I most recently experienced this problem in Rise of the Tomb Raider
, a spectacular action game that places a particularly strong emphasis on crafting. Now, crafting does make some logical sense in Lara's rebooted world - she's trying to survive in a harsh wilderness and needs to use the resources available to her to stay alive. Also, the game has a couple of neat ideas, like enabling you to craft ammo out of base materials on the fly.
But the actual action of crafting is banal and insipid. To begin with, all the craftable objects are from predefined recipes, so there's no opportunity to be remotely creative with the system. Moreover, the majority of the craftable items are not items at all, but upgrades for your weapons that have little tangibility about them. Finally, there's no effort or thought required to craft anything, you just collect the resources you need, press a button, and ping! The item appears in your inventory.
Ultimately, Tomb Raider's crafting amounts to an extra couple of steps in upgrading your weapons and collecting ammo, which serves only to slow an otherwise exhilarating action game down. This is not to say that crafting couldn't work in a Tomb Raider game, only that in this particular instance it adds nothing of significance to the overall experience.
This is how the majority of mainstream games with crafting in them treat their crafting, from Far Cry to Dragon Age. The presiding notion seems to be that if you can combine two items together into a new one - that's crafting. It doesn't matter how much of a presence those initial resources have in the world, whether the system allows you to create something unique, or whether it requires any semblance of creative thought from the player. If you can pick up a stick and a rock, slap them together and make a nuclear bomb appear, that's crafting.