Games should never punish exploration.

Similar to my claim that what’s hard about a game should also be what’s interesting about it, this is a foundational design belief of mine that’s important enough I want to write about it but seems so obvious that it’s hard to know what I could even say about it.

Games should never punish exploration.

A player getting drawn into a the universe of a game, engaging deeply enough to want to explore off the beaten path and not just follow the narrative breadcrumbs and signposts? That’s a huge compliment that means the game is working. It should never be repaid with a slap on the wrist.

Games should not assume that a player exploring an area means they don’t know they can leave or have forgotten their goal and have an NPC repeatedly and patronizingly bark at them to move on.

Games should not have one-way doors or points of no return that are not clearly telegraphed. (And they definitely should not have unmarked plot triggers at the end of dungeons that teleport the player all the way back out of the dungeon.)

Games should not surprise the player with sudden deadly difficulty spikes in otherwise safe areas.

Games should not provide interesting-looking and apparently-reachable places that are actually out-of-bounds instant death traps.

Games should never punish exploration.