It's always there, nagging at you out of the corner of your screen. No, I'm not talking about your mom telling you to go outside and meet a nice lady; I'm talking about the ever-increasing prevalence of the mini-map.

A whopping twenty years ago (which may as well be the Jurassic age by video game standards), players didn't have a handheld guide by which to navigate levels. All we had were our eyeballs. Rather than bitching about how the geography in games like Thief made absolutely no sense, we simply sucked it up and drew mental maps of where we've been and where a differently placed wall signaled a slightly different room.

It was a simpler time, no doubt. But with the open-world sandbox becoming the prerequisite genre for games like Horizon: Zero Dawn all the way to freaking Mad Max (the sandbox-iest game of them all), the mini-map seems like an absolute necessity when it comes to exploring these gigantic worlds.

And yet... you tend to spend more time looking at that tiny portion of the screen than any other part of the TV.

By making the feature so necessary, many developers have taken players right out of the immersive experience of playing a video game. This makes it feel like you're on a scavenger hunt more than anything else; with you having to eliminate the red dots and follow the waypoint to an objective not unlike the past 50 missions you've been on.

Take Grand Theft Auto V, the fifth entry in the franchise that pretty much started the open-world genre.


From the Hollywood Walk of Fame all the way to a crackhead in the suburbs, a lot of effort was put into creating an almost street-for-street replica of Los Angeles. It looks infinitely better than you did back in your early twenties but for all the detail Rockstar put, you won't notice most of it because you're too preoccupied with your car's GPS (which is probably the cause of most of your driving accidents).

Maybe you're thinking that you can just disable the mini-map and resume playing the game as usual. The problem is that you can't. Unless you've played through the entire game at least once and remember all the waypoint locations, you'll be fumbling in the dark like Stevie Wonder. Because the waypoint system is implemented into the gameplay itself, disabling it makes playing the missions in Grand Theft Auto V harder than constipation.


Another problem of the mini-map is the amount of information relayed to you. Though it does come in handy, knowing the locations of every enemy in Hitman: Absolution defeats the purpose of stealth and devolves into watching cones of vision pass by your shiny bald head. And that's about as fun as looking at your old Facebook profile pictures.

Of course, not all games that incorporate a mini-map are bad. Some of them use it quite well.


For the amount of crap that litters its games, the Assassin's Creed franchise has recently included a very adjustable HUD that allows users to customize what they see so that the Templars have a fighting chance. Even if you disable the mini-map, having a handful of waypoints in the world allows you to see where you need to go and limits your ability to see enemies through walls like the Terminator.

What developers need to know is balance. Yes, giving hints about where objectives are located is nice, but force-feeding every bit of information on a miniature screen just downright smothers players and distracts them from the bigger picture.

These are just musings of someone who likes to get immersed in video games. As long as they are implemented properly and don't become as integral to gameplay as heart medication is to a diabetic, then I don't really see a problem with having a handheld bird's eye view of every location in the game. Just make sure to leave something for the players to do other than harming their eyesight by reading small icons.
About the author: Carlos Zotomayor

Zoto can see your underpants. Mmm... tasteful.


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