ScoA 3: The designers’ Fallacy

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I’ve been thinking recently about the kind of games that I think I would make well, and the thought of genre specificity continued to float to the top. I don’t play as many RPGs as a lot of my friends, although I have had some exposure to some of them, more notably RPGs set in the first person, and this got me thinking. What would happen if a designer approached a game they intended to make with no prior knowledge of the genre or subject matter?

It is often stated by gamers, journalists and developers that the flow of originality within the industry is beginning to taper off. There are a number of potential reasons for this, but one thing I’ve observed out of this is that there are a lot of companies making the same kind of games. What would happen if their designers were tasked with something completely new and original, something that they have had minimal experience with?

These thoughts slowly swirled around in my head as I began contemplating what would happen if I went to design a game that I’d had little experience with, and I started to formulate a theory. We largely drawn upon our influences when approaching something that requires creative reasoning, so it is only natural that a lot of games are going to share a lot of familiar characteristics. So how would a crossing of influences fare? Would genre hybridisation work, or has it already?

Look around you, ever since I started thinking about this I’ve began noticing an increasing number of games in which designers may have been put, or put themselves into an environment in which they can exercise this creativity. But I’m still not satisfied. Genre hybridisation feels more like a solid intention, a readymade approach. My curiosity surges around the areas in which these design choices were not necessarily planned, or intended, but more as a product of the designers’ raw creativity wrought out of unawareness or curiosity.

It has often been agreed upon that there are only seven basic stories, so as an appropriate analogy, let’s say that there are only seven different game design devices. Within this common repertoire, the designer would often pick a handful of these elements as the foundation of their game, and weave the story between them. But what if instead of trying to match these elements to their logical scenarios (knight saves the princess, space marine kills aliens), the designer took these elements out of their natural context and applied them, not randomly, but in a contrasting or complimentary fashion with others.

Going back a bit, Shadow of the Colossus did something interesting with this in mind. First up, this game was very minimalistic, but within this space, these blanks, laid a charm that was waiting for the player to interpret. However that is not what I wish to discuss. Shadow of the Colossus essentially took the basic platformer and added only what was most necessary – a system that allowed the player to interact in a convincing way with the environment. Wander could swing, climb, trip and fall meaning that anything else that involved his actions came perfectly naturally. The battles with the colossi took the classic element of the boss battle, and re-imagined it giving the colossi a distinct air of stoicism and size – almost like wild animals as opposed to beasts. Although this game did not technically create, or even mix up a genre, by deconstructing the platformer/ action game’s fundamentals and reconstructing it in a way that feels almost alien, they managed to achieve originality.

Nothing is to say that a designer doesn’t need to be ignorant of what they are creating, or completely conscious of its roots. I’m even beginning to disagree with myself on the point that genres need to mix and match in a fit of incongruity to achieve originality as that would just feel contrived. What, however, does need to be acknowledged is that the manipulation of these core elements is a delicate process – one that does not require convolution, or paradoxically complete understanding. What is important is that developers experiment, and challenge themselves to unforeseen heights.

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