There’s a saying within the video game industry, and its that ideas are worthless if a game designer can’t deliver on them. Although that does ring true, it seems as though the industry is in dire need of new, if not interesting, ideas.
I can’t fully express in words just how burnt out I am by AAA video gaming, it’s absurd where it is now in 2018. I started becoming increasingly active in keeping up with the industry back in 2015, and I used to feel guilty about my cynicism towards the way of things. I felt like I didn’t have the right to feel so jaded about where AAA video gaming is headed what with all the microtransactions, loot boxes, and underhanded tactics that several game publishers pull.
Last night I did something that I haven’t done in a long time, and that was to listen to the Halo 3 theme song. Amidst all the controversies and empty promises that have plagued this industry for years, I kind of let this beautiful song escape my memory. My eyes welled up with tears at the sheer awesomeness of this track, bringing me back to my middle school years playing Halo 3 Mythic that came bundled with my newly purchased Halo 3: ODST.
The 2000s had a different climate than the one we have today as if developers were more willing to create the games they wanted to make. Now it wasn’t perfect but in ways much better than what we have now.
But I realize that I feel this way because I draw comparisons between the games I played growing up versus the games that are being released today. For the most part the magic I felt as a child I get only from a few games nowadays.
If I were to create an illustration of my gaming life during childhood it’d consist of Kingdom Hearts, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy 7, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, DBZ games, and many other JRPG, Nintendo, and PS2 games. There comes this sense of mystery and curiosity as a child growing up as if the world is in a state of unraveling like a drop of candy. But when you get older that feeling begins to fade and the world becomes all too familiar and mundane.
It’s a very melancholic feeling to lose that sense of curiosity and mystery towards life. So to remedy that we shake our lives up a bit or we explore different worlds through mediums such as books, films, and video games. But to be honest I’ve lost almost all interest in the AAA games that are being released, besides Kingdom Hearts 3 of course! Even with Final Fantasy 15, I didn’t care about anymore by the time 2016 rolled around.
This isn’t an issue that many people have but it is one that me and my Mother share, and that’s that many of the games that we see are what I describe as “ontologically stale”. I’m not saying these games suck or are creatively bankrupt, but that they feel all too familiar in a design sense from the visuals all the way down to the mechanics and systems. How can I better explain this so that you may understand my dear reader? Allow me to explore further.
I have to begin by saying that as a gamer what draws me most into a game is its music, so its no surprise that I’m fond of games from Square Enix and other Japanese games. What I love about video game music is that it brings out a whole ‘nother dimension to a game and that it can salvage what could potentially be a mediocre experience by many (think Unlimited Saga, Musashi: Samurai Legend, and Dirge of Cerberus).
But most importantly, many of the games I’d love to see won’t ever get made because I’m not confident that publishers like EA, Activision, and Ubisoft would make them. What I mean by “ontologically stale” is that the very designs of worlds, characters, and creatures don’t impress me that much. For example, I could look at a game like Final Fantasy 15 and think that it was rationally put together according to known rules and conventions. It just feels too familiar.
When conceptualizing something, there is a difference between doing so while awake and while one is dreaming. When awake the conscious mind is more judgmental and picky about its ideas, thoughts, and suggestions. So naturally, when creating a work of art an artist draws from what they know (pun intended). The creation of something like a video game is even more streamlined because it is a commercial product, so of course, it won’t be taking many creative risks.
This streamlined thinking is a result of habits formed in accordance with physical existence. When you’re creating a world what do you think of? Land, skies, oceans, etc. You also design how this reality will be structured based off of 3D thinking. Creation becomes thus a rearrangement of something found in reality, with 3D being the foundation upon which everything exists.
Another example of “ontological staleness” is the fact that most games are human-focused, as in the player is playing as a humanoid character. Why can’t I play as a virus? Or a tree? How about an open-world game where the player travels through space as a virus wiping out entire populations of people? Or a survival-horror game where you play as a fragile service robot, finding the whereabouts to a killed off crew in the vacuums of space?
When creating human-focused games, it kind of limits the very design of a game and how players interact with it. Nothing wrong with those games of course but where’s the innovation and finding new ways of seeing this medium?
It’s fascinating how we perceive the world as humans, we’ve admired the wonders and mysteries of nature since time immemorial. The interactive medium is unlike any medium before it, I’d love to see how we interpret Life Online in the form of interaction. But for the most part what do I see? Guns, swords, blood, violence, human characters, military shooters, male protagonists, a focus on competitive games, etc. I’m not saying those games are bad, but where on Earth is the variety?
To construct something from scratch based on what we don’t know isn’t possible, you have to know something to create something, input comes before output, which brings us into the area of epistemology (philosophy of knowledge) but that’s a topic for another day.
But the creative process is much different when one is sleep. If you’re someone like me you dream of worlds and scenarios that you’ve absolutely not seen in waking life. Sometimes I find myself dreaming in systems like one that dreams in code, it’s a trippy experience no doubt! The mind is like an open clam shell when it comes to worldbuilding during sleep, not judgmental in its creative process. You never know what you might see or what is suggested in a dream.
I can confidently say that no world from any medium I’ve seen cannot compare to the worlds I’ve seen in my dreams. Sure there are fantasy worlds like Halo and Final Fantasy, but the point is that they’re human conceptions limited by conscious thought. I don’t think we can really envision a real alien world without placing our human bias on it. The most that we could do is imagine what such a world would look like, it’s no different than imagining what China is like for a person that’s never been there.
Perhaps that’s the reason why Heaven and Hell, worlds that supposedly are our ultimate destiny, have sparked our collective imagination for as long as we walked this Earth. Even Allah speaks in allegories to us humans in the Qur’an when it comes to the existence of The Afterlife. Because we are literally incapable of imagining the reality of these places with our feeble minds. In fact, many months ago I even saw an encyclopedia on the interpretations of Heaven and Hell from different cultures around the world, very fascinating!
Game mechanics and systems are created based on human cognition. The creation of these is similar to the organizing of thought that goes into writing and speaking. What I’m interested in are the possibilities of expression through the interactive medium, human and non-human. There is so much you can do within the realm of interactive media but with video games, there’s not the kind of innovation I’d like to see. Heck, there’s even so much potential for military shooters, I’d so love to see a video game adaptation of episodes 3-4 of Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid.
All in all, there’s so much I’d love to see from the video game medium that isn’t being fulfilled. A game that I’d love to play is one that is so unfamiliar that it almost feels alien, nothing like I experienced in the past.
A realization I came to is that we can’t and shouldn’t rely on these big publishers to do things differently. Innovation occurs at the outskirts right? I hope I was able to communicate my weird ramblings to you, but words won’t be enough for me. My dream is that one day the world will be able to play a game that I made with my own two hands.