How can creativity be brought into games — is it even possible? Designer Eddy Léja-Six examines the nature of both creativity and games to get to the bottom of the question: which games allow for creativity, and how do they encourage it?
Creativity and games are among the most important human activities. Children spend a lot of time playing and inventing, often at the same time: “Now you’ll be the bank robber, and I’ll chase you with this invisible dinosaur!”
Many adults will tell you they do not play games because WinMine (a.k.a. Minesweeper) “isn’t really a game.” Others will assure you they are not creative, as “they can’t draw properly.”
In fact, these two activities are part of everyone’s life, and turn out to be as natural and spontaneous as breathing; almost as useful too.
As video game developers, we know how to entertain players and offer them meaningful and emotional experiences. But do we have the necessary tools to allow players to use their creative mind while they play? How did the games that attempted it fare? Should we even try to mix gameplay and creativity?
“Why this focus on slow-paced routines? Along with the stripping of power comes with the stripping of speed and action. We bemoan today’s ADHD game culture; big-budget titles are about quick sensory overloads of gratuitous violence, and successful casual games are about playing in two-minute Angry Birds intervals. But beneath the surface, game design has seen a huge shift in the other direction. Maybe it’s a reaction to the chaotic post-9/11 world or simply a product of better technology, but the past few years have been a boon for slow games. There have always been hints of slowness in games, from Cyan’s Myst to Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda. But we’re starting to see works where the slowness is the entire conceit of the game.”
(Jake Shapiro “On the advent of “slow games”)
The Stanley Parable is an experimental narrative-driven first person game. It is an exploration of choice, freedom, storytelling and reality, all examined through the lens of what it means to play a video game.
You will make a choice that does not matter
You will follow a story that has no end
You will play a game you cannot win
…it’s actually best if you don’t know anything about it before you play it 😀
“The morality system of Dragon Age was probably the best of any Bioware game to that point. Instead of building points in either a paladin or badass category, the warden had to earn the admiration of each individual teammate. The warden had to learn the moral and philosophical code that each of her companions lived by and act—whether genuinely or not—according to each ally’s relative morality. The warden could agree with an ally’s outlook, defy it, try to change it, or ignore it, but she was always being judged by the fallible people closest to her, not by a cold and objective “light/dark” side. If a friend had a problem with the warden, she could prevaricate to earn their cooperation or insult their sensibilities and hope that they would get over it later on. This forced the player to create a character based not on what they thought the good guy or bad guy would do but based on how the game’s cast might react. And the widely different personalities of the varied characters ensured that somebody would always eventually take issue with the Warden.
It made the story as personal as it was grand. Even as the world was at stake, the player was making friends and experiencing a fantastic—if familiar—world from multiple perspectives. Entire plot threads could be created or altered by a single line of dialogue. The goal was simple and unchanging, but with so many paths to reach it, the warden couldn’t help but become a fleshed out character of her own. The interaction between the Warden’s various origin stories with her decisions up to a given point forced her to come to life and to take on a role of her own.”
(Mark Filipowich, Pop Matters)
“Among the many games released each year, there aren’t many that leave you contemplating and debating their story and worldviews long after the final set of credits has rolled. Virtue’s Last Reward takes its place proudly among this crop of games. As fun and challenging as the brainteasers in the room escapes are, they’re merely dressing for the fantastic writing, memorable characters, and stunning plot twists that could only be presented successfully in a game format. This is an adventure that fans of the genre–or those who appreciate quality storytelling in general–should not miss.” (Heidi Kemps, Gamespot)
“A lot of people talk about the idea that narrative and gameplay have nothing to do with one another — or, beyond that, the idea that story should be stricken from games entirely; the premise of this argument is that story somehow pollutes games.
I can’t stand this, because I love stories. I love stories that have been crafted by writers — stories that are full of ideas. That would be reason enough to love Virtue’s Last Reward, as it’s a complex but coherent story that’s just bursting with them. But there’s more going on here: it’s a story that you explore, a story not aside from gameplay, but as gameplay.
Like any good mystery, it keeps you guessing. In fact, that’s the engine that powers Virtue’s Last Reward: you throw yourself into the story, trying to piece it together, and literally leaping from node to node, exploring every moment of its narrative. What’s important? What’s a red herring? What’s just an interesting idea that’s there just because it’s interesting, and nothing more? It’s all there for you to discover — to fully participate in its discovery.
When you find yourself tackling this story — piecing it together in your head as the game pieces it together in front of you, breaking open its “locks” as the pieces start to fit — it’s a real moment of forward motion in storytelling gameplay. It’s a passionate exploration of what narrative as game can be by people who care about both.” (Christian Nutt, Features Editor, Gamasutra in “The 10 Best Games of 2012“)
“When asked “Have you ever been the subject of sex-based comments, taunting, harassment, or threats in the gaming community while not playing a video game?” 45.5% of women said that they had – almost 5 times the percentage of men who said the same. Similarly, when asked if they had ever had their gaming taste, ability, or skill questioned because of their gender, 77.8% of women said that they had (compared to 6.4% of men). Those men who said that they had been the subject of these comments and judgments related that they were often judged for liking games that were “for girls.” One man said that he had been called a “faggot” when he said he didn’t like playing violent games. Yet again, the sexism against men is not because they are men but because they aren’t “male enough.”
Occasionally, women in gaming are labeled as something like “attention whores.” The woman who plays video games for attention or uses her sex for special treatment while playing is a common stereotype in the gaming community. The response to “Have you ever intentionally used your sex as leverage when asking for favors, goods, or attention while playing video games?” shows that this stereotype is only true in the vast minority. 9.9% of female respondents said that they had done this at least once. What is perhaps more interesting is that when asked “Have you ever lied about your sex in order to receive favors, goods, or attention while playing a video game?” 12.9% of male respondents said that they had.
The comments and data from these two questions point to an interesting conclusion: Some male gamers use the stereotype of a female “attention whore” to their benefit by pretending to be female in order to garner special benefits. Many of these men even kept images of women that they found on the internet in order to supply those gamers who helped them with nude photos and proof that they were female. In essence, an individual using femaleness to attain special favors and gifts from others while playing video games is more likely to be a self-identified male posing as a woman than to actually be female.”