The Annoying Trend Following In Gaming
This topic came to me today while reading Twitter, interestingly enough. I read a tweet from former Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski, who said that a dog companion was cut from the original Gears of War quite early in the development process. While that little fact has very little to do with what I’m going to be talking about today, it got me thinking about the idea of dog. Yes, dog.
And what is dog? Well, dog symbolises a modern video game trend.
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I’ve started to hate these trends, to be honest. Yes, it’s the way of the world that what’s popular will be imitated, cloned and beaten until its horse is dead. To be honest, I don’t really mind imitation. As an aspiring author and writer myself, albeit one who needs to get off his lazy arse and write more, I understand the strength, even the necessity of imitation. Not everything needs to be innovative.
With the story I’m currently writing, my mission statement when I outlined the plot was that I’m taking something I know and love by using a cliche premise, and then trying to do something completely different and hopefully compelling with it. That really was, and still is, the basis of what I dream will be my first novel. I imitated one of my favourite stories, elements of the premise at least, and then poured my own thoughts and ideas and creative differences into it. So no, I don’t have a problem with imitation.
In fact, I encourage it. As do prominent authors I know, such as Neil Gaiman, the famous author of the comic book The Sandman, who said that (and I’m paraphrasing a tad here) it’s about finding your own voice, and part of that journey may involve copying others.
To directly quote him, he said “Make your art, tell your story, find your voice—even if you begin by copying others.”
“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.”
Just as a side note, this comes from a speech in which Neil Gaiman addressed the University of the Arts Class of 2012. You should google or YouTube it and watch it. It’s one of the best and most inspiring speeches I’ve heard. It probably resonated with me very well due to my love and dreams of writing.
But it’s a great speech nonetheless. Anyway, I’m moving off the mark here. I just wanted to establish that my issue is not with copying. That imitation is to some extent a necessity in the creative world.
What I do have a problem with, however, is in gaming, when immitating these trends ceases to be for creative reasons or the good of the game, and starts being just to mix in with the popular crowd. When it starts to become almost obligatory that said trend features in the game just because it’s the popular thing right now and hopefully that can translate to more cash. I hope you understand the distinction here. I don’t mind imitation if it’s for creative purposes or if it’s a stepping stone or if it’s necessary.
I dislike it when it’s just done because that popular dude over there is doing it.
Everything is better with examples, so let me illustrate this with one of the most famous recent occurances in gaming. I can think of a few actually. The first would be the bow and arrow. I’m a bit frustrated that I can’t remember which game started the trend. Was it Call of Duty: Black Ops and Black Ops II with its crossbow? I can’t really remember, but pretty soon we had Far Cry 3, Tomb Raider, Crysis 3 and The Last Of Us in quick succession and suddenly gamers were starting to get a bit over bows.
I mean, at least Far Cry 3 had its variety in arrows and customisability going for it, and at least in The Last Of Us it was the only silenced weapon and you needed to aim well to get a straight kill, but both Tomb Raider and Crysis 3 featured bows as main selling points (check out their front covers) and they did strange things to the workings of the game. For instance, the bow in Crysis 3 was overpowered as hell, and beat silenced guns with ease. But I digress, there are worse examples than bows.
For instance, zombies. Ever since Call of Duty (note the popularity status here) brought that zombie mode in World at War and massively popularised it in Black Ops, suddenly every game wants zombies or a zombie mode of sorts. Even Red Dead Redemption had some kind of zombie DLC.
The point is, I doubt many of these were done for creative purposes, but rather just to attract some of the spotlight off the popular game. Yeah, it’s a good business decision, we can say.
But it’s also a sure way to stagnate.
We’re heading towards the next generation of consoles, and it seems like the latest trend is dog. Or rather, pet companions and wildlife. Far Cry 3, Assassin’s Creed III, Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Grand Theft Auto V (there’s also Fable and Red Dead Redemption) all feature wildlife or pet companions or degrees of both. I’m sure I don’t need to give more examples.
But the point here is this. By all means, spread the love for animals. Go have pets in your games. Further the trends. Just try to improve or mould it to your game while you’re at it. Try to do something different with the trend. Or at least use it for genuine creative reasons. Don’t just throw it in there because it works for other games or is popular right now.
Far Cry 3 had a cool idea with its crafting system, making hunts powerfully incentivised, and there were also those unique, rare animals to spice things up a bit and make for special hunting scenarios. That’s something. It’s good. But then you get Tomb Raider, and I can’t think of one genuinely good purpose to the wildlife or hunting as a mechanic, rather than just something to make the world appear more lively.
That’s really the heart of what I’m getting at here. If you want to imitate, then do so, but focus on finding your own voice and your own identity, or at least try to improve or do something different with what you’re mirroring. Otherwise, you’re just living in something else’s shadow.