“Innovate!” is the Mating Call of the Lazy Gamer

There was a cartoon that ran in the New Yorker years ago.  I wish I could find it.

The cartoon featured a man dressed up in a clown suit on a television studio set.  He was on a fully dressed sound stage with back drops.  There was a large studio audience.  Cameras were pointed at him.  Studio technicians were off on the side.  A boom mic hung above him.  Everything was in its place.

And on the cue card was the phrase “TELL A FUNNY JOKE.”

That seems to be what Tobold is up to today.  He is kvetching that game studios with revenue goals and investors and expectations and all the baggage of big business aren’t reading his cue card, which simply says, “INNOVATE.”

Well, that and the idea that the past is bad, which is why it is in the past.  Only fools put on rose colored glasses and bask in nostalgia or some rubbish.

So he doesn’t just want a funny joke, but he wants it to be a new joke as well.

But there are no new jokes.  There are only new contexts in which to tell them.

In entertainment, as in jokes, remakes, reboots, re-imagining, and telling the same damn story in a slightly different way is what sustains us.  Using old material was old hat when Shakespeare (or whoever) was cribbing his plots from the Greeks.

And the more familiar the story, the more of our dollar votes go towards it.  Avatar is where the money is, not Primer.  Or, if you want the “higher” arts, the music of Mozart or Beethoven get more performances and sell more albums than that of Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev.

The problem is that we’re not used to this being the case when it comes to video games.  The video games industry is pretty young.  It hasn’t just been a business in living memory, it became a business in my lifetime.

It went from a cottage industry of single person or very small development teams, when what ever they produced seemed new (though they borrowed heavily) because we had never seen such a thing on a computer before… or in some cases, even a computer… to the big business it is today in something like 40 years.

We are just reaching the point where remakes have become the norm.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I have my doubts that something like Wasteland 2 can deliver on its promise.  A lot of what made the original great was in the context of the time and the limitations of the hardware.  But it could still be a decent game.  On the other hand, I am quite happy that somebody is going to fix up Age of Empires II and bring a great game into the 21st century.

And it also doesn’t mean that there is no innovation.  There are plenty of developers trying to tell stories or create situations in new contexts that challenge and amuse us.  They just so rarely show up from big studios that looking for them there seems to be the real fools errand.  Games like Journey or Katamari Damancy will always be the exception on that front.

It is the so-called independent game studios that will likely foster any innovation we see.

If you are complaining about no innovation and ignoring them, then you didn’t really want any innovation in the first place I guess.  Heaven forbid you get off your ass and go find something new.

Addendum: And then later Tobold said we need to pay more for niche titles.  So I guess I win.

6 thoughts on ““Innovate!” is the Mating Call of the Lazy Gamer

  1. bhagpuss

    I particularly took objection to the suggestion that we are all hankering after old video games because we want to relive our teenage years. I was 40 when I played my first MMO.

    If I want to try and relive my teenage years I’ll go to some cellar club and watch four or five beanpoles of indeterminate gender make an indescribable racket while I jump around in a lake of spilled beer until I put my back out.


  2. Tesh

    I think there’s something to be said for “comfort food” gaming that doesn’t challenge expectations. It’s not like the industry is averse to sequels, after all. It’s just… yeah, if you’re asking for innovation and not seeing it when it pops up (and there is plenty, especially in the indie sphere), the problem isn’t with The Industry.


  3. Pingback: Innovation vs Nostalgia in the Gamer Psyche | Stropp's World

  4. SynCaine

    In the MMO space, how much of what is happening now is nostalgia, and how much of it is finally escaping the flawed shadow of WoW-cloning? There is still a lot of ground to cover before we see a title that is just a straight rehash of UO, while I could name half a dozen reskins of WoW that bring nothing new to the table.


  5. mrrx

    The people who really surprise me are the ones playing big budget titles, that then whine about innovation. Usually because “Gigantic Gaming Company” is not nimble enough to catch the latest trend. Pay attention to the small guys people.


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