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  • Tue. Mar 5th, 2024

Next-Gen Systems: Killing Consumer Creativity


Dec 10, 2006

Having taken two weeks away from videogames, I’ve come to a profound, interesting and quite troubling realization: the “next-gen” systems are killing creativity. With each game, each gimmick and each pixel, the videogame industry is growing stagnant. I’m not talking about a still, peaceful pond with little to no interruption; I’m talking about a rank swamp filled with mosquitoes waiting to suck the blood out of any creative soul who ventures near.
Plenty of people will call me insane, that I’m “just another one of those doom-and-gloom guys who says the videogame industry is dying.” I’m not. Recent quarterly results would prove me a moron for making such claims. However, I’m also not going to sit here with rose-colored glasses and tell you videogames are going to find a cure for cancer (sorry, Sony) and be the one-size-fits-all solution for consumer entertainment (sorry, Microsoft). Instead, what I’m arguing is that the videogame industry itself is killing creativity, both on the side of the publishers themselves and, worse yet, among the gaming population.
The Color of Money
In some respects, the death of creativity crept in once videogame publishers went public. Games have always been a business to some, but when the industry started to take off four hardware generations ago, videogames became a big business for hundreds of thousands of people. With game publishers needing to deliver a return to investors, more pressure was put on companies to establish franchises with years-long staying power. Sonic. Link. Snake. Chief. By establishing a “triple-A” franchise with many stories left to tell, game publishers could bank on their success, quite literally, and assure investors that the gaming public would drive revenues for years to come.
On the surface this was a great move, as gamers finally started seeing big-budget games that wowed us with non-princess-rescuing tales and new gameplay mechanics. Yet there was — and still is — a serious problem: companies were suddenly reluctant to take risks. If it wasn’t related to their sure-thing cash cow, they weren’t going to give it a green light. Result: we now play in a world in which there are just about one dozen “must have” games surrounded by a pack of mediocre “me too’s,” and in a world in which we’re quite simply stuck playing the same old franchises. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Well, once a publisher finds a strong franchise, they’re not going to stray far from it. Especially not with the next-gen systems, which are more complicated and therefore more costly to develop for.
With those tired franchises knocking on our doors, creativity suffered a follow-up kick to its teeth: little to no gameplay innovation. If a franchise had staying power with its characters, loathe would a publisher be to adjust the franchise’s tried-and-true gameplay elements. First-person shooters. Action RPGs. Real-time strategies. Hack-and-slash games. Anything set in WWII or feudal Japan. Tell me the last time you had a sincerely new experience while playing any one of those genres or in one of those settings. Maybe more immersive, sure, but new?
To their credit, Nintendo and Sony are venturing into new territory with motion-sensitive controls, but a quick rundown of PS3 and Wii launch games shows that nobody really pushed the envelope. Motion-sensitive controllers have the potential to be more than an input device; they can provide new ways to experience games altogether. Yet until publishers can (please pardon the phrase) think outside the box, until they look long-term at the state of the industry, until they sit back and re-evaluate why people play games, the industry will churn out the same franchises and the same gameplay time and time again. Where’s the creativity in that?
A Bumpmap in the Creative Road
With each new piece of hardware (Wii excluded), console manufacturers focus on improving their system’s graphical horsepower and producing more realistic graphics than ever before. Ironically, this has led to a graphical dumbing down of epic proportions. Certainly the new systems’ detail and textures are spectacular, but most genres now have a certain look to them. The graphical detail may increase, but most games’ visual diversity has gone almost extinct. Look at the Unreal Engine and the graphical “me too’s” that Epic Games has enabled. Sure, the middleware makes development easier and more streamlined; doesn’t it also mean the games created with it will look similar? Do you know why games like Okami, Viewtiful Joe, Psychonauts and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker stand out? Because they’re not the graphical clones we’re used to seeing on our TV screens.
Improved graphics haven’t just hampered developers’ creativity; they’ve also made gamers’ creative side grow lazy. In the dark arcades of yore, even on the first home videogame consoles, the graphics were so simplistic that we “filled in the blanks” with animations and detail. Gamers in those days were actively engaged from a visual standpoint, because without a little imagination the 200 pixels on screen failed to reveal much information at all.
Yet today’s graphics, as detailed as they are, relegate gamers to becoming passive and instinctual subjects, not creative participants. No longer do we have to “fill in the blanks” and tax our brains; we simply sit there, take it all in and react to the visual stimuli in an instinctual way (man shooting, move left). For everything graphics have to increase the level of “immersion,” they’ve actually moved our minds two steps back, as we no longer need to creatively assemble the pixels to internalize and comprehend the experience.
The next-generation consoles are escalating videogames’ rise to the top of mainstream consumers’ consciousness, and they’ll certainly add to the coffers of several big businesses. But are the systems really all that great for the gamers who are actually playing them? We pay good money to be entertained in ways we’ve never before experienced, but all we’re getting is the same old games with a slightly polished veneer. With the bigger budgets and improved graphics, we’re seeing the ironic demise of videogames’ creativity. Even more troubling, however, is that their demise may also be causing gamers’ own creativity to dwindle. Is the videogame industry dying? Far from it. But its sense of creativity and imagination certainly appear to be — and maybe even our own along with it.
— Jonas Allen

By Sara

My name is Sara Anslee, I live in Colorado. I am very fond of gaming, writing, and blogging. I share the latest news and tips about sports games, video games, gaming movies, gaming devices, and accessories. I also love watching movies and traveling.