Originality in Video Games and Speaking in German

When creating successful video games, truly original thinking is rarely a virtue. Oh yeah, that's right - I went there.

Let us start with the very basics. Video games are commercial art. The art part is all good times and laughs but the commercial part puts food on the table. And so, assuming you wish to live with a bit of financial security and die with both of your ears still attached to your skull, you will have to consider the audience for your game and whether they want to pay for it. And so then, like so many things, originality in video games creates a lot of Sturm und Drang among professionals. But it's rarely a black and white issue, rather its shades of gray - not to mention black and blue at times.

For human beings, coping with unknowns and the unfamiliar is stressful. As people grapple with the unfamiliar, cortisone levels rise which makes it neurologically more difficult to learn. Its why they always say to find a relaxing place to study - you will prime your brain to actually learn better.

But the very essence of gaming is facing the unknown. We ask players to solve problems. Do I turn left or right? Where is princess I have to rescue? Where have have those annoying designers hidden the magic mushroom? What weapon do I need to slay the Balrog? Should I take the blue pill or the red pill?

It is grappling with these unknowns and solving these problems that is the essence of what makes it a game. But that also makes a game stressful and difficult.

When you come up with novel and never before seen game innovations, you're asking people to grapple with another level of unknown - which adds a whole new level of stress.

Here's the analogy:

Go out on a date and try to be a sparkling conversationalist. Try to find that amazing combination of witty, charming and scintillating verbiage that provides the magical key which gets your pants torn off by your date.

Trying to unlock that puzzle is challenging and a bit stressful on its own.

Now, do the exact same thing - but do it in German.

(Or French or Spanish or Urdu or whatever language is out of your comfort zone)

It's a whole 'nother level of challenge when you don't have a basic vocabulary at your disposal.

"Unoriginal" game mechanics can be comforting to a player. Familiarity is sometimes a virtue. They don't have yet another steep learning curve to master - they can build upon already acquired skills. Which is a good reason we will see of Call of Duty-esque FPS until the end of time (the other being the mountains of cash they generate - which is correlated with the above point)

But here's where it gets tricky.

The point of entertainment is to provide a novel experience. The book you already know the ending to is a less entertaining experience. If you are already familiar with all aspects of the thing, it is no longer novel and not nearly as much fun. In a very real way, the essence of entertainment is novelty and originality - and without it, you don't have entertainment.

Others may have a less charitable view but it has been said, the test of intelligence is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time.

So embrace your inner genius and find your way to balancing originality with unoriginality.

- Sean Dugan ist der Herausgeber von der Uber Ungeheuer und schriebt fur sie viel zu viel. 

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