“You can’t just be into Video Games”
Since that summers day in 2010, I still vividly remember those words emanating from the mouth of my University lecturer. The lab was unbearably hot and in desperate need of AC, also I was tired, in fact we were all tired. I then looked around at the rest of my fellow students and it seemed like those words were mostly met with a sense of dismissal.
That general reaction annoyed me greatly, though it didn’t entirely surprise me. The lecturer in question was a real brass tax, no sugar-coating sort of a person. To me those were qualities that I admired in a lecturer, at the end of the day I went to University to excel, to win even. Though their serious approach was not so keenly received by those who didn’t put in the same amount of effort or from those that felt that they were being given a hard time. Truth be told, I actually got on well with this lecturer. I managed to build a rapport with them despite being the smart arse at the back of the room armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of video games, who was able to recognise any screenshot that they put up on the projector. To others it probably looked like a profound sense of smugness on my part. But frankly I just thought that it was sad that no-one else in the room recognised Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker by Archer Maclean.
Not heeding the advice however proved to be detrimental to the overall creativity of the class. In the final year of university we had to create a game prototype and pitch it. The majority of ideas thrown around didn’t hold much originality at all borrowing heavily from Anime or an already existing game franchise. I was certainly no better myself to set the record straight, my very own project was a scrolling beat em up and while I attempted to add a new twist, my final prototype didn’t stray away from the paint by numbers formula that we’ve seen done time and time again.
Only after completion of this project it dawned on me, what my lecturer said was true, you can’t just be into video games in order to make great video games. Sure having a vast knowledge of games certainly helps in many ways, after all you need to know the format and industry that you’re aspiring to work in. But it simply isn’t enough, in order to create truly memorable design experiences something else is required. Signs of this sense of general ignorance has seeped even into the professional end of the games industry. Complaints on a regular basis from the general internet consensus suggest that video games despite their potential for infinite possibilities are simply treading the same ideas over and over again.
During my research I came across an amusing interview with award winning comedy writer and director Graham Linehan who held a theory as to why creative worlds are getting more stale and repetitive.
“I think a lot of writers, not only in games but also in films have stopped reading books.” “Vice City (GTA) to me is a really good example of a game written by someone whose only experience of what they’re writing about is through films. The only thing that will give a game world and the story a bit of texture and depth and a bit of bite and a bit of traction is research and by research I don’t mean watching Scarface twenty times in a row”
He then continued and gave an example of how additional research could really flesh out a game world by comparison.
“I met Gabe [Newell] who wrote Left 4 Dead and he told me that before he wrote Left 4 Dead he read up on the Spanish Influenza. And you can really really see that in the game, there’s nothing about the Spanish Influenza in the game but the feeling of a society that’s broken down and the feeling of there being a world beyond the world that we’re seeing is really strong”.
Interesting point if I do say so myself, but now you’re probably thinking. OK, riddle me this smart arse, I’ve just put up with your rants as to why it’s important to learn subjects that aren’t Video Games, so what else should I know apart from video games? The short answer to that question….. Absolutely everything and I mean everything.
Long Answer…… To break down the previous statement with a bit more clarity. There are some important fields of study that you should focus on at least if you want to improve your ability as a designer. A general understanding of Literature, Philosophy, Mythology, World History, Politics, Religion, Geography, Physics, Chemistry and mostly above all Maths (Starting to sound a lot like school isn’t it? Shame no one was around to tell me that it would all contribute to making games). Having a grounded knowledge in these subjects in addition to developing an attitude that actively pursues knowledge will prove to be immeasurably useful when creating design experiences.
Though there is also another way of gaining valuable insight and creative inspiration for game making. A tool more prized than all of the countless years of study could ever offer. Base your games on your own personal experiences. Shigeru Miyamoto had always said in interviews that his ideas for Zelda came from the inspiration of exploring forests and caves as a child. Anna Anthropy created the wonderfully powerful Dys4ia based on her struggles of going through HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) when she decided to begin the long process to change her gender.
The only way to really gain these valuable experiences is to simply live. Just live. You are currently sharing this planet with about 7 Billion other people, go meet some of them. Get up right now, go outside, take a walk, take in your surroundings, converse with people on the way even if it’s just a simple hello or asking for directions. Don’t be afraid to interact with people, the accumulation of their behaviours, mannerisms, experiences, knowledge and stories will prove to be valuable to your creative mindset. Some of the most interesting nights of my live occurred when I simply plucked up the courage to talk to a complete stranger.
And if you happen to see me in the pub during your travels, come over and say hello maybe we’ll have something interesting to discuss while we’re there. And since you’re at the bar you wouldn’t mind getting in a drink for me would you?