Let Your Audience Enjoy Your Works In “Unintended” Ways – A Ramble

Although this is an article that will hopefully help you to create art, fiction, comics etc… that your audience will appreciate more, I’m going to spend almost all of this article talking about examples of how computer games, TV shows etc.. have done this sort of thing. This is mostly because it’s one of the best ways that I can think of to approach this topic.

A few months before I wrote this article, I had planned to complete and review a vintage “point and click” computer game from 1997 called “Riven“.

This didn’t happen because I got stuck on a lot of the puzzles a way into the game (and, even with an online guide, one or two of the puzzles still seemed ridiculously complicated). Yet, despite this, I don’t really have many negative memories of playing about half of the game.

But, why? Well, this might have something to do with it:

This is a screenshot from “Riven” (1997)

Even with the limited pre-rendered graphics, this game looks absolutely beautiful. Not only that, it’s a slow-paced exploration game – which meant that I could just put some relaxing music on in the background (“Caribbean Blue” by Enya seemed appropriate) and just spend some time relaxing by wandering around the game’s world and appreciating all of the wonderful scenery. I certainly wasn’t playing the game in the way it was intended to be played, but I still had a lot of fun nonetheless.

Another game which I had a similar experience with is one I got a week or two before writing this article. This is an indie game from 2012 called “Retro City Rampage” and it is a game that is set in the 1980s and is heavily inspired by the original “Grand Theft Auto” game from the 1990s.

Although this game has a “story” mode, the designer of this game realised that one of the things that most players (including myself) used to do with the original “Grand Theft Auto” was to completely ignore the game’s intended missions and to just mess around in the open world of the game. To explore, to do stupid things and to get into random police chases just for the hell of it.

As such, the game includes a “free roaming” mode that gives the player infinite in-game money and just lets them explore the game’s world and do whatever they want. Whilst this doesn’t give the player the “intended” narrative experience (which is one reason why I haven’t reviewed it properly), it allows the player to see many of the 1980s/90s references hidden throughout the game, to spend a few minutes having some anarchic fun and to look at a substantial amount of the game’s amusing retro references and/or parodies.

This is a screenshot from “Retro City Rampage” (2012), showing a parody of “Duke Nukem Forever”.

So, by explicitly allowing players to play this game in a different way than it was originally intended, the makers of “Retro City Rampage” allowed their work to be appreciated by a greater range of players.

Moving on to television, a good example of this sort of thing in a more linear storytelling medium has to be an awesome old TV show from the 90s called “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman” that I rediscovered in late 2016/ early 2017.

This is a screenshot from season one of “Lois & Clark” (1993-4). Seriously, they don’t make TV shows like THIS any more..

On the surface, it is (as the name suggests) a TV show about Superman. But, if it was just that, then I probably wouldn’t be a fan of it. After all, I’m not a fan of the superhero genre. So, why have I watched so much of it?

Well, it’s because of all of the other stuff in the show. In addition to lots of wonderfully retro 1990s set designs and fashions, the show also contains a lot of light-hearted comedy, an extremely cute couple, interesting characters, the kind of optimistic worldview that ended when the 1990s did, lots of cameos from actors of the time (including Jonathan Frakes, Robert Beltran and Bruce Campbell!) etc… Even though I don’t care much for the silly superhero stuff, there’s still loads of amazing stuff in this show.

Going on to comics, one of the interesting things that I noticed on a holiday in France in 2008 was that, even though my French is somewhat basic and incredibly rusty, I still ended up buying a few French-language comics even though I probably wouldn’t be able to appreciate them in the way that they were “intended” to be enjoyed.

Why? Because they contained cool-looking art! Like with the other stuff on this list, they were something that could still be enjoyed in a different way to the one that their creators originally intended.

So, yes, if you can create things that allow people to appreciate them in “unintended” ways, then not only might you end up with a wider audience – but even if someone doesn’t like the “main” part of what you create, then they won’t go away from it feeling bitter or disappointed.

Whether this is the art in the comics you create, the narrative style you use in your stories, humour, sub-plots etc… if you provide things that people can appreciate, even if they don’t enjoy your work in the way than you intended, then they are still probably going to think highly of it.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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