A while before I prepared the first draft of this article, I decided to procrastinate and take a look at Youtube. One of the things that surprised me was that the “recommended” videos on the main page (which were mostly about computer/video games) showed several screenshots of first-person shooter (FPS) games which, at a glance, looked almost identical.
Of course, I could tell that one was from the original “Doom“, that one was from a more modern game etc…. but the composition was nearly identical in all of the pictures. Although I’ve played a fair number of games in this genre, somehow seeing pictures of old and new FPS games juxtaposed with each other made me realise how much they have in common.
At first, I worried that this meant that one of my favourite genres of game was boring and unoriginal. But, then I remembered that this similarity was one of the genre’s strengths for a whole host of reasons. For example, once you know how to play one FPS game, then the only thing you have to “learn” when playing others are subtle changes in each game’s “rules”. This means that the barrier to entry is relatively low.
In addition to this, the similarities in composition, format etc… also mean that creativity has to be included elsewhere. This is much more noticeable during the heyday of the genre – when even “really similar” FPS games would be wildly different in artistic and atmospheric terms.
For example a cartoonish heavy metal-themed sci-fi horror FPS like “Doom” would be wildly different in style, atmosphere and tone to a brooding, Lovecraftian sci-fi horror FPS like “Quake” (by the same studio), which itself would be different to a cartoonish Lovecraftian horror-inspired FPS like “Blood“:
Each game has a distinctive aesthetic, atmosphere and style – despite their many similarities. In fact, the differences are probably because of the similarities. If you have a common set of features that you have to include in something, then you have to compensate for this by adding extra creativity and originality elsewhere. If you don’t, then your creative works won’t stand out from the crowd.
This also gives the makers of these games an added level of challenge, since they have to work out how to make something “familiar” new and interesting. Challenges and limitations are one of the best ways to inspire creativity, and having to include a common set of features can be a good way to force people to think more creatively.
Likewise, having to include a common set of features places extra emphasis on individual interpretation. In other words, several people making things in the same genre have to make sure that their creative works are an expression of their own imaginations. They have to take something familiar and interpret it in their own way.
Of course, all of this isn’t exclusive to computer games. For example, the romance genre has to include two characters falling in love – with all of the variation coming from the settings, the details of the story and the characters themselves. Likewise, the zombie genre has to include zombies – but where they appear, how frightening they are, what happens and how the story ends is left up to the writer’s imagination.
Yes, variation-based creativity might not look very “original” at first glance. But, as a way to prompt creativity, individual interpretation and more subtle forms of originality – it’s one of the best things out there!
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂