Sequelitis — Creativity is dead! Long live creativity!

This is a repost from a blog I wrote for Bitmob which was featured on the main page! To paraphrase a line from The Jerk, “Things are going to start happening to me now!” It’s another in a series of video game centered essays I’ve been doing called The Dialogue Tree.

This year, like the end of every console generation, I hear people complaining that there are too many sequels coming out, and creativity is dead in video games. I remember thinking the same thing reading an issue of EGM back when the PS2 was on its last legs. It seemed like every game was just a sequel of an existing one. But if you look a bit further back, you’ll find that’s been happening for decades.

It’s true that the end of every generation sees new and interesting ideas coming out as developers grow comfortable with the hardware, but that’s also when they bank on existing, battle-tested franchises to ease their transition to an unknown variable in the new console generation, as I argued earlier this month.

I can’t accept that a game like Catherine can’t be considered creative just because it can be dismissed as “Persona with block puzzles.” To begin with, that ignores the game’s significant turn toward a narrative centered around real-life, adult issues like cheating and marriage, topics seldom breached by games. Maybe this isn’t new ground for other forms of media, but for video games, it’s a creative step forward, opening up new possibilities. And just because it’s taking two existing genres, say dating sims and puzzle games, and fusing them, doesn’t make it creatively bankrupt.

I’m sure most people would agree that Okami was a new and interesting idea when it came out at the end of the PS2’s life-cycle, but in a reductionist view, Okami is just the Legend of Zelda with Japanese folklore.

You could take any modern artist, musician, or author and plot their influences out, then plot out those inspirations own influences, and their influences and so on, like a game of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon that spans generations. In an extremely pessimistic view of things, I guess you could argue that, yeah, themes and ideas are being reused, but only in the same way that every story is in some way ripping off the monomyth of the hero’s journey, Joseph Cambell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces.

When someone takes an idea, refining it, melding it with other ideas, and expanding upon it, they’ve created something new. This is how art has evolved for centuries, and it would be alarmist to say that this is the death of creativity in our medium.

I have to concede that developers are willing to take fewer risks as they work on larger, more expensive projects, and that is certainly having a chilling effect on the flow of fresh ideas. But there are always going to be smaller and indie developers trying out new things, and in the inevitable cycle of genre domination, consumers will eventually become bored with whatever type of game is dominating the market and demand something different. New ideas will sprout, flourish, and when all the fruit has fallen, they’ll wither away. And something new will grow in that space.

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