Many complain about it in games. Many others don’t see it at all. When it comes to originality in games, it’s all a matter of perspective.
For me, a great game always has solid, fun gameplay at it’s center. It’s why I can play Fallout 3 for months straight, and yet I could never get past an hour or so in any of the Splinter Cell titles (thus far at least- fingers crossed for Conviction). For a lot of people, that’s enough. Deliver a fun game that keeps them coming back, and it’s a done deal. For me, however, you need to do a bit of world-building, and you’ve got to give me a character that really seems unique- a true individual. Give me some frosting on that cake, you know? When a company does release a title featuring a unique world/storyline/lead character, more often than not it tanks in sales. Mirror’s Edge springs to mind. When said game tanks, publishers point to it as proof that their audience do indeed want more of the same, failing to take into consideration that maybe the problem lies in the title’s design flaws, not it’s originality. And so, ten more generic games get pushed through the pipeline.
It’s a shame that there isn’t more diversity out there on the shelves right now. Too often I’ve been confronted with a first/third-person action game starring a white guy with a shaved head. Or, the more recent Nathon Fillion-eque trend of male leads. Then there’s old faithful- a game’s world over-saturated with hues of brown and grey (don’t even think of throwing Fallout 3 back in my face from earlier- the visual aesthetic for that series was established over a decade ago with the original releases). And please, let’s leave well enough alone when it comes to the JRPG wasteland. Persona 4 is a shining, lone beacon in those lands- proof that no matter how barren a genre’s soil is, something fresh can still break through.
So how do developers walk the fine line of giving us variety, while at the same time keeping the publishers happy? The move towards customization. For me at least, it’s been a breath of fresh air. Let me build my own character, and tell my own story. Don’t limit me to just your imagination, and your publisher’s reservations. One of my greatest experiences in gaming from last year was playing as a chola queenpin in Saints Row 2 (talk about solid, fun gameplay). The lines of dialog, while they may have been universal to whatever build you went for with your character, seemed to carry more weight coming from her. Her actions played up a female empowerment angle, and seemed more impressive than if they were coming from yet another generic male thug character. She was an individual, easily identifiable from the bevy of standard, if not stereotypical, characters you find in the average open-world title.
Often, I’ve lost interest in a game not because I wasn’t into the story or the gameplay, but because I just didn’t care about the character. Conversely, there have been games I’ve finished only because I’ve enjoyed seeing my character in action- I don’t think I would have seen them through to the end if I was playing as a set character. What do you think- is originality and customization a big selling point for you? This may be a tired subject (hell, what isn’t when it comes to games), but I figured it’d be a good introduction to my head-space, and a great way to get to know Platform Nation as well.