Interesting question isn't it? Very few people explicitly say this out loud, but most of us go through this decision every day. Should I be a hero? Should I hold the fate of someone else in my hand? In the real world, the answer is often no. Maybe you're just not feeling it. Maybe you want to let someone else deal with the hard decisions. Maybe you just want to curl up and watch your favorite show. I know that I am the protagonist of my life story but by no means would I claim to be its hero. Even with all of these feelings, your life can be far from mundane. You can still have excitement in your life and make it enjoyable. Then why not do the same in a video game?
Before I lay down more thoughts, let me talk a bit about things that I'm aware of. I know that virtual worlds are a medium to escape from reality. I know that they let us experience our fantasies and curiosities in a way which wouldn't be possible in the real world. I also understand that for an experience to be engaging, there must be a change, a high, something to stop it from being banal. But all of this can be achieved without exaggerating our powers or abilities! It's still possible to create memorable moments within our ordinary lives without the need to introduce an extraordinary intervention. Games like 'Euro Truck Simulator' prove that it's possible to take a real world experience and craft an interaction around it. Your truck doesn't transform into Optimus Prime nor do you wreak havoc by driving flammable containers into crowded places. Yet, it still has appeal and engages its audience. The reason it worked was because it identified personalization and progression as its key components and prioritized on making them feel as satisfying as possible.
So where is this all leading you ask? Well, this is where we start heading into murky territory. Traditionally, games are supposed to suspend belief and give you some sort of power. Usually this has meant abilities, spells, special powers, acquiring items / trinkets and so on. Or in games like 'The Sims', 'Civilization' or RTS games, you are close to a God-like entity dictating entire lives based on your whims or ambitions. But all of these have been done numerous times - both successfully and catastrophically. There are discussions these days where designers talk about how the industry is saturated in most genres and how there are very few games which excite us anymore. Sure, new tech like VR and AR will change some of that. But what else can we do?
I was having a discussion with my friend Dave about this topic. He mentioned how he was thinking about creating an experience based in Spider-Man's universe where you were a press photographer always being outdone by Peter Parker. J.J.J. is displeased with you and your colleagues at your inability to bring in better photos than him. This idea was pretty similar to something that I had in mind. Even if we don't want to abandon the fantasy realm completely, it would interesting to explore an established universe a different character's perspective. For example, what would it be like to mentor a superhero when you have no superpowers of your own?
Apart from taking inspiration from reality, there are other ways to invigorate the content of video games. A good example comes from one of my favorite Twitter parody accounts:
Makes you think right? Imagine something simple as that. Sure, there will be some tech challenges and bigger design ones trying to fit this mechanic into gameplay. But, these are exactly the kind of challenges we should be drooling over. There are too many safe ideas in an attempt to appease the masses and that's what leading to the stagnation. Now I'll be honest, I'm part of this problem. I'm more worried about earning enough and getting a visa than letting my mind run free over such ideas. But that's what I desire out of my future and what I wish from others within this industry. Set up an environment where it isn't frowned upon to not only think outside the box, but outside all our current boundaries. It would have been interesting to see a game like LMNO come to life and see what it had to offer.
Did you think the above tweet was too wacky? There are some grounded ones as well:
Or something unique:
Just a simple twist to create a much more refreshing game! I know there are games out there which create something interesting out of everyday stories. And it's not just indie development. 'Heavy Rain' is a great example of a big budget video game that could be a perfectly plausible story in real life. Maybe that's why the players could associate more with the characters. They could see the events of that game unfold in any average person's life. And that's the chord that more games should strive to strike. There are so many unexplored areas of our daily life that could be incorporated into games. And if they make the players pause and think about it, that's a bonus!
Hopefully, I will be able to create something similar soon. And if you ever stumble upon such an idea, make it happen! We could definitely use some more ideas that are rooted in reality. You don't always have to be a hero to make a difference.