When I was a kid, I had quite a vivid imagination. I could be a warrior rescuing a mermaid and have fellow clansmen who could cast spells and conjure genies with bazookas. I’d swing my baseball bat like a sword and use tubes of used paper towels as gun barrels.
There were no bounds to my imagination. I think that is why I eventually gravitated towards playing video games: They had a way of taking me to the places that I could only imagine as a child.
But the more I play games these days, the more I realize that they are not keeping up with my ever-changing imagination. Games keep revisiting the Greatest Hits of Imagination’s Past, and it is becoming sort of tiring for me.
Characters both futuristic and (supposedly) fantastic need a new coat of mental imagery. Worlds ostensibly far removed from Earth offer overly sexualized females with slender legs, ample breasts, and human-like facial features. No matter what color their skins or how misshapen their ears, these are all recognizable characteristics of homo sapiens. Where are the characters who have ten eyes, see with their torsos, and manipulate objects with their minds?
We have games set in outer space, the wild west, and fantasy worlds with orcs and elves…or variations thereof. Is there anything left to explore? Many people right now are bashing The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for being too derivative. But these days when it comes to fully envisioned game worlds and indigenous peoples, everything seems to be derivative.
Maybe there are no games worlds left to imagine. Maybe it is a matter of taking existing worlds, reimagining them, and forcing the player to experience them in different ways. Or maybe not.
Xenoblade Chronicles encouraged me to explore the bodies of two vast titans, one mechanical and one biological. I have to admit that I got a bit of a chill when wandering the boundless plains of the Bionis torso and exploring the forests of its distant backside. Granted, the game had a typical Japanese role-playing-game storyline, but the gameplay experience and the world itself were invigorating.
I would have loved to be in the meetings where Capcom decided that a reimagined version of Devil May Cry should actually be greenlit. This new DMC, in the capable hands of Ninja Theory, looks to take Dante and the hellish environments we are all too familiar with and turn them on their heads. Who wouldn’t want to play a hack-and-slash game set in a warped, limbo version of contemporary cities that is constantly changing and evolving?
It’s easy for me to sit here and say that designers need to be more creative in engaging gamers in their worlds. Yes, you still need the gameplay to back up the imagination, but there also needs to be more creativity from the outset. You can build the gameplay and story off that.
Honestly, why are space marines and military soldiers always the last line of defense? How often can Mario save Peach from Bowser? And why must our heroes all look like Matt Damon instead of Garcia Hotspur? More variation on that front would not be such a bad thing.
And neither would genies with bazookas. For sure.
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