Game Innovation?

There’s something that I find funny about a list of ‘game innovations.’ Are we talking technical innovations or creative design innovations? And is there really a difference to begin with? Or should we even care about innovations?

Case in discussion point: Top 10 Game Innovations 2007 by James Portnow on Next Generation. Right point 10, Mr. Portnow seems to describe his own short comings on the topic by not having the language to describe fl0w by thatgamecompany.

flOw starts off our countdown because I have no idea where to put it. I love the “game” but I’m not even sure if it’s fun.

Since I can’t decide if flOw is a genius revolution in gaming, the first of a totally new form of “interactive experience”, or just a near miss that fails to incorporate the experience it’s presenting into a game, I’ll let it round out the list at number ten. On a different day it would have been number one.

Innovation has nothing to do with fun. I know plenty of movies that aren’t under the category of entertaining but are great movies. I know great works of paintings that I wouldn’t find fitting to put up on my walls at home. Why must games, especially when the intended circumstances are to outline the murky concept of ‘innovation,’ meet a level of ‘fun’ for consideration?

Deeper to that, what is constituted as innovation? Is it a new piece of software or hardware? Is it a new concept that changes the entire perception of the media itself? This list and most discussions about innovation in interactive entertainment starts with this implication that innovation will future the industry and the experience of gaming; That we highlight these actions as a general way of doing things. But the discussions seem to be more about tricks rather than higher levels of the art form. Why can’t we talk more about games as how all the pieces work together? Talk about how a piece influenced the art as a whole, not the specific tricks to achieve a specific task. There’s more to be learned how all the pieces fit together than looking only at the parts.

At GDC last year, Jonathan Mak said that innovation is killing the industry. In my view, he’s correct. If our only effort in games is to just to accomplish this ‘innovation’ bar, then we’re doing nothing to further this industry. Only by understanding our work and knowing why aspects of a title worked (or did not) can we really start to further this art form more than one-up-ship can accomplish.

I think James Portnow needs to pick up a copy of The Language of New Media.

One response to “Game Innovation?”

  1. I think there’s a breadth and depth to the games industry that is a bit foreign to the general public. There are games that have amazing technical innovations, but are fairly poor games; they rely on a gimmick, such as a new lighting technique, or physics engine to make the game interesting. Once you’re aclimated to the gimmick, the game ceases to be interesting.

    You also have games that are a bit like drug store paper backs. They’re a dime a dozen, they’re not all that creative, but they’ll distract you for a while. I think that market niche in the gaming industry is currently filled by the glut of tactical first person shooters.

    There are also games that are immensely entertaining, well put together, and have nearly limitless replay value. These are the games that everyone raves about, and people play for years. These are also the games that tend to win awards and get a lot of recognition.

    The last group of games are what I like to call the Video Game Canon. These are the games that moved video games forward as an art. Among my friends, these are the video games that we make each other play because we feel like playing them gives you a bit more insight on why games are made the way they are now. Usually, they fall into the previous category, but not always. I think we need some sort of unique recognition for these games, but it can be hard to sift them out from all the great games that didn’t really advance the art.