Selective memory kills innovation
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 March 2013, 3:25 am
It is scientifically proven that the human memory is selective: In order to cope with life our brain retains positive memories better than negative memories. Thus nostalgia is rather universal, and even in ancient Egyptian tombs inscriptions have been found mourning the passing of the good old days. Now while people have always been playing games, the history of modern roleplaying and computer games is not so old. D&D was first published in 1974. the home computer came on the market in 1977, and it was more in the 80's and 90's that roleplaying and computer games really took off and sold in millions.

That means that right now there are a whole lot of people who grew up with this sort of games. And because of selective memory, many of them believe that the games of their teenage years were "better". And more and more people are trying to bring the good old days back, instead of trying to innovate.

As others have already remarked, nowhere is this trend more visible than on Kickstarter. At first Kickstarter was lauded for enabling independent developers to make innovative games, delivering something new instead of sequels from big publishers. But what did we get instead? Remakes of games from the 80's and 90's: Elite, Wing Commander, Planescape: Torment, Sierra Adventures, Populous, Shadowgate, Carmaggedon. Kickstarter is trading heavily on nostalgia.

But big game companies are also exploiting nostalgia. This week's big game? SimCity, a remake of a game from 1989. My favorite game from last year was XCOM, originally from 1994. And it isn't just computer games: Wizards of the Coast are currently working on D&D Next, which isn't as the name would suggest creating innovative new rules for D&D, but is trying to "get back to the roots" by reviving "how D&D used to be".

Meanwhile innovation in game design is becoming increasingly scarce. With all that money flowing towards the nostalgia projects, there isn't much left for really new concepts and ideas. Many genres, MMORPGs among them, are stagnating. And what solution do developers suggest? As Wikipedia says about Everquest Next: "The developers have stated an intention to return to a style of gameplay more like the original EverQuest". Yeah, right.

If we only use the past as a reference point of what is good, we are not going to get innovative good games. No remake of an old game can bring our teenage years back. We'll play those remakes and then grumble that the original was "better". It might be easy to get funds for remakes by playing on the selective memory of people, but that doesn't automatically produce good games. In the end, selective memory and nostalgia are more likely to kill innovation than to produce anything good.
Tobold's Blog

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