Editorial: Is creativity in video games on the decline?

Editorial: Is creativity in video games on the decline?

Today we take a look at one of the facets of video game development that is sorely lacking as of late.

Editor: Jonathan Bester

WARNING: This opinion piece may contain spoilers for Assassin’s Creed 3 and Mass Effect 3. You have been warned.

I started writing for ITF Gaming back in May of 2012, and my inaugural opinion piece covered one of the aspects of the video game industry that is seriously ailing. I speak of course about my article titled is video gaming testing a thing of the past. In that article I covered something that has unfortunately become common place, and as the title suggests, game breaking bugs is a little more prominent than it should be. However I am not here today to talk about bugs and day one patches. Today, I cover an entirely different topic, also related to the downtrodden video gaming industry.

Yes today, I would like to bring to light, the very sensitive topic of storytelling in games. Everybody loves a good story. It is probably the main thing that keeps most gamers engaged. As Dillon mentioned in his article a few weeks ago, it is something that is severely lacking and for good reason it seems.

Over the years the creative teams behind popular video game titles have created some of the most gripping stories ever told on the medium. From such titles as Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Heavy Rain, Red Dead Redemption, the Uncharted series, Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, the list is simply too long.

Every single one of these games have gone down in history, not because of their gameplay dynamic (which in their own right was excellent), and certainly not because of their revolutionary graphics (in some cases, at the time). No, the one thing that still remains in the hearts and minds of all gamers to this day, is the story. But why? The simple reason is, the creativity behind the stories were some of the best this industry has ever known, and it seems all of that has changed.

In writing there is something known as a writer’s block. It is what happens when a writer goes into a state of non-creativity. What this means is, the ability to write is there, but the inspiration to do so has gone. Maybe not entirely, but something is lacking from their environment in order to jump-start this phenomenon. This, I think is the primary problem that writers are dealing with right now.

It has been noted in several video games of late that whereas the main body of a story is still impeccable as always, it seems that the conclusions are sorely lacking. Two of the titles suffering from this malady are Mass Effect 3 and Assassin’s Creed 3. The respective studios spent years building up their franchises, garnering a fanbase to rival those of the previously mentioned titles, and yet when it came to the conclusions they were a little less than fitting.

Mass Effect 3’s very controversial ending, was written by Casey Hudson and Mac Walters, who despite this unfortunate incident, still remain excellent writers, seem to have missed the plot entirely. Their reasoning behind it was that they had plotted out the ending very far in advance and that the creative input from the rest of the team seemed to have become unnecessary because of this decision. I think that at this point it would become clear to each and every one of you what the cause was of the situation. You had a large writing crew working on an epic space opera, churning out brilliant idea after brilliant idea, and then you take away the bulk of the team, leaving only the creativity of two people. Now again, I must reiterate that I am not saying that Hudson and Walters are bad writers. I just feel that perhaps the creativity was not on the level it was supposed to be that day and as a result a great story suffered.

Let me be clear that I am a huge proponent of respecting an author’s right to end the story how they want it to end. Being a fictional author myself, I can actually understand where they are coming from, but in the same vein I must also state that if you’re going to write a story, stick to the core theme, even through the ending. Don’t invent things at the very last minute just to throw a spanner in the works. We all love a good twist, but don’t do it to the detriment of a good story.

Another story that has been struck by the unfortunate happenings of what I like to refer to as a writer’s block incident is the Assassin’s Creed 3 story arc. Again, the lead up was excellent, spanning through four massive, blockbuster-esque stories, which all ends in a way that was slightly disappointing. Why? Why spend several years building up to a moment, only to have it end the way it did? There are other titles out there with same issues, the same problems… however, a little more creativity and better endings would be a little more comforting don’t you think?

These are just a few thoughts I have been churning around within my mind of late. Please feel free to contribute your own thoughts/comments on the topic below.