For the most part, the way we conceptualise games media and our players today is as a passive relationship. Yes there is interactivity between the player and the game. But the game is there to primarily function as a form of entertainment that the player receives and plays with. They are not expected to give much to the creative instantiation of the game, even if they might be expected to give quite a lot in terms of patience.
I created a game earlier this year called NORnS in which I tried to explore the creative potentialities of empowering players to create (something I touched on in my previous post when talking about allowing creativity autonomy in glitch art) and in this post I am going to do a short post mortem of the game from that perspective. Before I started developing NORnS I found the number of games that actually allowed you to control the visual environment / audio environment and be creative is very low.
My guess, is that this problem has arisen due to the discontinuity of the strict nature of game objectives in games and open explorative nature of creativity. Games like scribblenauts might come to mind as a good example, but they don’t allow true creativity, only an on rails set of pre-agreed things you can create. Similarly games with dynamic sound tracks like Kentucky Route Zero might suggest a path of a creativity but they are far too limited. Similarly most rhythm games have this on rails feel. Indeed the best examples I’ve seen of player agency and creativity being expressed in games is when players exploit mechanics or use game objects in ways they were not intended to create art, one example that comes to mind is Casey Brooks’ GTAV photo essay.
Here then are some strategies I discovered in integrating creativity and play when creating NORnS based on things that did and did not work:
Do not shove your games objective in the players face.
Do not institute explicit fail states that result from doing something creativity. Being creative is already scary enough. Giving your players a safe space to do what they want is very empowering.
Integrate your games progression / objective in a relaxed way with the act of creation. For example, award points etc. for the player just messing around and exploring their creativity.
Integrate challenge into the creative process but not in a way that commodifies creativity. Offering players objectives that make them stretch their creativity is a good strategy for improving engagement and getting your player to make better, but it doesn’t mean your game should judge aesthetic value. For example, if you had a drawing game, the objective could be “draw with at least two colors”. In this case it is up to the player to judge how good their drawing is to progress. One could validly just put two splodges on the page and another could do an intricate recreation of a face in two tones.
Place randomness in your game to boost the creative process.
Give your players a method of capturing or presenting their work. This is really good from the perspective or promoting your game as well. People will share their stuff online naturally and drive more traffic to you.
- Make it fun!