Yours, Mine, Ours - How Games Inspire Creativity
A Do a Barrel Roll Article
Don’t like, don’t read!
With that rallying cry, a young writer strikes a blow for their favorite characters in the 20,000 word piece of literature they placed before the uncaring eyes of the world wide web. The grammar is a bit off, the plotline has been altered to include a coffee shop, and said beloved characters are probably now kissing, but hey, it’s an installment to their legacy you don’t have to pay a dime for.
Although often a target for scorn, fanworks symbolize not only the love and passion of the people who make them, but are also a testament to the true potential of video games - an art form that keeps on giving. Literature is hardly the only form that fanworks take, after all - art, music, animations, and even entirely new games have been created in dedication to any number of beloved serieses, spanning everything from Pokemon to Halo. This work is then shared with other fans of the series, which in turn spurs more creation, along with shining a spotlight on young creators that may not have otherwise received the attention. It’s a positive feedback loop that keeps on giving.
But what’s so special about that?
People make fanworks about movies and books too! You point out. How are video games any more revolutionary than those?
Right you are! These works are equally valuable, as they come from the same place of passion in the creator’s heart. However, in light of recent trends, the importance of video games as a jumping point for creative mediums cannot be understated.
You see, pleasure reading has been at something of a decline over the past decade or so. We as a society have decided to use what scant free-time we have to consume their contents in other forms - most often movies or tv series, which are made based off of these books condensed into a few hours of content. Video games, too, have been used for this purpose - however, due to their interactive nature, most efforts at translating other mediums into them in a compelling and thoughtful way tend to be a little clumsy. We’ve all seen some variation of ‘the movie: the game’ populating the bargain bins at EB Games over the years, I’m sure.
However, it’s this need to think broadly outside the box that makes games so unique. Although theoretically a marriage of film and literature, it’s rare they steal attention from either - most people won’t tell you they intend to play the game so they don’t have to read the book, after all. Quite the opposite, in fact - because someone has played the game, their interest in it may open them up to digging deeper into its world. This has lead to a number of books being written and authorized by the game’s original creator which, in turn, leads to pleasure reading by people who want more from the experience.
Embracing the world
But more than that, in offering a well-defined setting with distinct locations and beloved characters, a developer gives those creatives of their fandom more than a few hours of amusement. They bring their fans the building blocks for new life.
Take, for example, Stardew Valley creator Eric Barone. In February of 2016, he finally published his game on Steam after 5 years of solo work upon it. Stardew Valley itself is a love letter to the farming simulators that came before it - namely, the infamous Harvest Moon series, which became something of a cult classic over the years in the west since its debut in 1997. Much like its predecessor, Stardew Valley became a roaring success - and not just financially, either. The character creator the game offered allowed fans to personalize their player character, which in turn lead people of all ages to make up backstories for them and post them about them online. They then took the characters in the village, which became part of their own character’s story, and expanded upon them; programming new dialogue add-ons into the game to flesh them out in ways the original developer couldn’t. This was all done on their own time, to be downloaded by other fans for free.
In adding their own views and interpretations, fans took Stardew Valley and made it something entirely their own, just as Barone himself had done with the Harvest Moon premise.
In time, other developers, inspired by the creation of these games, would in turn be inspired to set out on their own solo projects in search of greater acclaim. Eventually, another will rise up to claim the crown in new and creative ways, and the cycle will begin again.
Yours, mine, ours
Think back to the stories of your childhood. Consider your own, personal experience with these spaces, how you thought of their characters, how you imagined your own protagonist. There’s a good chance the grand adventure you imagine was not entirely something of the creators’ make - but rather, their backdrop combined with your own interpretation. This experience is wholly yours: and through it, you take ownership of your space in the setting.
Sometimes, others carve this passion out in a visible sense - they hold their experiences not only in their hearts, but in a newer form that others can see and enjoy. If I were to tell you of the journey I’d foreseen for my trainer setting out with a poorly nicknamed Bulbasaur as a youngster playing Pokemon Red, for example, that little piece of the world would be mine.
And together, that world we shape is ours. Although a fandom may never alter a creator’s original vision for the game - for, that itself is still theirs alone - we may take part in its wider development through giving it our own perspectives and innovations. And it is within that creative process that any work is given life.
So go and thank that amateur fanfiction author. They’re sustaining a universe with that love.