"Stop playing with that thing. Yeah, yeah, I know, you have to get the high score," an older gentleman said sarcastically to me while I was fiddling with my DS. I just shook my head at his antiquated notion that gaming is all about "getting the high score." Modern games offer countless goals to meet, and many allow for players to not only beat the game, but express themselves creatively in the process. Creative expression is one of the most interesting and exciting aspects of the gaming industry, moving gaming far beyond the realm of passive entertainment.
Almost every gamer has done something creative while gaming, and many of today's games strongly encourage creative expression. Whether it be designing a new outfit for a Sim, experimenting with the AI of the NPCs in Oblivion, officiating a wedding in World of Warcraft, or creating a mod for Team Fortress 2, gamers are doing far more than getting to the final boss. Here are some basic categories of creative gamers, showing the many different ways that gamers flex their creative muscles while enjoying their hobby.
Customizers are gamers who enjoy using tools provided in-game for creative expression. Simulations have always been a major playground for customizers, from SimCity to Roller Coaster Tycoon, but other genres are getting in on the customizing action these days. Role-playing games feature increasingly complex character creation and customization features, and all three major home consoles now have an avatar creation/customization system that places player-created avatars into certain games.
Many current-generation games allow players to create levels and other content to share with others, as well. Little Big Planet, Spore, and WarioWare: D.I.Y. are three examples of recent games that rely heavily on user-created content, while other games like Super Smash Brothers Brawl have level creation as a secondary feature. Game companies noticed the popularity of user-created content, and an increasing number of them are embracing it as a way to extend the lifetime of their games.
Experimenters are gamers who enjoy pushing the boundaries of a game's world or systems. They enjoy going beyond basic gameplay and seeing what happens when they do the unexpected. Whether it be finding ways to glitch a game's physics system or AI or exploring past the accepted boundaries and into development areas of an MMO, experimenters enjoy taking the road less travelled and pushing a game to its limits. Experimenters often enjoy sharing the results of their experiments, and YouTube is full of their displays. Sandbox games such as Oblivion and Red Dead Redemption are particularly fertile spawning grounds for videos of funny AI behavior and glitches, but there are experiments posted for just about any game imaginable.
Min-maxers are a particular kind of mathematically-inclined experimenter. Found especially in communities surrounding MMORPGs and strategy games, min-maxers like to dig into the statistical systems of games and find the most efficient and effective ways to operate. They're responsible for spreadsheets that show the best way to gear an MMORPG character, and for devising unusual but effective strategies to overwhelm the opposition in RTS games. Their followers may adopt their strategies, but min-maxers are always looking for the next great formula to give them an edge. Min-maxers show that not all creativity is right-brained, and that there's plenty of room for analytical people in the world of creative gaming.
Role-players are in some ways the opposite of experimenters. While experimenters purposefully break the "willing surrender of disbelief" in order to play around with a game's system, role-players prefer to fully surrender to a game's world. Not everyone who plays RPGs is a role-player. Many players enjoy RPGs simply to experience the story or battle system, and many RPG players are experimenters as well. Role-players are gamers who attempt to think like the character they are playing, and make gameplay choices based on that character's personality. The most dedicated role-players are willing to make mistakes or put a character at a disadvantage in a game if they believe the character would take those actions. For role-players, games are an opportunity to take on a different persona, to do things they wouldn't do in real life, or simply to express creativity by creating a believable story while playing a game.
Role-players can enjoy both single-player and multiplayer games. Generally, single-player Western RPGs from companies like BioWare and Bethesda support role-players best by providing meaningful in-game choices that have an effect on a game's world or story. However, role-playing can be done in many different kinds of games. I have a friend who creates elaborate backstories and personalities for her Harvest Moon characters, simply because she finds the games more fun that way. In multiplayer games, role-players have the chance to interact with others as their character, and participate in collaborative storytelling. While this can be challenging, many role-players enjoy the challenge of creating shared storylines with each other.
Modders take creative gaming to the next level, using programming and game engine tools to alter or create new content for existing games. Modding gained popularity in the 1990s when modders altered popular FPS games, creating everything from new levels to entirely new graphics and settings for the games. Today, many types of games are modded, and mod sites for popular games provide thousands of ways to tailor the game to the player's liking. Modding is so popular nowadays that some companies release their own game engine tools to the public in order to support the modding community.
Related to modders are machinima creators, who use game engines and assets to create animated films. Machinima may contain subject matter related to the source game itself, or it may simply use game assets to tell an original story. Most game companies seem tolerant of modders and machinima creators, who are generally allowed to share their creations without being threatened with copyright infringement.
As we can see, the modern game industry gives both console and PC gamers many opportunities to express themselves creatively. Whether they are artists, mathematicians, scientists, or storytellers, creative gamers have made a mark on gaming, expanding its appeal and even inspiring game companies themselves. This column will look at issues, opportunities, and achievements in the realm of creative gaming. In two weeks, we'll look at some games that have been pioneers in encouraging creative expression in their players.
CCC Freelance Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*