Writers and artists alike will know of the horror of sitting down in front of a blank sheet, knowing that something needs to fill that page. The sheer panic of the entire weight of human creativity presses down upon you, imagination stretched out into infinity… and you have no idea where to even start. This crushing experience is part of the reason why its easier to stay closer to the familiar, its easier. You know where to start and end, the lines and words are within reach. However, this is not how great new works of art are made.
Videogames are being increasingly recognised as art, as something that can touch the heart, play with the emotions or have a deep and meaningful effect on the player. What that recognition comes the expectation of growth, of discovery and of creation. So why then, does it seem like the videogame industry, and virtual reality (VR) are retreating back into a defensive shell of familiar retreads, remasters and remakes?
It’s very easy when you are working with new technology to want to stick with ‘what works’. The unknown is scary, especially when you don’t know how the audience will respond to new things. But that determination to remain with ‘what works’ has only led us to a point where we are inundated with endless shooters with the occasional puzzle title the break the monotony.
Perhaps part of it is that terror of the blank sheet of paper. There are so many possibilities in VR. Science fiction has long suggested some of them, with writers like William Gibson playing with the idea, or the plaintive cry of many a Star Trek fan keen to explain the amazing things they could do with access to a holodeck.
The future is here, but it feels much like the past. There are myriad military shooters and sci-fi shooters and fantasy adventures and platform games… but where is the new genres? Where are the ideas that destroy boundaries and create entirely new ways of exploring the virtual world?
Paradoxically, perhaps the answer is to restrict the possibilities. Perhaps developers should be challenging themselves to ask ‘what can we create using only x’ where is an arbitrary restriction, such as ‘What can we make using only one tracked controller?’.
This might sound strange, but it does work. Take Chiptune, for example. Chiptune is music that is made using only the sound chips found in old microcomputers or consoles, like the original Game Boy or Commodore 64 SID chip. By using this restriction, it makes artists think very long and hard about exactly what they want their music to be, choosing every note and instrument with great care.
Horror title Stifled is a great example of this. You are restricted by only being able to see when you make a sound, but this seemingly artificial restriction is given a great impetus within the videogame, creating atmosphere and real dread in the player.
Developers have a vast toolset at their disposal that opens up an entire universe of possibilities, but some might find they benefit from locking away some of those tools for a day or two and narrowing their focus.
After all, a deaf man did some amazing composing.