Indie Games and Innovation

When Sony announced the PS4 a few days ago, we saw more of the same – more power, more polygons and higher reliance on visual verisimilitude – but this time with a share button.

As videogame researcher Ian Bogost put it shortly after the event (tldr):

A first-person shooter is a first-person shooter. A driving sim is a driving sim. FIFA is FIFA. There’s nothing revolutionary about them, no more than there’s anything revolutionary about a wacky family sitcom or an apocalyptic action flick.

We are seeing fewer and fewer examples of AAA games surprising us with something new and creative. With huge budgets and shareholder value at stake, large organizations manage risk by sticking to proven game concepts.

Indie game developers, on the other hand, don’t have to. We can experiment with new game mechanics and themes and push the limits of gameplay for the rest of the industry.

But are we really seeing that much more innovation in indie games?

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Does Clusivity Affect the Way We Think?

English, like most languages across Europe and Africa, lacks what linguists call clusivity, the distinction between inclusive and exclusive first-person pronouns.

When you say We are going to a bar later tonight” in English, the person you are talking to doesn’t know whether the we includes them or not.

At least not without additional context.

In contrast, northern dialects of Mandarin distinguish between the inclusive 咱們  (zánmen – “me, one or more other people and you”) and exclusive 我們 (wǒmen –  ”me, one or more others, but not you”).

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The Gamification Fallacy

In his book The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb described a notion he called the ludic fallacy.

It can be summarized as the tendency to misuse simple games (dice) to model real-life situations and to apply naïve and simplified statistical models in complex domains.

In tech, we currently have a similar fallacy, implying that every service can easily be improved by using simple game mechanics.

The term coined to represent this is gamification.

And while I (and possibly many behavioral economists) agree that game mechanics can be of great use, using points, progress bars and badges hardly constitutes something as being a game.

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