One of the ways that the games industry has delighted me the most is through it managing to do something that there is no real term for. As such, I have decided to appropriate the word “creolization” to explain this concept.
Now, the origins of the word “creolization” go back to 20th century Caribbean studies where it was observed that a cultural hybridity developed in the Caribbean and the slave owning states of the United States (Wallace-Hadril, Rome’s Cultural Revolution). So creolization itself was the merging of two separate cultures to form an entirely new hybrid of the two. It isn’t one culture merely taking up the aspects of another, but instead various aspects from each culture being taken up, shaken together and left to settle into some entirely new form.
So what relevance does this having to gaming?
Well, replace the word “culture” with that of “genre” in creolization’s definition and you will have identified the process I am talking of.
Games which have come out of the other end of the creolization process are ones like those found in the Metroid Prime series. They are a perfect blend of first person shooter and puzzle platformer (with a sci-fi storyline thrown in for good measure). The result of this? Not even the game’s creators could figure out which genre sufficiently characterised the games they had ended up creating; they eventually settled on the name FPA (First Person Adventure) for their new creation as a compromise because they had effectively created a whole new genre. Creolization had been performed.
Of course, the process doesn’t always work favourably; I certainly wouldn’t want to be one who idealised any particular phenomena within the games industry as being absolutely brilliant and completely infallible. For instance, just take Mari0, a Mario game where Mario is given a portal gun (à la Portal and Portal 2) and thrown into the original Super Mario Bros. levels and worlds. While the combination of 2D platformer with a physics based puzzle game sounds spectacular, in truth, my experience of it is that it just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, the hilarious portrayal of such a game as in this video doesn’t play out. The portals you place down are more likely to hinder rather than help Mario in most circumstances and when they do help it is only in making certain, very specific sections of levels very easy and so, for some reason, a lot less fun.
However, the reason I want to bring creolization to your attention is because of what it implies rather than what it produces, although I will touch on that too.
You see, the reason why creolization is exciting is that there is absolutely no need for the games industry to invest in it.
No reason at all.
I write this because, ultimately, the current genres and the basic templates which they assign to games are by no means exhausted yet. There are many, many ways in which they can be expanded further and looked deeper into. In fact, games companies can and do do this and produce some pretty good games as a result. Examples of games that have appeared and fit more or less perfectly into their genre, while actually being good and enjoyable are Risen (a model RPG), Dirt 3 (a model racing game) and Halo Reach (a model FPS).
New games are still able to surpass older games within their genre by exploring new gameplay mechanics, art styles and story telling devices, although how often they manage to do this is debatable.
In addition to this, creolization doesn’t even make sense from a financial standpoint (as opposed to a gaming one) – anything significantly new and innovative has as much chance of failing as it does selling well. At the same time, the current genres of games still sell really well even when they sink as low as games like Zumba Fitness, not in the least because games that fit within a specific genre are so much easier to advertise because the target audience knows exactly what to expect. Conversely, if a game is a product of creolization then developers may not even know who the target audience is, never mind how to appeal to them.
And yet, despite this, creolization of video games is still happening!
Despite all financial logic, despite how easy it would be to just pump out another WoW clone using given parameters and templates provided by its particular genre, some companies choose not to. Instead they choose to pursue riskier ventures because they want to innovate and they feel that innovating in this way would be most beneficial to the general experience of playing their game. Even though it would probably be easier to change the game so it fit snugly within a set genre, some companies opt not to.
Sorry, but did you catch that?
The games industry is willing to innovate.
Not just in terms of indie developers crossing boundaries and being daring because they can, but big AAA companies like Retro Studios and Nintendo. Sure they may do this through safer avenues like creolization, a process that essentially takes two safe genres and mixes them together, but they are doing it all the same.
I just think that sometimes the columns on this site (especially my own) are so condemning of the big bad games industry and its problems, it might be worth once more looking at the fact that despite so much about the industry being annoying and damaging to the medium of gaming, there are also many elements to it that are great.
Creolization points us to an industry that isn’t merely trying to scrounge pennies off of us, but one that is willing to shake things up and try something new for the sake of it once in a while.
This is an industry I can get well behind!