A user-generated dilemna
It's The Next Big Thing. Oh yes folks, don't think that just because you've had a long day, and all you want to do is have a bit of a chillax in front of the telly and play a few silly games that you've got an excuse to be unproductive. No no no. It's nearly 2009, and if we want to play great videogames, we've got to start pulling our weight.
"The era of passive entertainment is waning, active entertainment is where the action is" declares Reggie Fils-Aime, CEO Of Nintendo America, triumphantly riding the crest of the zeitgeist, the Wiimote of destiny twitching excitedly in his hand. With the releases of Spore, Guitar Hero World Tour, LittleBigPlanet and other various others, a new hot topic is in town.
User Generated Content: it's the future!
Really? Because so far, I have seen the future, and it is penis shaped.
Phalluses aside, I can see why UGC is the new champion of the console. We do indeed like to take a more immersive role in our gaming, that much was obvious as early as the days of SimCity or The Sims, and you'd have to have been living in a cave with your fingers in your ears to avoid acknowledging the phenomenon that is Second Life. And it doesn't stop at games. The staggering popularity of Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, and Youtube demonstrate that we don't just want to look at things anymore, we want to be an actual part of the entertainment. And the games companies want a slice of the pie. Because the pie is made of money. Yeahhhh.
Which is why peddling UGC at this time makes so much sense. The concept of designing things for yourself has been around in games for donkeys years - one forum post noted the existence of a level editor in a game as far back as 1985 - but we now have the technology (and desire) to enable us to share our efforts online with other players. Because really, what's the point of making something if you can't show it off, eh?
So here's the golden marketing opportunity for the games companies: take a not-too-original idea, give it a fancy rebrand, and tap into the social networking craze goldmine. In his gushing predictions for Nintendo's future, Fils-Aime quoted Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata, as saying: "We believe that building a foundation where players' creativity is harnessed and the results are shared is becoming increasingly important." Well, duh. Nintendo are a little late onto the bandwagon, but luckily there's enough room on there for everyone. UGC is the next logical step in the consumer-driven entertainment revolution, and at present there doesn't seem to be a genre that can't exploit it. Music, platforming, and simulation examples have been released already, and perhaps the sky's the limit.
And what a noble endeavour! We've known for a while now that Nintendo had a secret plan for getting us fitter, cleverer and less nicotine-reliant, but it seems that Sony, Microsoft EA and Activision are getting in on the act. What better answer to anti-gaming campaigners, who complain of the dissolution of community brought about by the rise of the solitary, anti-social gamer, than to make a game where a major selling point is the ability to immerse yourself in an active social community (albeit online), flexing your creative muscles and making things to entertain your fellow man?
This emphasis on creativity is indeed to be celebrated. To highlight console gaming's potential as a platform for creativity and artistic expression is a fantastic idea. This opens new areas of attraction for an activity universally considered a pretty low-brow form of entertainment - parents will be much more easily swayed by their darlings' demands for a game if it involves (or at least has the potential to involve) genuine creative thought, where kids could maybe even learn new skills or develop an interest in design or composition. For adults too, the opportunity to craft something new, to enjoy a perhaps all too rare opportunity to make something new and explore an underused imaginative side to our personalities may present itself as an opportunity as refreshing as it is entertaining. As Kyle Shubel put it in an interview with screwattack.com about LBP, "Just go out [into the game] and have some fun."
That's great, isn't it? I feel inspired. To celebrate, I'll join countless gamers across the globe in making a huge hairy pair of balls with titties for eyes dance around in the innovative landscapes of Spore (although it'll be nowhere near as good as a fellow artist's creation I saw on Youtube, a walking slug creature made out of the word 'f**k'). Or maybe I'll make Sackboy jump around on a wall shaped like a willy, or over blocks arranged to make the words 'beef curtains' or something really brilliant.