One of the most interesting developments in the last few years in creative circles has been the increasing ability to weave non-traditional concepts through the metric of gaming. Rather than simply being a platform in which player intention is irrelevant and the outcome is a purely binary win/loss states, gaming has started to demonstrate the ability to expand storytelling beyond the limits necessarily imposed by purely linear works like oral or written storytelling.
The recent Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor is an excellent example of the increasing breadth of gaming's ability to tell a story. The protagonist is purely functional, a tool through which the player interacts with the world, and as a result it should not be surprising that the protagonist is generally considered to be the most forgettable aspect of the game. Instead, what has repeatedly impressed players and reviewers has been the rich world the protagonist operates in, a world in which a dozen or so rival enemy leaders continually gain and lose standing based on the actions of the player. These gains can come through the failure of the player, with those who manage to kill the protagonist gaining standing, but they can also come through the player choosing to manipulate the surroundings in order to advance the causes of certain enemies, either because they will ultimately be less challenging as final opponents at high levels or because they have been co-opted and can therefore be made to serve the player's own ends rather than those of the computer against which the player competes. Combined with a series of general character traits unique to each individual unit, including names, weaknesses, and preferred strategies and styles of engaging the protagonist, this gives the game a richness as a social simulator, in addition to its apparently solid, if not spectacular, combat systems.
More interesting still, however, are the games that are starting to engage players through online platforms to engage with one another in unique ways. Things like World of Warcraft were the first and most basic systems, of course; MMORPGs are basically just old MUDs with graphics, nothing particularly unique there. Mass Effect 3 tried something interesting, with online gaming affecting the single player campaign, and the ability for more experienced players to help new ones is one of a host of interesting features built into the absolutely gorgeous Journey. But it's the upcoming Elegy for a Dead World that strikes me as truly reflective of the next stage of gaming, and the general gamification of creativity in general.
Elegy for a Dead World is barely a game, more of an audio-visual writing prompt, a bare-bones framework around which players can construct their own narratives. While this has always been something of an option, with players actually having to make up their stories back in the earliest days of gaming, before there were cutscenes or dialogue boxes or the like, Elegy for a Dead World seems intent on building it in as a feature, rather than accepting it as a necessary limitation. More than that, however, Elegy intends to leverage the connectivity built standard into video game systems to make the playing of the game as much a work of art as the game itself. By providing a platform for interaction amongst the player base, Elegy allows for game players to begin crafting the same sort of shared spaces that writers got with livejournal and fanfiction.net, musicians got with MySpace, comedians and amateur filmmakers got with YouTube. Elegy for a Dead World serves as the logical next step for the trend towards unlimited freedom for self-expression, offering up yet another avenue, as different from the others as they are from the rest, through which individuals can demonstrate their own unique talents to their fellows. This started with things like Let's Plays on YouTube, but Elegy is, to the best of my own admittedly-limited knowledge, the first game system to built in this kind of shared personal expression as a core mechanic of the game system.
As a casual game player, Elegy for a Dead World looks gorgeous, and pleasantly immersive. As a writer, it looks like a wonderful way to stretch my mental muscles. And as a futurist and techno-utopian, it makes me excited to see yet another step being taken by people interested in encouraging their fellows to ever more varied and variable forms of creative expression.
Elegy for a Dead world will help make our own world just a little bit more alive.