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The Gaming Difference

Spore is the latest step towards discovering videogames' voice.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Published as part of our sister-site' widely-read weekly newsletter, the Editorial is a weekly dissection of one of the issues weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to newsletter subscribers.

After being feted by dedicated gamers and journalists alike for so many years, there's something genuinely uplifting about seeing advertisements for Spore on prime-time television in the UK. There's something even more uplifting about the genuine excitement the game has created among more casual gamers, and even some people who don't play games at all.

The reason it's uplifting is because Spore is, in a very pure sense, a videogame. Where other games that excite great public attention - Halo, Grand Theft Auto and their ilk - owe huge creative debts to other media, most notably movies, Spore's genesis and creative evolution is the story of an experience that simply has no parallel in any other medium. It was born, developed and is now being finally released as an interactive experience.

What this represents - to me, at least - is a clear example of this medium's own voice. It's a phrase spoken clearly and distinctly in the language of videogames, largely free of loan words and borrowed phrases from other creative media - a form of expression unique to this new medium.

Spore is, of course, not alone in offering this. There are many games, some of them dating back decades, which explored the potential of interactivity without taking direct inspiration from other media. In fact, you could argue that older games were more likely to do this, since they were less able to ape the style and form of movies and TV.

However, to me, that just makes the achievement of Spore - and other games like it - all the more impressive. The tools at the disposal of the modern developer are spectacularly powerful, but most developers choose to use them to copy the achievements of other media, rather than seeking out new achievements of their own.

Spore, and a handful of other equally creative works, ignore the temptation to recreate film, and instead turn those tools to a new and different use. Best of all, it seems that this innovative, daring approach can be just as exciting for consumers as copying Hollywood has proven to be. The voice of the gaming medium is seductive not just creatively, but commercially, it seems.

None of this is to say that there's actually anything wrong with borrowing elements from other media, however. Journalists tend to be a little too quick to praise innovation for the sake of innovation, and ignore the fact that sometimes a wheel works just fine, and requires little reinvention.

The progress of videogames as a creative medium has been vastly accelerated by its ability to stand on the shoulders of giants - learning from decades or centuries of experience on the part of writers, musicians, film-makers and TV creators. Each of those media developed a language of its own, gradually educating its audience in the nuances of that language.