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Why are Cute Games the Most Innovative?

My thoughts on abstracted visual art and how it can drive innovative design.

Okay, you may be asking yourself where I got such an idea.  How can I say something as seemingly simple as an artistic choice to make fluffier bunnies drives innovation?  I tend to ask myself the same thing sometimes but I continue to find examples of this statement's truth in both past and current games on the market (and off the market to a large extent, meaning art house games and other indy titles).

I can't count the number of times I have found myself playing a childish looking game with adorable characters, plants with smiling happy faces, or even cute little bits of pixel art and found that the design around that art is ingenious, unique, inspiring. 

Heck, look at Orisinal Games.  Maybe it is just me or perhaps I have the cause and the effect, it could be that brilliant design inspires adorable art but I believe it is a synergy of the two.  One drives the other.

I suppose I can't say it is only the 'cute factor'.  What I guess I really mean by 'cuteness' is actually artistic abstraction.  Art that is distanced from reality.  It is inspiring in so many ways and seems to be a part of if not the best at least the most risky designs.

Artistic abstraction is an incredibly useful design tool in many ways that have already been discovered over and over again.  I am not an expert on the subject so I won't talk at length about abstraction's strengths but I can give a few examples.  Abstract art can draw on emotions realistic art can't.  It lets the player see more of themselves in the characters and thus empathize with them more.  It allows for more variety and unique style in games to set it apart from others.  But I would argue that it also drives innovation in design.

I think this is because abstraction allows more freedom in decision making.  With abstract art there are little to no assumptions about what the art should be or how the characters should act.  This freedom from assumptions means that the mechanics of the game can be ANYTHING.

What I mean by this is that with realistic art it is much more difficult to have that freedom of mechanics.  With realistic art players expect realistic gameplay, which leads to a sort of stagnation in what realistic games offer.  Don't get me wrong, this has its strengths too. 

Having realistic art definitely has its merits.  Players know what to expect from it, they know what they are buying when they look at it so these games are easy to sell and can lead to more subtle innovation and evolution of the different game genres without much economic risk.  This is equally important in my opinion but does not excite me in the same way as a completely (or mostly) unique experience.

I guess what I am getting at with writing this is partly for my benefit, to try and focus where I find my inspirations.  To realize that I need to look to visual art more to draw my inspiration and drive gameplay innovation.  But it is also to try to get others to look in places they might not consider for inspiration, look to a medium or a game genre that you might not normally consider great.  Even just writing this I have convinced myself to try and get more excited about hardcore games and realistic ones to look for more subtle design decisions in those experiences and learn from them.

SO I guess I am just trying to say, don't rule out a game just because the cover is an animu mushroom angrily kicking a plumber.  That game might have something to it you have never seen before.

Thanks for reading.

~Brian

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