There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.
- Mark Twain, a Biography
This is one of my favorite quotes, although today is the first time I've had the pleasure of seeing it sans paraphrase. I completed a survey for Nintendo's 3DS, and part of my answer reminded me of this again. I said, "Modern video games are like modern cars: they're all starting to look the same."
My greater point was that I appreciate how Nintendo continues to innovate without losing the traditional "feel" that so intangibly makes video games what they are. Then I started thinking about all the naysayers who insist Nintendo is not the innovation machine its fans make of it, and that lead me back to Mr.Twain. There are no new ideas, only new combinations of ideas. The statement seems to be true in so many facets of our world.
Are smartphones innovative? They're basically cellphones with computer programs on them. Cellphones are just portable-phones with more range, and those are just regular phones with no cord.
All the newest car styles are mixed-up parts of existing vehicles. It's right in the name of some of them; SUV simply stands for Sport/Utility Vehicle. There's really nothing new about powering a machine with electricity either.
The film currently regarded as the highest grossing theater release of all time is Avatar, or as I call it, "Pocahontas In Space."
One of the big selling points for Microsoft's xBox360 is its network service that lets you play with/against numerous other users, much like home computer games have been doing since at least the early 90's.
So how are we to define innovation in a world devoid of any truly "new" ideas?
INNOVATION (from Merriam-Webster online)
1: the introduction of something new
2: a new idea, method, or device : novelty
If a new "method" counts, then surely a new application does, and that should suffice to allow Nintendo to keep its fan-awarded innovation merit badge as well as anyone else. I'd like to add one more Twainism in support of Nintendo's reputation.
The man with a new idea is a Crank until the idea succeeds.
- Following the Equator
Putting aside my defensive Nintendo fan-boy mentality, there's a greater reason I decided to write all this today, and it goes back to the statement that started this thought-train on the long winding track I thank you for following. They're all starting to look the same.
Not just video games but everything, especially in technology. Even as a kid, I was very put off by the sight of a TV with a built in VCR. In recent times they've made game consoles act more like full computers, computers act like phones, phones act like cameras, the internet is a place where people can buy groceries, cars, and books or attend college courses and go to work. Now, I can call a friend, post to a blog, play games, take photos/videos, listen to music, read a book, watch movies, run a variety of computer applications, and surf the net all on one device. I won't lie, it's quite handy, but it also makes me sick.
It seems to me that the electronics industry, and basically everyone, is looking to break open Mr.Twain's kaleidoscope of creativity and frankenstein ALL the pieces together into one large pane of stained-glass that presents no meaningful primary image or artistic design.
The paranoia this gives me (at least I HOPE it's only paranoia) is that the convenience of this single Master Device will become such a focus to those responsible for pushing technology forward that progress in separate single function items like phones, TV's, computers, and video games will be noticeably slowed or even halted. A leftovers casserole can be perfectly good when cooked up by the right person, but it lacks the uniqueness, artistry, and flavor of any individual dish. As an artistic techno-junky, I enjoy seeing each artist express themselves through the specific aesthetics of their own craft. It saddens me to think that there's even a possibility of so many people losing the opportunity to do so.
Video games are the easiest way for me to describe it. With the ability to make fully 3 dimensional play environments for games, that seems to be what everyone wants to do for every genre of game. As graphic capabilities improve, more and more developers seem convinced that every game should look as much like reality as possible. In my opinion, that hampers designers' ability to express their own unique art style in the game's animation as well as the general design and feel of each game. We've already hit a point where it's considered passe to make an actual RPG simulator, as they used to be called. It was a kind of game designed to emulate the experience of playing a table-top RPG. Now, video game RPG's are as much action games as any first-person shooter.
The art and game-play styles of many well remembered games was a big part of what made them so memorable. What if the characters and backgrounds in games like Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy, Super BomberMan, and MegaMan all simply looked like real people and places with an over-the-shoulder view of a 3D setting? Would so many people remember them so fondly? Would they be able to maintain their individual charms? Or would we get them mixed-up with each other in our minds?
Compare those questions to technology and the world in general. I feel the same way about the features and sleek casing of a camera, the cover and binding of a book, the operating system of a computer, the actual physical buttons of a phone, or the controller of a game console. Are we moving toward a time when none of that will exist anymore, because all of our pieces of ideas have been lumped together in one item which looks and functions almost identically from every manufacturer? If we ever truly reach that point...
I don't want to live on this planet anymore.
- Prof.Farnsworth, Futurama