If the story a game is based on is compelling, players may be more willing to overlook the use of common (and possibly uninspired) mechanics. The trouble with this is that there is no one story that will appeal to everyone. Thankfully there exists many tales in literature that have withstood the test of time. While they still might not appeal to the everyone, fairy and folk tales are popular enough that they are a go to when brainstorming ideas for new projects. Along with their enduring popularity, the lore and plot of most fairytales are well understood by their respective cultures (e.g. Grimm’s Fairy Tales in Western/Euro-centric cultures, or The Panchatantra in Indian/South Asian cultures).
This established understanding presents a double edged sword when using fairytales as inspiration for games. The benefit of this approach is the audience already knows the background and motive of the characters, which means less time needs to be allocated for exposition. This is good news for gameplay, since designers get more time to focus on it and players spend more time engaging with it. The downside to this is that outcome of the conflict is predictable. Audiences know how the story ends, so they will likely not be as invested as they would with an original story. Thankfully, there are multiple ways to minimize this drawback.
One of the great things about games is their mechanics allow us to explore and interact with scenarios in a way that is not possible with other mediums, such as art or writing. This means that the possibilities for telling an established fairy tale a different way are greatly expanded. The player can take the role of someone other than the established protagonist, or play as a totally new character who changes the outcome of the original story. They may even step in the shoes of the villain, which can lead to the player having to commit atrocious acts or getting to see the villain in a more positive light. Games can also expand the upon the setting where the story is set, taking the characters to places they otherwise would or could not go and dealing with the wider impacts of their actions. With how much potential games have for breathing new life into well-established stories, I think game designers should not shy away from looking to folk and fairy tales for inspiration.
In Chapter 6 of Game Design Workshop, Tracy Fullerton goes over in some depth various methods for coming up with ideas. She also rightfully emphasizes the importance of having multiple sources of inspiration (e.g. books, music, film, photography, etc.). (169) However, in Chapter 6 Fullerton never touches on the effectiveness of some of these inspiration sources over others. In fact, the way she presents them makes it seem like all inspiration sources are created equal, when in reality this is not the case. Anyone who has had to come up with ideas (which most likely includes the person reading this) will attest that some things are more effective in generating them than others. Considering the thoroughness of Fullerton’s writing, I was at first confused and surprised that she did not touch on this area. After some brief reflection, however, I came to realize that this omission made sense. As has been detailed in other parts of Game Design Workshop and in this blog, not everyone enjoys the same things. It stands to reason then that not all things will be equally inspiring to all people.
Examining some of things that have inspired me in the past, I discovered a few insights about finding inspiration that others may find useful. Just because a person enjoys something, doesn’t mean it will provide them with ideas. I enjoy listening to music (an activity Fullerton uses as an example) and do it on a regular basis, but I cannot recall I time where it was the source of a creative concept. Another realization I had was that things that are not done for pleasure can also be sources of creativity. For example, at my previous job one of the requirements was to assist with hurricane relief in the event of such a meteorological event. While in training for this aspect of the job, I came up with an idea for a simulation game where players could experience what it’s like to go through a hurricane for various age groups and at different income levels. This led me to another insight, which is ideas don’t always come to us at the right time. While the hurricane simulation idea is one that I believe has protentional, when it first came to me I did not have the time, knowledge, or resources to elaborate on it. Now, roughly a year and a half after thinking of it, I am taking classes where that and other ideas I’ve previously had can finally be relevant. Ideas can come from expected and unexpected sources, and even if they are not useful at the time they are generated it never hurts to keep them on the backburner.
Fullerton, Tracy. “Chapter 6: Conceptualization” Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. 4th ed., Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2019. PDF.