Likely due to the lack of other creative outlets in my life, I am realizing that depth of customization is often one of the key attributes that can define my enjoyment of a game.
I realize that enjoying customization is not an unpopular or controversial opinion; I know that most of us appreciate being able to change our character's outfit and stuff like that. I also realize that "creativity" in gaming can mean different things to different people; for example, one could use a creative approach to completing a mission. However, creativity in that sense is not what I am here to discuss.
I am talking about customization, designing, building, etc. that is either purely cosmetic, or produces an outcome that is dependent on what the player has designed. That last part is subjective and a little tricky to define, so a good example would be designing an intersection in Cities: Skylines that results in improved traffic flow as a result of good design. However, as I'll talk to more down below, this can apply to other things as well.
Not only is the actual creation and customization fun, but it also incentivizes exploration and motivates me to earn achievements that give me more customization options. Through these mechanisms, the customization aspect of a game can greatly enhance my enjoyment of other, unrelated aspects by turning something like a dull fetch quest into something more interesting and rewarding simply by giving me another cool customization option that was not available before.
I want to talk about examples in gaming that really satisfy my urge to express myself creatively, and hear from you about games that scratch this itch for you as well.
I already mentioned one example earlier in the post, but Cities: Skylines and similar city-builders nail this aspect and incorporate it as a core component of their gameplay. The Sims deserves special mention here as well for having this type of "creative outlet" as part of their core gameplay. This is a great example of the type of "creative outlet" that I am referring to in gaming, although this post isn't just about games that have this built into their core gameplay loop.
Base-building as a side-mechanic is a great way for games to tap into this creative urge as well. As open-world games struggle to innovate, I would love for base-building to be the next focal point in those types of games. Fallout 4 and Subnautica are two examples in mind that incorporate this well, and they deserve some bonus points for doing it as optional content that one can mostly avoid if not interested. I know that base-building mechanics tend to exist in survival games, which I think is great and want to acknowledge – but I would love for AAA open-world games to try to incorporate this as well given that my enjoyment of most of them would be greatly enhanced just by giving me a dwelling to customize – better yet, a village to build.
And with that, I want to talk about ps2's Dark Cloud, since this is an example of how a basic incorporation of player customization can really enhance a game. The premise of Dark Cloud is that a village has been destroyed, and you have to rebuild it by going through dungeons and finding lost items (for example, you need to find Sam, Sam's House, and Sam's front lightpost, rinse/repeat for other characters and buildings). They could have developed a satisfactory game by having you go through the dungeon, find "Sam's house", and then Sam's house appears in the village automatically. However, the game takes it a step further by letting you choose the placement of the houses in the village, lay down the roads, etc. to rebuild the village to your liking – with some narrative constraints, something like "Sam is creeped out by Bill and doesn't want to be neighbors with him". It's a simple add-on concept that really enhanced my enjoyment and made me want to keep playing just for the sake of collecting new stuff for the town.
Rocket League is a game that satisfies the "creative outlet" criteria, referring to the car customization (again, I realize that you can also be "creative" within regular gameplay, but that isn't the type of creativity that is in scope of this post). With the thousands of different cosmetic options, rare/time sensitive content, etc., I truly feel like I am building a car that is completely unique to me. I also love ranking up and opening new items that I can potentially use in my builds. This game truly allows the player to creatively express themselves through their car design.
Red Dead Redemption 2 really satisfies me with their outfit and horse customization – hats, gloves, masks, shirt, jacket, pants, chaps, boots, saddles, etc. – just a ton of options to create something unique that I really enjoy playing around with. However, I also want to use this game as an example that could have really benefitted from more customization via base-building mechanics. Singleplayer has some linear options to upgrade the camp, but I feel like they missed an opportunity to add even more purpose to hunting, exploring, etc. In Red Dead Online, you can stylize the camp between 5 or 6 different options, which approaches "creative satisfaction" but doesn't go far enough, especially since the entire game-loop of RDO once you've purchased the basics is essentially: grind roles -> earn money -> buy cool stuff, rinse/repeat. There is a similar missed opportunity with the Moonshine Shack.
This post is getting very long, and if I was able to hold your attention until the bottom, then I appreciate you sticking with me. There are a lot of other games that I planned on mentioning, but won't for the sake of brevity. Hopefully I hear from you guys below about the games that were able to scratch your "creativity" itch. Cheers!
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