Cycles and Repetitions

The title of this post is somewhat cryptic, but really the subject isn’t particularly complicated or mysterious. I simply like to be a bit vague with the labels for these articles to encourage people to have a look and maybe learn something they didn’t know or just didn’t think about the way that I do. What I want to go over today is the fact that our existence is filled with things that repeat themselves over and over, and while we do get new things from time to time most of the things we encounter are repetitions from things we’ve experienced in the past.

It isn’t a new topic for me personally, as I realized long ago that much of what I experience in life isn’t anything new. This is especially true when it comes to things like music, where there are only so many configurations of notes and chords and rhythms available, and it’s simply a matter of time until modern artists are just repeating the themes of what the pioneers did in the past. Some people are honest about it and simply do remakes, but many either don’t know they’re recreating something already formed or just steal it because people don’t remember it anymore.

What made me decide to write about it today was watching through a “Let’s Play” of an old PC game entitled “Betrayal at Krondor“, a story extracted from a series of novels about the Rift Wars. I never read the books, but I did play the game a bit when I was young and always had a latent interest in it. As I have been watching the story unfold and the mechanics of the game be revealed, it reminded me of a time when video games were still fairly new and clever ideas were still being tossed about because it was more about innovation than profits.

Betrayal at Krondor was one of those games that did quite well from a review standpoint, though I have no idea how much money they made off it. The story is very engaging and the gameplay makes you constantly feel invested because it is quite difficult and the consequences for failure or death actually have meaning. When you play this game, you aren’t just trying to get through it; you are drawn into a storytelling event that happens to include an interactive component.

The point of this article isn’t to be a video game review, however. What sparked the writing of this article was a desire to highlight how time passes and eventually what was once new has been reduced to a series of patterns that are replicated over time. Betrayal at Krondor was a truly original game, but over the years this style has been iterated on to the point that one can never really be surprised anymore. Any game of this genre is basically the same: run around, get into fights, there may or may not be a fun story, and you fight a boss at the end to justify all the time you put in.

There are many reasons for this, some of them understandable and others are simply greed. It takes a lot of time and money to develop even the simplest of professional quality video games, and developers have to balance their end vision with the budget. Most game designers start out with a grand vision of the perfect game, but as bugs and time start getting the better of them, features are removed and story elements are pared down to meet the publishing deadline. Even if deadlines didn’t matter, the fact that technology moves at such a rapid pace means that games eventually get left behind as new features become available and make even relatively new games obsolete. It’s a mad dash to keep up.

Of course, perhaps the biggest reason is the one we already covered: it’s all been done. Are there any truly unique story ideas remaining? What about clever game mechanics or combat systems? How many more new types of magic systems can we come up with or monsters can we dream up or evil villains can emerge from our fantasies? There’s only so many complex ideas such as this available until we start repeating things from the past. As was said so profoundly in Ecclesiastes 1:9: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

As I look back on the nineties, it was an era of truly unique and original ideas regarding computer games, not because anyone came up with something that no one else had ever thought of, but because we had a truly revolutionary technology at our disposal that allowed us to branch out into a truly new area of development. It’s easy to come up with something new when you’re in completely unexplored territory. Once you’ve spent a bit of time there, however, good old repetition rears its ugly head again and you’re back to doing the same things over and over again. It’s simply a curse of time.

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