The Fetishization of Innovation
The greater indie scene has a lot going for it — smart and fun people coming together to make and play cool shit. But it also has something that’s extremely fucking annoying: many of us in this sphere value innovation and being revolutionary over refinement and being evolutionary.
I gave a version of this rant to a friend recently. He asked, after receiving some very heavy critiques, if there was anything innovative in his game. He didn’t expect a rant about how that’s the wrong question to ask. (But, in utter fairness, I remember thinking the same thing in his shoes years before, so it is a totally natural part of being a starting designer.)
I outlined some reasons that he needed to stop trying to be innovative and just make the game his game should be then, and I’m going to outline and build on that here.
Innovations often suck
Sturgeon’s Law applies here. Many people approach innovation from the standpoint of “well, I don’t see anyone else doing this.” What you’ll find is that much of the time, that’s for a reason: many ideas suck as game mechanics.
This isn’t to shut down people from experimenting with shit, but if you have an idea that doesn’t sing and you’re holding onto it simply because it’s “your original idea,” you’re doing yourself and your game a disservice.
Innovations are often fads
This isn’t to criticize good innovations, but to point out to those who obsess about their work also being innovations — you’re really saying “I want my game to trigger a design fad.”
Let’s look at some past innovations that enter into the realm of “fad”: scene framing, ritual phrases, narration rights, naming your own skills, multiple GMs/single player, moves, playbooks, and so on.
These are all,on their own, fantastic ideas. For the most part, their creators didn’t set out to make a fad, just do an interesting thing they worked for their game. But if you’re looking at these with envy and trying to create something in your game that will equal in fashion-hood, you’re doing it wrong.
Innovation is about being a rockstar
If you’re trying to be innovative, if you’re forcing that situation, you’re placing more emphasis and effort on playing a community status game over that of actually making your design work. Fuck that; that isn’t the path to actually getting status. Must as with the pseudo-joke that a woman can “smell” desperation on a man, the community can sniff out those who are trying too hard for accolades and stuff.
I was certainly one of those guys, back in the day.
To think you’re innovative is hubris
It isn’t your job to declare yourself innovative. That’s judged by the community, the gaming zeitgeist. So don’t try to be innovative. Instead, be inspired, be passionate, be excited. Make the best game you can. And if it happens that you’re declared the second coming of Arneson or Cook or Baker, cool? But even cooler: people like your game and you bring joy into some lives.
 You could make an argument that I still am. I’ll save that for the trolls.