If someone would come up to me and asked what’s the most irrelevant, infuriating aspect of gaming and gaming related discussions, I would say, without blinking an eye, Intelligent Property (IP). For those of you who are clueless about IP, it basically contains the title of the game or the series; storylines; character’s names, appearances, and personas; and so on.
The thing is, general discussions regarding IPs are usually so distracting and beside the point that I almost feel fraudulent to refer game characters – or games themselves – by their IP names, as if IP somehow defined the fundamental nature of given game.
Well, it doesn’t.
For a start, video games using IPs outside of the realm of gaming (often referred to as licensed games) have had trough their existence a bad reputation – for a reason. The situation is mostly like a car manufacturer who thinks if they put these My Little Pony stickers on a sports car, they can leave the engine out. Of course, there are good licensed games like the Lego ones, but they are good games regardless the IP(s) they are using.
Furthermore, even IPs that are born within the gaming culture are problematic. If we look at for instance Need for Speed: Shift (2009) by Slightly Mad Studios and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010) by Criterion Games, they are both obviously driving games and published by Electronic Arts. But is it really enough to justify the IP (Need for Speed) connection between the two?
Let’s analyze: NfS:Shift is based on the technology used on GTR –simulations developed by SimBin, and NfS:HP on Criterion Games’ own Burnout –engine. So, different teams, different tech, different subgenres, and yet, the IP associates them both as “Need for Speed games”, which is not only unfair towards both of those titles, but creates confusion into the discussion as well.
It’s important to understand that IP isn’t just a name or a title for a game, but a strategy to create additional meaning, a narrative to a product. So, as I quoted Gonzalo Frasca earlier, video games are not based on narrative, but a semiotic structure known as simulation, which allows you to do stuff, instead of just watching the stuff happening on the screen. Consequently, most of the efforts to inject scripted narration, meanings, metaphors, etc. into the gaming have fallen short, to say the least, and IP often represents exactly that failed, incompatible component in gaming.
Of course, IPs like Need for Speed or Call of Duty come ultimately down to the marketing and brand recognizing, which is why we shouldn’t swallow the IPs as if they meant something to a game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against IPs in games per se, but to act as if they added real, meaningful value to a video game gives me nausea.
On that note, think about all the different versions of Monopoly. There are Pirates of Caribbean Monopoly, The Simpsons Monopoly, Pixar Monopoly, etc. but in the end, they all are just that: Monopoly –games. The IPs doesn’t affect in any way the core structure of the game, which is the Monopoly.
And let’s be honest, what difference that made that Niko Bellic was an immigrant, who had a troubled history full of violence, guilt and deception, when you mowed down random pedestrians with a stolen fire truck?
I say this again: Video game at its purest form should be a tabula rasa providing first and foremost an environment and means for the player to create his/her own narrative and meanings. Currently, Minecraft does this pretty damn well.