What Content Inspires Games?

When creating games, it’s important to draw upon the cultural touchstones that came before. Creating meaningful experience involves extracting meaning from other creative content. Intertextuality is the reference to other influential pieces of media. It is common for Horror games to make reference in style and substance to the Alien franchise for example, or other horror films that set the bar for the genre. No content exists in a vacuum, and new and inventive experiences will raise the bar thematically and technically for content that precedes it. For example, Blade Runner inspired the look, feel and sound of Mass Effect. TellTales’ The Walking Dead game intertextualizes with Jon Donne’s writing in Meditation XVII, “Any man’s death diminished me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”–the death of one diminishes the lives of the many, a theme that dominates TellTales’ The Walking Dead franchise. Through intertextuality, meaning is embedded within beneath the surface, allowing for a deeper level of understanding, context and foreshadowing a story and game.

Furthermore, games employ the characteristics of film in their production through cutscenes. Cutscenes are a controlled environment where a story can be told with minimal control and influence by the player. Cutscenes are storytelling calling-cards, where camera angles, appropriate soundtracks and complex choreography can establish context and set the mood of a game. Pacman (1980) used a basic cutscene to demonstrate the use of the Power Pellets. The Mass Effect franchise combines gameplay and film, involving the player with dialogue options to encourage role-playing. Even Kelly Santiago–maker of Journey–admits to borrowing a three-act structure and emotional arc from Hollywood-style films. Cutscenes–however debated–establish the context and meaning of the way the player will interact with the game.

Even audio has a place in game development. Soundtracks influence the mood and aesthetic a game evokes in players. Journey’s developer That Game Company admits to the soundtrack being the sole inspiration for Journey’s gameplay and design, each inspiring the other. Meaningful audio creates and moulds the experience a game can provide. Exploiting the emotive capabilities of music is a surefire way to inject mood into players and listeners and using music to influence development is key to creating memorable experiences.


Chambers, B. (2014). A Crash Course In Mass Effect’s Creative Influences and Easter Eggs.Themarysue.com. Retrieved 29 March 2016, from http://www.themarysue.com/did-you-know-mass-effect/

Donne, J. (2016). Meditation XVII by John Donne. Online-literature.com. Retrieved 29 March 2016, from http://www.online-literature.com/donne/409/

Takahashi, D. (2012). How Thatgamecompany designed its new game, Journey. VentureBeat. Retrieved 29 March 2016, from http://venturebeat.com/2012/03/09/kellee-santiago-describes-the-making-of-thatgamecompanys-journey/

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