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The important role of lateral thinking in video games

Lateral thinking is about alternatives, about thinking outside the box and the generation of ideas. It was a kind of thinking pegged by Edward De Bono years ago, when he needed a solution for creative thinking. The main principle behind it was to generate alternatives for the sake of creating them. It thrived on irreverence and challenging of assumptions to restructure old patterns of thought. De Bono also sought out to create new ideas by re-using older ones, reducing the time needed for solutions to common problems. How did he do it? By asking questions, many of them. Why couldn't game developers do the same?

Well they did.

Why should gravity be as firm as it is in real life? Why can't we jump a hundred meters in front of us? Why should our weight pivot on a single plane? Can it shift onto a ceiling or wall? What about control of time? Can it be slowed or the pace controlled? How is that possible? Is it really necessary to kill anyone, despite the world being hostile to the player? The basis of creativity centers around thinking laterally, and therefore breaking of rules. Can you think of any examples that game developers have made to change the way we see the world around us?

Video games make use of this type of thinking by using existing concepts in a unique way. One of the ways game developers do this is through the creation of worlds based on reality, but with a twist of their imagination. Modification of physics and movement mechanics also form a part of this practice. One could even toy with player expectations, for example - instead of telling a fixed story, let the gamer decide their own fate.

1. Super Hot - Twitch and Contemplation

If you haven't heard of Super Hot, it's worth looking at. While being a first person shooter it plays completely differently by stopping time when you move. Most shooters will work live, if you stop - the rest of these games continue. Super Hot takes a different approach by pitting players into a seemingly impossible situation, and then pausing the entire game when they stop. It's a unique concept that enhances spatial awareness in a tight setting, and increasing the window of response over a regular first person shooter. Twitch reactions are also tested when the action resumes. For me, this is a great way to change the first person shooter experience, if anything just as a mechanic to add into existing mechanics.

2. Redefining first person shooting one Portal at a time

Portal proved that first person shooters needn't be about killing. Valve Software took away gunplay and replaced it with a portal gun where players used physics to overcome 3D puzzles. It did this while pushing for quicker reaction times, and placing players in danger. While first person perspective remained, the need to blow things up got scrapped in favour of fast but strategic movement.


3. You're in the Q.U.B.E. - and it's time to change the world

Q.U.B.E took this a step further by making entire environments changeable. Imagine if Rubik's cubes and Tetris could be controlled in first person, from the inside of a box? It's pretty ingenious. We reviewed the Director's Cut and gave it the almost perfect score of 9.5/10. If you enjoy twisting your mind around the unfamiliar, then you should give it a go. 

4. From Dust - Playing with the elements

Another very interesting title is From Dust, where you, the player takes control of entire environments in order to solve elemental puzzles. Physical manipulation of the environment was key to solving what the game asked for. Tsunamis could be made into gel, lava turned into rock with water. These could also be channeled to create different kinds of scenery or avert disaster. Put simply, From Dust got players to toy around with their environment but also understand interactions of various elemental factors in the game world.

5. Dishonored - just because you can kill, it does not mean you have to

As far as stealth games games go, you're going to struggle to find the flexibility that Dishonored offers. The fact is that you don't have to kill anyone, even if you're the deadliest man in Dunwall. If you explore enough you're given options: Do you kill a noble's two more fortunate brothers or is it worth them doing what their own slaves do in exchange for some safe codes? Is a socialite's life worth taking if the alternative means miserable existence in exile? From an emotional standpoint Dishonored asks whether destroying the world is really worth the chaos that may engulf the city you're charged to protect?

6. Creative thought happens in-game too

Gamers also facilitate lateral thinking. Minecraft players have demonstrated that they could not only create homes, but entire cities. All one needed were standard tools, understanding game rules and to challenge gameplay assumptions. This included the creation of Minas Tirith and King's Landing in Minecraft. I'm sure these feats took days or months to create, but the fact that they are possible challenges the assumption that one can only make simple structures in a game.


The same breaking of rules and challenging of assumptions get used for speedruns. These happen when some gamers attempt to complete a given game in the fastest time possible. Most players need hours to complete Half-Life, one player did it in just over 20 minutes. All it took was deep understanding of game mechanics and a little exploitation of how the game worlds operated.



To conclude, lateral thinking is not only needed but is an integral part of game making and gameplay. Pattern recognition, manipulation and restructuring is essential to game developers and consumers. Perhaps it's time we started looking deeper into the games we play, and see just how sophisticated they've become. For core gamers, more complicated and interesting permutations are a necessity for breaking boredom. That's why we demand more complex things to do in every new game that comes out. It's the challenge of restructuring thought and action that ultimately stimulates a gamer.

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd

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