Lately I’ve been on an Engineering An Empire kick and have been watching episodes whenever I can spare an hour or two. It was while watching through the various episodes that I began to notice parallels between the game industry and its evolution and the evolution of architecture.
In The Beginning(s)
Quick! Try name at least 3 pre-Renaissance architects. Pretty hard isn’t it. Now, try the same thing, except with game designers and pre-1990. Sure, you might be able to name the big ones like Will Wright and Sid Meier, but any gamer/designer worth his salt knows those two so they don’t really count. Like architecture, the early days of game design is composed of nameless and faceless individuals who laid the foundations for those who were to come later.
Evolution and Renaissance
With both fields we eventually hit a Renaissance where the field begins to evolve and become more recognized. In architecture we see individual architects become recognized for their specific contributions to the field and it’s these men that begin to question the status quo and try new styles and forms. It’s men like Michelangelo and Brunelleschi who build off of the past to create great works that stand to this day. In the same vein, we eventually start to see individual game designers pop up and help push along the evolution of video games. Men like David Jaffe and Tim Schafer begin transforming games as a visual and storytelling medium while creating works that are loved by many today.
The Modern Age
In the modern age of both fields we begin to see people throwing out the pre-conceived conventions that dictated what could and could not be done. In architecture we see the rise of the sky scraper and in video games we see the evolution of graphics and story that draw the player in and make them feel apart of that world. Video games games begin developing grand narratives and worlds that rival the greatest works of literature. Architects start using new materials that allow them to create buildings that could never stand in the days of brick and mortar but stand proud in the age of steel.
The parallels of these two fields go beyond their histories. A good game, like a good building, is driven by a single individual with a single purpose. There might be hundreds of others that contribute in some way, but the piece is always driven by a single architect controlling the final look and feel. Games and buildings also require a strong foundation if it is going to last and become timeless. A building that sits on a flimsy foundation will collapse under its own weight before long, just as a video game with a poorly defined mechanic/story/vision will come out as a jumbled mess that no one will play.
So there you have it, a (very) brief history of two fields that more related than I bet most people thought.