Commander Shepherd with members of his squad
Earlier this year Bioware released the second installment of their increasingly popular video game, Mass Effect. Among thousands others, I was very excited to play Mass Effect 2,and for good reason.
In the Mass Effect universe you star as Captain Shepherd, the commander of a large spaceship called the Normandy. Shepherd lives in a time where space travel is commonplace. Humans have discovered an ancient alien technology that they don’t fully understand, but it has allowed them to traverse the galaxy and find many other sophisticated sentient species. Shepherd’s task takes him to multiple planets and space stations in order to defend everything good he has known. This is all done in amazing high definition graphics with excellent voice acting by famous movie stars like Martin Sheen.
This sounds like the perfect recipe for an amazing series of video games and it is, but there’s even more. As the player, you have the ability to dictate what Captain Shepherd says to everybody in the game. There is an unprecedented about of freedom offered to the player in Mass Effect – and the game responds perfectly. You can choose to be a benevolent hero who sacrifices everything in order to save all known alien races, or you can become an evil tyrant. You can have a romantic relationship with various members or your team or you can stand alone in your fight against evil. Many of these choices are not superficial. You are sometimes forced to make literal life or death decisions in the game.
To top it off, all of these decisions carry over from the first game to the second one. So if you were evil and let various people die in Mass Effect 1, when you play the second one people will still be afraid of you. When one considers how many possible lines of dialogue must have been recorded to coincide with all the different choices available to players, it becomes overwhelming. This is a totally groundbreaking type of programming in video games.
As I played these games I was swept away by how awesome and original they were. Around the same time, I was reading some science fiction books that a friend of mine from church had recommended. The Gateway saga, by Frederick Pohl, was written in the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s. I had a ton of fun reading these books and I found them to be very thought provoking. The main character was filled with weaknesses and I loved watching him grow throughout the plot that ensued.
Book 1 of 4... Don't judge a book by its cover!
I also loved the Gateway universe that Pohl had created. The Gateway novels take place in the future, in a time when humans have discovered an ancient alien technology that they don’t fully understand, but it has allowed them to traverse the galaxy and find – wait a second!
Didn’t I say the same thing just a few paragraphs ago about Mass Effect? After doing a little bit of comparison, I discovered that both Gateway and Mass Effect have a very similar back-story, strikingly similar. Both stories involve humans trying to discover why an ancient extinct alien race left an extensive amount of technology available for us to find thousands of years later. Yes, many of the specific details are different, but the overall premise is very similar.
“Big deal,” you might say. So some nerdy science fiction video game stole the story of an out-of-print science fiction novel that’s over 30 years old. Who cares?
I’ve been thinking about this for a few months now. Think about how many things are simply borrowed from other things. How many times will they remake a Superman movie? I hear they are already redoing the Spiderman movies. There are 14 Final Fantasy video games. Nintendo is notorious for remaking old video games. Like Nintendo, pastors are also notorious for using other people’s creativity, especially in preaching. I’m ashamed to admit that I know this next one… Back in the boy band craze, O-Town and the Backstreet Boys had two completely different songs and their intro was the exact same melody, just in a different key. Just click on the names of each band to hear the beginning of each song.
Even my declaration that nothing is new is not new! Close to 3000 years ago in the book of Ecclesiastes a wise teacher said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.”
The author of Ecclesiastes has a point and it’s well taken.
So if nothing we do is really all that creative, then why do we bother? Why am I writing a blog? Why do I hope to one day finish a novel of my own? Why do we embark on so many creative endeavors if we know that somebody else out there has already done something similar and often better? Why do we take pride in our work? Why does it bring fulfillment to us?
I find it interesting that throughout all of human history there has never been two of the same person. Everybody is slightly different. Even twins who have the same exact DNA can end up making vastly different decisions in life. Each person is a unique combination of genetics and experiences that nobody else in the world will ever have.
If we believe the story of creation found in Genesis, then we realize that our God is a creative one. He created all that we see around us and he created each of us. He continues to create every day when people are born. God has been in the business of creating for thousands of years and he still makes original masterpieces every day.
If we believe what’s found in Genesis then we also must believe that God created us in his image. So not only is God creative, but we’ve been made to be creative as well. We’ve been knit together with specific talents, dreams, memories, and goals because God has a specific purpose for each one of us. Even though we often feel as though we don’t have it all together, God has created us and he says we are very good.
So we keep on creating things because God keeps on creating. We create because when we do we help other people learn just a little bit more about God, even if it’s already been done before. Yes, there might have already been a picture taken of that city skyline before, but there’s never been one taken by you, at that particular time, shown to that particular person who was inspired when they saw it. When people see us create something beautiful, they have an opportunity to see that God creates things, even people that are beautiful, too.
So what about you? What do you find to be easy to create? What is difficult to make for you? Do you find any roadblocks to creativity in your life? How do you overcome them when encounter them? What do you learn about God or other people when you create things?