It’s difficult, almost impossible to come up with an original idea any more. Invention comes mostly from developing or recreating old ideas, or fusing two or more old ideas until the new one becomes suitably distinct; true invention, that can spawn an entirely original creation is a rare and precious gift that often leaves the bearer mental and in a corner spinning buscuits and gluing stuff to stuff.
It doesn’t weaken a creation to have a grounding in existent material, in fact a concept is often only as strong as it’s inspirations, and the most original worlds are often created by students of history. George R. R. Martin is deeply knowledgeable in matters of history and historical warfare, and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series derives most of his humour from very real aspects of the human experience brought into a fantastic setting.
No matter how much we crave escapism, and love a richly textured and crafted universe, for a real sense of immersion in any art form. Real people, and relatable themes, and in games, we adore minute details, such as realistic conversation between NPCs, or animals acting realistically.
Now we’ve discussed here before that absolute reality is not essential for immersion, but there’s no denying that flaws in basic physics, unrealistic dialogue, or poor artistry can remove us from games, and detach us from the experience.
That’s not to say that the unrealistic is detrimental to immersion and enjoyment; the Myst series’ fantastic environments traversed by magic picture books and mute protagonist still offers a richness of exploration and discovery that makes for an incredible game, but within that setting are very real stories, richly developed worlds that interact in the ways one would expect to find in any real-world parallels.
Compare this to – say – a Space Marine, who has personality, a voice, and an intricately developed universe in which to exist and live. The Warhammer universe has no “good guys” as such, but we are on some level supposed to feel more closely bonded to members of the Imperium of Man, and yet their piety and arrogance makes Space Marines unlikeable and protagonists, and even even the militaristic and rigidly structured Tao make for a more relatable populous.
Do Your Research
If you look back far enough you’ll find that history is filled with cultures that we may find quite alien, stories of warfare so fantastic and/or unconscionable that modern history seems bland by comparison.
We also tend to jump to certain presuppositions on the subject of mythology. You hear the word and are immediately limited in your initial scope to Greek, Roman, Egyptian classical mythology popularized in most major works of fantasy, or by the local myths and legends that you’ve grown up with, or that permeate your culture. For example in Britain, the Kelpies, Red-Caps, any number of ancient giants or pixies native to ancient pagan lore. But I encourage anyone to venture further.
Japanese mythology is becoming more commonly appropriated by media, such as Shinigami, or Oni, so on and so forth. But there are some very different interpretations of more familiar creatures in other cultures, such as ancient Korean, Turkish, Middle-Eastern, South-American and of course the ancient Babylonian city-states. For example, when we consider creatures representing the sun we may think of an eagle (Ra – king of Egyptian pantheon) or perhaps a lion (Mesopotamia leading to Middle-Eastern culture), but in many East Asian cultures, the sun has been represented by the figure of a three-legged crow.
I had a point to make somewhere here. I think it was mostly concerning the fact that we find more enjoyable worlds in which to escape when we have more to tie us to them and our reality. While we may fantasize about what we could be if only [insert your preferred fantasy life here] we also want to keep a part of ourselves. In many ways we want to change the world around us without changing ourselves in the process.
Creativity reaches limits, and most of those limits stop around the point where it has simply become too weird to enjoy.
Not that I don’t enjoy being weird mind you…