User-created content is not a new idea. Not really. Anyone who's played "Cowboys and Indians" in his backyard knows that recreating (or adding to) the adventures created by the pros can be an infinite (and infinitely fun) exercise.
Acting out scenes from movies, perhaps going so far as recording them on videotape or 8mm film, has been a pastime of imaginative, adventurous young people for decades, and although there hasn't been a place like YouTube until recently where we could watch the horrible reenactments from across the world, they're out there. Trust me.
Videogames changed the game somewhat, being a new medium with new rules for storytelling and engagement. It's also been a lot more friendly to hobbyist creators from day one, since all you really need to create a game is a knowledge of code and time. Many of the original videogame gods were once "user creators" themselves, hacking code stolen from other titles and back pages of magazines into videogames of their own creation. In that sense, calling videogame user-creation a "new thing" is somewhat blasphemous.
Still, it's only been fairly recently that so-called "normal folks," people who didn't spend their tweens hacking telephone companies and memorizing dictionaries, could make their own game content. These days, thanks to user-friendly code-writing software, and game designs like Little Big Planet, just about anyone can make a game level or even an entire game. Whether this will ultimately be a victory for the human race remains to be seen.
I remember my first experience with what could be called "user-created content," in the more modern sense. I was playing Quake online. At that time of my life, that's pretty much all I did. I knew every inch of that game, and when I got online with a decent connection, I kicked ass.
Then one day I entered a map and saw something that blew my mind: People were flying. I knew Quake. You couldn't fly in Quake. This had to be the end times. I soon realized they weren't flying per se - they were grappling, thanks to a user-created mod called the grappling hook. Engage your hook, aim it at a flat surface and weeee, you're zooming across the map, raining death upon the unsuspecting, Earth-bound players below. As a game mechanic, it's fairly commonplace now, but in the mid-'90s it was mind-blowing. It had never been done in a game before, not even by the pros. It took some motivated user with an idea and some time on his hands to make it happen.
What new ideas will come out of the user-creation gold rush of the current era? Only time will tell, but the experience of this Editor-in-Chief suggests that whatever it is, it will come out of nowhere and it will change the way games are played forever.
This week, The Escapist celebrates user-created content with Issue 238, "We Built This City." C.J Davies takes a look at what goes into creating a killer map; Nova Barlow speaks with geek crafters about a different kind of user-created content; Els Bellens explains why we bother modding games in the first place; and Brendan Main returns with a hands-on exploration of the nude patch. Enjoy!