Inflation happens when a pile of money loses worth due to printing of that currency. Exotic inflation in gaming is a similar process. Here are some examples:
Something like getting a new weapon was an exotic experience. You had to grind money or slay a terrible dragon in order to get the weapon. In games like Diablo, money and loot come raining down. When those players go back to the older RPGs, they don’t understand why there is so much work in order to get a new weapon.
Story and Cinematics:
Story used to be so exotic that it was rarely seen and usually only in the manuals of the games. When sequels came, they added more ‘story’. What was exotic became common.
Cinematics ties into this. Ninja Gaiden NES was a cool game featuring a ninja. However, the level design really sucked in places (oh, those flying birds). What pressed many people on were to see the cinematics at the end of each level, to see the unfolding of the story. These were very exotic at the time. NES players would call the Nintendo Hotline just to ask what would happen next in the story. Today, what was exotic is now common. Cinematics are now everywhere and not just rewards for completing a level.
Final Fantasy had very little ‘story scenes’ in it. However, they became more pronounced in Final Fantasy IV which were used as rewards for killing a monster or arriving at a certain location. As the series went on, the ‘story scenes’ become the entire game.
New content was exotic. You’d be finish stage 3 because you’re dying to know what stage 4 is like. Most games of the 80s and 90s had this. The final levels were the most exotic. It was difficult to reach them.
Today, content is a common experience. Everyone gets to see the final level today.
Power-ups used to be exotic. Remember what it took to get the double shooter in Galaga? You had to let an alien take your ship! Then you had to shoot it back! In a game like Donkey Kong, you could get a hammer that turned the tables in your favor for a while (or Pac-Man eating a power pellet). Power-ups became less exotic as they became permanent and more numerous. Super Mario Brothers has permanent fireballs so long you don’t get hit. Super Mario Brothers 3 allowed the player to ‘carry’ power-ups with him. Super Mario World had the player call down power-ups in the middle of a stage (or could enter and exit stages by pressing start to get a power-up at the beginning).
Something like the Tanooki Suit was exotic in Super Mario Brothers 3. In Mario in 3d Land, the exotic becomes common with the Tanooki Suit all over the place.
1-ups used to be very exotic and somewhat rare in Super Mario Brothers games. In recent incarnations, 1-ups have become common. Coins, the same.
3D was popular back in the 80s and early 90s because it was very exotic. It wasn’t common. Games like Battlezone were not common. Many games tried to pseudo-create a 3d environment. Marble Madness became popular because it felt so exotic. In games like Sonic, 3d was used in bonus stages. When Starfox came out, the game felt very exotic.
When the 3D consoles first came out, 3D felt exotic for a little while. Soon, it became common. (Ironically, 2d games became seen as exotic hence the rise in demand for them.)
World of Warcraft:
Most of the time spent in Vanilla WoW was with questing and going about the overworld. Some of the quests were very challenging in that many packs of gnolls (or other creatures) would be pulled.
Vanilla WoW’s exotic experiences were the dungeons which the player went to only to do the quests (and later to help the person’s friends). It took much time to get a dungeon group together, travel to the dungeon entrance, and clear it.
Raids (which were 40 man) were even more exotic. Around 1% of the WoW audience ever saw the insides of a raid group for the most part.
But as time went on, the exotic became more common. And what was common turned into a chore. Dungeons are now more common than questing. Questing is something people reluctantly do. Many people level up through WoW just by doing dungeons. Raids became more and more common. 40 man turned into 25 man. 25 man turned into 10 man. Raid Finder was introduced. Raids become common.
So Why Are Some Games Immortal?
This inflation of the exotic is why video games age. It is hard to enjoy old video games because what was once exotic in them is now very common.
So why is it that some games do not age? Or, better put, they age somewhat but are still interesting? It could be as simple that what was seen as exotic in those games remains exotic.
Take Ultima VII. You haven’t had such interactivity in a game world since. You haven’t had NPC schedules with a Broadway screenwriter doing the conversations like this before. Therefore, the game remains exotic.
Has there been anything like Star Control 2? So the game remains exotic.
This view is a depressing one of video games. It is telling us that video games are nothing more than an Electronic Zoo of Exotic Animals. But if giraffes and elephants were everywhere, would you pay to see them? We don’t have zoos full of cats and dogs.
Do other mediums have inflation of the exotic? They do. Special effects in movies were called so because they were ‘special’. Now that they are everywhere, they aren’t exactly special anymore. No one is going to pay to see a movie for its special effects. They just aren’t exotic anymore. Before special effects, Hollywood crammed their movies with as many extras as possible such as in the old epic movies.
One thing I’ve noticed is that there are two forms of ‘exotic’. There is ‘exotic’ to the medium and ‘exotic’ to the generation. Mario is no longer ‘exotic’ to video games. However, to children growing up, Mario is ‘exotic’ because this is their first experience with him. Eventually, children grow up and this form of exotic turns into the old form. Mickey Mouse is still popular because of this, but no one considers him exotic.
Where does the true immortality come from?
We know there are works that are immortal. Mozart is immortal in music. Shakespeare is immortal in writing. But how did this occur? Are they simply more exotic than anything else?
I think the answer is with Issac Asimov’s view of Shakespeare. He said that Shakespeare being re-read each generation doesn’t just influence the language, the language modifies itself to revolve around Shakespeare. This is an interesting observation that only someone extraordinarily well read can make (as Issac Asimov was very well read). What he is saying is that when new language is being made, it gravitates back to Shakespeare.
In music, the same can be said about Mozart and Beethoven. They not only influenced music, but new music is written in such a way that it revolves around them. It is because these young musicians want to be like Mozart or Beethoven.
In games, consider Chess. Chess doesn’t just influence new games, but when new games are made they tend to revolve around Chess. Game makers consider Chess to be the ultimate, to be the gold standard of gaming. Just like Shakespeare is the standard for writing or Mozart the standard for music. The works stay immortal because everything else is moving towards, like they have become the gravity well of which other works revolve around.
The Inflation of the Exotic has never been a problem for the Game Industry because the computer revolution kept introducing new exotic things. But as the computer revolution simmers down, the conveyor belt of new exotic elements will diminish. If video games rely on the exotic in order to surprise and be interesting, we can be guaranteed that video games will fade as a medium.