This is not to say that a given work of art can not be original, but rather that it incorporates advances, insights, techniques - a vocabulary derived from the collective history of works that precede it. Occasionally, a work is created that distills that fact into itself (this is the appeal of Quentin Tarantino's work, generally, and specifically of Kill Bill with its homages to a plethora of cinematic genres and directorial styles, as well as iconic films within the "kung-fu" rubric), prompting much meta-discussion among academics.
Game design is no different. Virtually every designer at some point talks about favorite games, or the problem of vocabulary when not everyone has played the same games (a much smaller problem in film, since only the occasional art house job actually requires three hours, allowing your average cinephile to pack many more movies in than his gaming equivalent), et cetera. Being that I'm prepping to enter a game programming competition and that I haven't written a game in years, I decided to go "window shopping."
As mentioned previously, the competition's themes are somewhere between esoteric and existential, so I wanted games that were political, sociological or cultural commentary. I ended up at ludology.org and Water Cooler Games, where I came across a number of interesting games (on Water Cooler Games' front page at the time, there was a reaction to the IGDA's Sex in Games SIG, with links to a number of games that explore sex, sexuality and sexual attitudes, including insecurities, in quite different fashion; generally not work- or minor-safe, so no links here!)
My favorites had to be Newsgaming's September 12th, which offers commentary on the current "War on Terror" (play it and share your interpretation/reaction); and Cambiemos, a game commissioned for the Uruguay presidential elections.
Cambiemos is brilliant! It's a simple puzzle game (keep in mind that I don't speak Spanish, so I had no idea of the formal intent or rules of play) that provides a larger point about restoration, and does create quite the positive feeling about the stated goals of whatever party is behind this little gem. Whether the candidate lives up to the game remains to be seen (I believe that party won).
Cambiemos is my current chief inspiration, though the others will undoubtedly influence my design decisions as well. The tactic is simple: have the player complete a task according to straightforward rules of play (in this case, correctly place the picture tiles on the grid before time runs out), but use a combination of expository task graphics/animations and a closing animation to make a larger point (in this case, the restoration of the run-down country through working together).
I'm off to play it again.