The meaning of the word ‘novelty’ with respect to videogames has changed a lot throughout their life span. In the infancy of games, the entire industry was a novelty just like every other new technology, but I think we all agree that games have since earned their place as a legitimate and meaningful part of modern living.
So more often than not, when we talk about ‘Novelty games’ now, we’re talking about the oddballs. The wackier entries are almost invariably from indie devs, who are more interested in boldly going where no game has gone before than huge developer teams with established franchises to maintain and massive costs to cover. Do these more obviously 'novelty' titles, like Goat Simulator or I Am Bread, tread bold new territory and expand what games could be, or do they fly in the face of the deep and meaningful experiences that games can be?
This divide is the least of the possible ways of isolating game ‘novelty’ from All Else That Isn't - the experiences we most readily categorise as novelties are not exclusively daft - some weird games are deliberately and usefully weird. Just a few that spring to mind in this category are Braid, Fez, Spec-Ops: The Line and The Stanley Parable.
Another way we often use the word ‘novelty’ is for the cheaper or shorter experiences that it’s easier to think of as kitsch or throwaway. Yet the mediums we usually compartmentalise as the 'home' of these experiences have produced some remarkably immersive and touching game experiences as well. I’m thinking especially of the incredible amounts of meta-story depth and involvement in Simogo’s games Year Walk (which you can find on Steam now too for next to nothing) and Device 6, which are made primarily for mobile devices but stand so far apart from the swathes of simple colourful clones packed to bursting with (urgh) microtransactions.
And don't daft throwaway titles have their place as well? Even an infinite runner can still be genuinely well-conceptualised and entertaining enough to allow decent gaming at brief intervals, like on the loo (don't pretend you haven't) - Rayman Jungle Run, sure, but have you ever played Giant Boulder of Death?
And that’s still so far from the end of it; novelty slips in all over the place - otherwise sincere exploits get licenced DLC packs that provide enjoyable fan service but abandon continuity. Easter eggs are similar but without even financial incentive, and can be truly bizarre (did you know about the Hall of Tortured Souls hiding behind Microsoft Excel 95?!)
What do you think are the best and worst examples of novelty in games? And what does ‘novelty’ even mean to games these days anyway? How does it help, and how does it harm?